The recent visit by the Minister of State for Education, Chief Ezebunwo Nyesom Wike to Federal Government College, Apo, Abuja, and his lamentations on the physical condition of the school have once more brought to the front burner, the lingering frustration of how best to tackle the rot in the 104 unity colleges operated by the Federal Government across the country.
In an interview with newsmen in Abuja shortly after an inspection tour of the school, Wike was quoted as saying that, “if we do not have the funds, we should consider collapsing some of them (the unity schools). Wike’s remarks may sound tough but certainly it is not new. In January, this year, President Goodluck Jonathan inaugurated a Presidential Task Team on Education with the mandate to propose strategic measures to revamp education and address specific issues as contained in an eight-point term of reference.
The 42-man team, headed by Prof Pai Obanya, made far-reaching recommendations in the report that was submitted to Jonathan, last May.
On the 104 Federal Government colleges, the team’s 96-page report presented three options for consideration. The first is for the Federal Government to disengage from providing secondary education and leave the responsibility for basic and secondary education to states and local governments.
In furtherance of this option, the committee recommended the transfer of the 104 unity schools to the 36 state governments and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). It also advised that only two schools (one each for mixed sexes and girls only) in each of the six geopolitical zones and FCT, making a total of 14, should be retained by the Federal Government as model schools and run as such.
The committee further recommended an amendment to the Compulsory, Free Universal Basic Education Act 2004, to expand the purview of the Act to include senior secondary school education from SS1 to SS3. The UBEC Act currently covers the first nine years of a child’s education from primaries 1 to 6 and junior secondary school from JSS1 to JSS3.
In the committee’s thinking, the Federal Government should concentrate on coordinating policy and providing the catalytic (or perhaps even regular) financial assistance (matching grant) to the other tiers of government through an expanded UBEC. Under this, the Federal Government will focus on the tertiary sub-sector similar to what it is doing for water resources and healthcare.
The last option is the redeployment of the teachers, who are civil servants and are employed by the Federal Civil Service Commission, to a revamped Federal Inspectorate Service or to other ministries where their services may be required, so there will be no retrenchment of staff.
Justifying these recommendations, the team described the Federal Government colleges as “a special challenge, because their running has become the Federal Ministry of Education’s major pre-occupation.”
To give further insight into the findings of the committee, the report stated that out of the headquarters’ total staff strength of 27,227 in 2007, 23,110 were deployed in the unity schools. Only 4,117 were employed in Abuja and the zonal offices nationwide. This means that over 80 per cent of the headquarters’ staff were employed to run the then 102 schools (excluding the two established in 2008 at Dayi in Katsina State and Doma in Nasarawa State).
Again, the 102 unity schools had a total of 122,000 students in 2006/2007 academic session, out of 30.2million students undergoing secondary education nationwide. They, therefore, cater for a very insignificant fraction of Nigerians who are receiving secondary school education.
The committee also noted that over 80 per cent of headquarters’ budget is spent on the unity schools. For instance, out of a total capital budget of N24.2billion between 2000 and 2006, over N18.7billion was appropriated for the 102 schools.
However, in terms of performance, 85 per cent of the students in unity schools failed the West African Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination from 2000-2004 while the success rate for National Examination Council from 2000-2006 was 38 per cent.
The committee concluded that, “in their present condition, they do not appear to be sources of excellence in secondary education and cannot be models for the states and other school proprietors – one of the reasons for establishing them in the first instance.”
Irked by the continued decay in the system, the former minister of state for education, Kenneth Gbagi set up a 105-member ministerial committee to assess the unity colleges. The committee, divided into 12 groups – two for each of the geopolitical zones – with the former principal of King’s College and Kogi State Commissioner for Education, Sylvester Onoja, as the overall chairman, visited all the 104 colleges and came up with a report which validated the report of the presidential task team.
There is no doubt, therefore, that many things have gone wrong with the running of the unity schools, and that any of the above options will result in a leaner, more professional Federal Ministry of Education that would concentrate on front-end as against back-end development. With this, the use of resources will also be optimized.
What is not clear, however, is the reason for the continued delay in finding a lasting solution to the problem. Against this backdrop, we also lend our voice to the view expressed by Wike that the Federal Government has to divorce political sentiments in efforts to find a quick, concrete and practical solution to the problem.
One positive step that must be taken in this direction is for the government to urgently study the report of the presidential task team and publish a white paper that can be quickly implemented in tandem with one of the recommendations. This way, the government would be seen to be proactively re-inventing the education sector as a means of restoring the lost glory in the system. This is our stand.
