The Ogun State Commissioner for Education, Professor Segun Awonsi who has just been appointed the Vice Chancellor of Tai Solarin University of Education, Ijebu-Ode said Governor Gbenga Daniel has been able to revamp the sector by allocating over 26 percent of the budget to it. In an interview with Daily Sun in his office recently, he revealed why the state has not accessed the UBE Intervention Fund. He also spoke on other sundry issues.
Ogun state is devoting over 26 per cent of its budget to service the education sector, why the huge allocation?
Given the volume of activities in the education sector, Ogun state can not afford to spend less, for example, we employed about 18,000 teachers in the last five years. In two months last year, the allocation that came from Abuja was N 1.4billion because of the melt down, it used to be about N2.93billion, but in these two months of N1.4billion each, salaries of secondary school teachers and those of university lecturers took about N900million leaving less than N500million which is hardly enough even to pay the civil servants. That is what explains the allocation of N26billion to the sector and there is a passionate belief by the governor that if there is anything he must show in Ogun state, education is one because historically education is significant in Ogun state.
The point I am trying to make is education has become an industry in Ogun state and so no serious government can afford to toy with it. We have a governor who deliberately increased educational institutions so that our children will not be shut out of the school system. So, definitely cost went up, there was only one polytechnic before now, the governor has established four additional ICT based polytechnics. There was one university, he has established another one, the University of Education and set up two specialized institutes, so you can see that the quantum is high and so we really had to spend more on education and that explains why we got to the UNESCO benchmark.
The state is among 30 states that have not accessed N30billion UBE fund because it could not account for previous amount collected, why is it so?
It is not because the state was not able to account for previous fund, that is far from the truth. When Dr. Sam Egwu, the former minister of education said so in response to my governor’s address during UNAD’s convocation and he was asked if Ebonyi state has accessed the fund, he said no, that is his home state where he was once the commissioner for education and a governor for eight years. But the truth is that if you are giving somebody something free, you better give him and if you don’t want to, keep it. If the condition is very difficult to meet, how do you expect the states to access the fund? Ogun state has between N500million to N800million sitting at the CBN waiting for us to access but for us to access it, we must provide a counterpart fund of the same amount, so what is the pretence? Last year, we managed to cough out the amount, with the recession this year, it’s been tough, unfortunately Ogun state is not a wealthy state, and we are number 10 from the rear in terms of revenue allocation from Abuja. When you have such an amount, the basic thing first is how to pay salaries and maintain services and to access the UBE fund, of course we love to pay and get more funding. When they release the fund, they are also in charge of how it is spent, they approve and the inspectors come from Abuja. It will not work, may be it worked in the first two years of plenty but in this lean year, it is just not working.
But sir, the main accusation is that the concerned 30 states diverted the UBE funds
In Ogun state there was no such thing, may be in some other states but there was no diversion in this state. However, their money goes to SUBEB and SUBEB is semi autonomous. In fact you will not believe that SUBEB’s loyalty is more to UBEC in Abuja than the state government and it is obvious and sometimrd we even remind SUBEB, to be careful because Abuja pays half and we also pay half. We don’t have problem with accountability, we have not had cause for anybody to raise eyebrow in terms of money spent by SUBEB in Ogun state.
The State government has spent so much on education, yet your students are not doing well in WASSCE and NECO, what are you doing to reverse the trend?
You know the mass failure was a national thing and also know we can’t have a turn around over night. Then, there are also challenges in the system, what I found out about the understanding of free education by parents is different from understanding of free education during Chief Awolowo’s time.
I was a beneficiary of free education but those days, our parents still paid for examination and gave some basic books. But now, they don’t bother, you even have to beg some parents who spend so much on parties to buy basic books in English, Mathematics and one science subject. It is a tall order but we are doing all that we can but the change or expected results can not be immediate. When we came on board, exam malpractice was rampant nationwide, in actual fact, we found out that in some rural areas, results are better than the urban centres, people now have special centres and we tackled it headlong and we are happy that nationwide they are accepting some of the models that we have put in place in the state. No principal of a secondary school knows were he is going to supervisor until 12 or 24 hours to the WASSCE paper.
