Public affairs participant/observer, Ayo Badmus looks at a bottom up approach to invigorating the education infrastructure……

The executive chairman State Of Osun Universal Basic Education Board (OSUN SUBEB), Prince Felix Awofisayo has an understandable spring in his steps these days. Having helped to spearhead an educational change in the state of Osun, it was a coup de grace for the state to be chosen to flag off the distribution of the federal government/ universal basic education (FGN/UBEC) plastic chairs and tables to thirty-six (36) state subebs and FCT public schools hosted by Osun subeb which he has imaginatively piloted.

The host with the most, had every reason to be upbeat. “Today’s event marks the new direction and policy thrust of the current Federal Government, which is based on repositioning the all-important education sector through direct intervention in all the states throughout the federation starting with direct supply of educational facilities like the plastic chairs and tables, which is being officially commissioned today. This measure will undoubtedly provide succour to countless number of pupils in our elementary and middle schools, who constitute the pivotal change agents. Today’s initiative is therefore a decisive advance movement forward. This is because the current provision of the right sort of qualitative education, though expensive, constitutes the expected obligation of a serious government in carrying out its social contract with those who elected it into office.”

He has been involved with the process of retooling the educational system, from the grassroots up,  starting with the inauguration of Osun State Governor, Rauf Aregbesola. Education was a key position in the all-encompassing six-point integral action plan on which Aregbesola made his successful gubernatorial bid. As Prince Awofisayo went to great lengths during his welcome speech last week to explain, there is clearly an obsessive belief in human capital development in the western part of Nigeria. This is clearly located in the massive social gains made with the western region’s educational policies in the 1950’s. The gains as economic historians have pointed out worked as a trajectory to propel the region’s political economy.

As Prince Awofisayo reiterated, “This is understandable, given the well-known fact that Governor Rauf Aregbesola comes from the progressive, social democratic tradition entrenched in the Western Region since the early 1950’s. To achieve his aim, Mr. Governor started off by convening an education summit, where all the stakeholders in the state, in conjunction with great educationists, were gathered to critically examine the state of education and how to move it forward in the state. The all-encompassing recommendations made at the summit allowed the governor to carry out the much needed surgical operation on the education system he met on ground, with a view to removing the ills and implant the desired seed to bring about the desired change and initiate the fruits of success in education.”

At a time when the Buhari government change mantra is now at centre-stage, a bottom up approach will clearly be eminently sensible. One key aspect is that some of the path breaking new initiatives at the local level will be used, having been tested, as the guinea pigs for the centre. The bottom-up approach certainly makes sense; afterall there is no reason to re-invent the wheel.

A key test run has already been done in Osun state with the much acclaimed government backed school feeding programme. In a tight fiscal framework, the programme which is quite audacious as well as path breaking has been sustained for three years. This is why the programme has been endorsed by the current federal government through the Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo SAN, who has made it clear that the initiative of the state of Osun government will be replicated across all the states of the federation.

Imitation, as has often repeated, is the most sincere form of flattery. In this light such a federal endorsement shows that the state government is on the right path. The initiative has also attracted encomiums from notable western nations such as Great Britain amongst others. Indeed for Great Britain, there is a sense of deja vu here. For the British remember that a similar scheme starting from 1945 offering a free glass of milk a day wiped out the terrible disease called Rickets in the Northern part of England within a generation. Decisively, the programme also has a clear economic benefit. As in Brazil and the Republic of South Africa where similar initiatives have been carried out, there has been a stimulus in boosting agricultural production in the state as well as re-invigorating the comatose rural economy. Instructive for our federal government, is that by feeding millions of pupils every day, Brazil has become a super-charged agriculture exporting economy. Last year, for example, Brazil could not meet $90 billion worth of export orders from China for processed and semi-processed soya products alone.

The Osun initiative is also instructive in its emphasis on revamping the education infrastructure. For example, over 1000 classrooms consisting of new structures of elementary and middle schools have been constructed at various locations across the state. Infrastructure matters, for as Sir Winston Churchill once sensibly observed, “We shape our buildings after which our buildings shape us.” This is why the state-of-the-art buildings about thirty in all constructed are provided with all the facilities required for both staff and students in order to enhance teaching and learning activities. In addition, very sensibly, the state government is also paying special attention to the renovation of dilapidated structures for schools in the rural areas.

Significantly the government has ensured the payment of increased running and examination grants to all public schools in the state. As at today, the total school grants per term to elementary schools alone stand at N114, 747, 600 to N 344, 242,800 annually. Also its efforts to improve the education stand in the state, the state government also recruited over 3000 new teachers to fill all available vacancies in public schools across the state. There is very importantly also once again an economic spin off  an economic link-up. Osun SUBEB acknowledged the manufacturers of the chairs and tables, who are based here in the state. They have demonstrated that given the opportunity and incentives, Nigerian companies are more than capable of rising to the occasion and produce quality goods and delivering on time. It is our hope that the company will maintain the quality standard and even surpass it in the future.

The critical issue is of course how to enforce the social contract which binds (or should bind) the expected obligation of a serious government with those who elected it. All politics is local. This means that those who have induced local initiatives successfully should be used as a prototype to replicate it at the national level. Such a process should be used across the board in all fields of government policies.