Towards Sustainable Tourism In Nigeria
In a resolution passed on February 6, 2023, the UN General Assembly declared February 17, to be Global Tour-
ism Resilience Day. The resolution emphasised the importance of encouraging sustainable tourism development. The disruptive and critical effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the travel and tourism sector informed this decision. Additionally, it drew upon precedent UN resolutions, conferences, and agendas highlighting environmental sustainability and bolstering industry resilience.
Tourism is a vital industry that contributes to sustainable development and the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in developing countries. It provides income, foreign currency earnings, tax revenue, and employment, and connects people with nature, promoting environmental responsibility and conservation. This cross-cutting industry is particularly beneficial for Africa and middle-income countries.
Sustainable tourism, including ecotourism, promotes economic growth, poverty alleviation, employment, and decent work. It accelerates lasting consumption, promotes sustainable use of oceans and marine resources, and enhances local culture. It improves the quality of life for women, young people, indigenous communities, and rural populations, ultimately contributing to the achievement of the SDGs.
Utilising endurable and resilient tourism as a means to promote continuous and inclusive economic growth, social development, and financial inclusion facilitates the formalisation of the informal sector. It also supports domestic resource mobilisation, environmental protection, the elimination of poverty and hunger, as well as the conservation and tenable utilisation of biodiversity and natural resources. Moreover, sustainable tourism encourages investment and entrepreneurship in the industry.
Tourism plays a vital role in supporting numerous direct and indirect employment opportunities globally, especially benefiting women and young individuals. In certain small island nations and developing economies, tourism makes up more than 20 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The economic impact of tourism, indicated by the tourism direct GDP, was calculated at $1.9trillion in 2021, surpassing the $1.6trillion reported in 2020. However, it still remains lower than the pre-pandemic figure of $3.5trillion.
Tourism is a rapidly growing global economic sector, and destination countries must develop it sustainably to maximise benefits. Nigeria, with its vast geography, cultural diversity, and historical sites, has established tourism ministries to capitalise on its potential. The country’s landscape holds great potential for a sector that can compete with black gold in terms of foreign exchange earnings, making it an attractive destination for tourists.
However, owing to the considerable financial gains obtained from the oil industry, tourism, along with other sectors of our economy such as agriculture and solid minerals, has been severely overlooked. For instance, the annual Osun Osogbo Festival and the Calabar Carnival have been sustained; thanks to the dedicated initiatives of private sector contributors. These events have propelled the city of Calabar into international recognition in recent years.
The previously lively Argungu Fishing Festival, the renowned Argungu Motor Rally, the Yankari Game Reserve, the Jos Wildlife Park, the Olumo Rock, the Asop Falls, and the boat regatta in the coastal regions of Nigeria, particularly Opobo and Andoni, have all seen a decline.
In contrast, the Elmina Slave Castle in Ghana remains a popular destination for tourists seeking to learn about the tragic history of trans-Atlantic slave trade victims. Monuments in Nigeria such as those in Calabar, Lagos, and Badagry are gradually losing their significance in the global tourism landscape.
The Mambilla Plateau, Gashaka-Gumti Game Reserve, Ngel-Nyaki Forest Reserve, and Taraba’s indigenous festivals are potential tourism destinations that could generate revenue comparable to Nigeria’s oil sector earnings. Proper promotion of these attractions could boost the states’ economies and improve their status as one of the poorest in Nigeria. Yobe and Borno states also have the Dagona Birds Sanctuary, attracting diverse bird species from Europe, North America, Australia, and Asia.
Several key landmarks showcase Nigeria’s rich history and potential, such as the 8,000-year-old Dafuna Canoe, the Tulo-Tulowa – dubbed the ‘Desert Land of Hope,’ – as well as the shrinking Lake Chad, which could have thrived as a critical tourist and economic centre. More could have been done by the government to preserve and support these treasures.
The pertinent government bodies must safeguard our biodiversity by penalising those who partake in haphazard bush burning and deforestation. The government should increase funding for infrastructure development and showcase Nigerian tourism attractions globally on international media platforms and embassies. There should be private sector involvement. The authorities should also intensify efforts to tackle security challenges in areas that could negatively impact the sector, such as terrorism, armed banditry, kidnapping, and other allied crimes. Tourists would not visit a country suffering acute security challenges, despite the attractiveness of its tourism destinations.
To address spending deficits and inflation, diversifying the economy is crucial. Tourism, with its substantial revenue sources, can fund government policies and programmes. States like Rivers can use tourism to stimulate economic growth, create new jobs, and foster community connections. This initiative will boost revenue, fuel developmental efforts, strengthen social bonds, and promote peace and cultural unity.