With all these measures in place, how many Principals in the state have been sanctioned because of exam malpractice?
In Ogun State, in the last three years, we demoted two or three principals and shut down about four private schools but it is clear, they know our position, they know once they are involved, they are on their own. Because immediately we have cases, we set up an investigation panel and once any one is found guilty, that is it because we don’t want anything that will tarnish the good image of the state. You may not believe it but it is also having a salutary effect on the exam system and in the interim, it will create the impression of a lower pass percentage but late salutary effect is that students will have to work hard and teachers will know there are no corners to cut, thus we will have better results. Afterall three years ago, WAEC came to Abeokuta and two of three best candidates nationally were from Ogun state.
Recently, Olabisi Onabanjo University was in the news as regards the visitation panel reports which indicted some principal officers and the ripples it generated, how was it resolved?
What happened is that Olabisi Onabanjo University became a challenge to this administration, there were reports upon reports and sometimes when these things come out, I feel ashamed that I belong to the university system. We discussed with the VC on a number of times but we got to a stage where the government said we had to do a few things. We insisted on due process, thus a visitation panel was set up headed by Professor Oye Ibidapo-Obe and when they came out with their two volume reports, I read through and I was scared.
There were things that they did manifestly illegal, like even their own laws that recognize one deputy VC, they appointed two, their guidelines say those with Masters will get their Ph.D within six or seven years but they retained those who have served for over 12 to 15 years, they were not registered, we also had cases of those who had first degree and were teaching up to 300level students and have not even registered for Masters. Then we had cases of people with fake Ph.D, cases of staff who were promoted not according to the laid down rules by their own laws.
We saw all of these and government decided to carry out surgical operation but it was based on the recommendations of the panel, the recommendations started with the VC. Then government went to council to look at the recommendations and prepare a white paper, the governor under the Act has the powers to go ahead and remove the VC but he didn’t do that and rather he subjected it to the council. The council reacted that the VC should not be in office and they recommended and that is why the VC and other principal officers were removed by the council because it falls under their purview. It is tough but the council is trying to clean the place. There were things that the panel pointed out that we didn’t know were that serious. For example, at the administrative level, I don’t think there is any old university that has more than six or seven deputy registrars, they had more than 18 deputy registrars.
What type of ministry did you inherit when you assumed office?
I will be honest with you, though the staff were hard working, there were things they still didn’t get right. Particularly in the tertiary education sector and that made me to understand why in some states they had Ministry of Higher Education and in Ogun state, the way the governor is thinking because we have many tertiary institutions, shouldn’t we be thinking of something like a local NUC to be able to regulate the all the institutions because if we don’t, we will have problems. We have more than ten state tertiary institutions, there must be a way all these things are regulated and whereas they are working hard, we still felt like doing internal restructuring to make ministry officials more effective because if internally they are not cohesive, then they can not deal with the problems outside.
What type of rot did you meet in the system then?
I met all sorts of things but we tried to clean some of these in the ministry. But in the education sector, initially when I came, I had problems with the state PTA because if your child attends a secondary school, you are a member of the PTA while your child is still there but when your child is no longer there, you can’t be a member. They wrote me that they wanted to attend a workshop that I should approve millions for them and I said workshop for parents, I thought PTA were there to help. They fought me but I fought them to a stand still. I also found that in schools, teachers were becoming interested in afternoon lesson than the real teaching because with the connivance of PTAs they get extra money.
Then the school principals who were milking the school with all sorts of illegal levies, officially the ministry allows schools to charge about N1,200 but we discovered they increased it to N3,000 to N4,000. Recently, we just found out that we had too many superiors in the system, there was a day I stumbled on a school that had a Principal, Vice Principal academics, administration and special duties and I said the universities that have ten times the population of that secondary school do not have deputy VC special duties and I also found out that this Vice Principals were no longer teaching any more and I asked if they grade WAEC and they said yes because it brings extra money. After this, we moved into the primary schools, where they have a Headmaster, four or five Assistant Headmasters doing nothing and I said it is compulsory that Vice Principal must now teach a minimum of four periods.