Exploring new investment opportunities in tourism in areas like Port Harcourt, Bonny, Andoni, Opobo, Kono, Okomoko, Oyigbo, Umuebule, Abonnema, Degema, Buguma, Mbiama, Ndoni, Isaka, Okrika, Ogu, and others, will not only attract tourists but also drive development to these regions. With their beautiful beaches and other tourist attractions, these areas have the potential to become popular destinations, creating jobs and boosting the local economy.
The Songhai farm has the potential to be revived, offering opportunities for tourists to appreciate the vast resources available in the state, just as it did in the past. Similarly, the waterfronts in Port Harcourt can be transformed into beautiful beaches for tourists to enjoy. With these in place, the social life in the city can be restored with exponential investments in tourism. Not only will tourists have a new attraction to visit, but residents will also benefit from improved living conditions.
This is why we urge increased government investments in tourism through a pragmatic diversification policy that is inclusive and innovative. We commend a vigorous private-public partnership that taps from the abundant tourism potential in the state to create an enabling environment for enduring peace and sustainsble development. We insist on a deliberate government strategy to boost investments in tourism and broaden citizen interactions to enhance healthy living and wellness in the state.
Fubara: Champion Of Service, Compassion
The decision of the Rivers State Governor, Sir Siminalayi Fubara, to grant immediate promotions,
accompanied by full financial benefits to local government workers in the state serves as a significant milestone in his administration. The governor’s pronouncement is apt because local government workers provide services that enable the state to function optimally and ensure the well-being of its people at the grassroots.
The approval was granted during a private meeting held at the Government House in Port Harcourt last Monday. Principal officers representing all 23 local government areas, alongside the leadership of the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), were present at the gathering.
Fubara also approved the immediate implementation of a N30,000.00 minimum wage for local government workers and the immediate implementation of the N35,000.00 wage award approved by the Federal Government to cushion the effects of the removal of fuel subsidy. He further acknowledged the importance of including NULGE as a member of the Local Government Pensions Board, as mandated by law.
This decision reflects his commitment to ensuring fair representation and the protection of the rights of local government workers. Furthermore, he emphasised the implementation of a consolidated salary structure for local government employees retiring at grade level 17.
The welfare of local government employees in Rivers State has been a topic of discussion and controversy for several years. The workers have consistently voiced their concerns, particularly through the media, regarding the lack of staff promotions for nearly eight years, and the failure to implement the approved N30,000 minimum wage, along with other benefits and entitlements since 2019. These issues have sparked protests and dissatisfaction among the staff.
Clearly, Fubara emerges as a towering figure, embodying unwavering commitment to Rivers people. With tireless efforts, he has not only touched but also transformed numerous lives at the grassroots. Fubara’s genuine concern for the well-being of his fellow citizens has been the driving force behind his remarkable achievements. His selfless actions have brought about positive change and uplifted communities.
The governor’s recent decision to approve the immediate payment of the N30,000 minimum wage for all local government staff in the state reflects his deep-rooted empathy and understanding of the challenges faced by the working class in the local government areas. This move demonstrates his commitment to improving the lives of the people he governs.
Also, his directive to pay N35,000 wage award to the workers to cushion the effects of the removal of fuel subsidy is commendable. It demonstrates his proactive approach in addressing the economic hardships faced by the workers. Moreover, his mandate for the prompt settlement of withheld allowances, gratuities, promotions, and accrued benefits validates a profound sense of justice and fairness.
In the light of the prolonged period of stagnation and uncertainty faced by the workers over the past eight years, the governor’s recent compassionate gesture exhibited profound necessity. It serves as a lifeline for these individuals who have grappled with an unbearable sense of insecurity and disarray within their professional lives.
Fubara’s actions transcend mere words, representing a resolute commitment to improving the welfare and preserving the dignity of each and every individual placed under his responsible guidance. The gravity of this gesture cannot be understated; it holds the potential to reinvigorate the spirits of those who have become disheartened by the persisting conditions of their employment.
Regrettably, the local government chairmen in the state seem uncertain about supporting this initiative, presumably for political reasons. Such a stance underscores the prevalence of politicking on issues where social welfare should remain paramount. Their legal challenge option, in this case, could result in unnecessary strains on our already burdened judicial system, prolong uncertainty for the workers, and essentially serve as another testament to the division and gridlock that retarded ongoing progress. Besides, the chairmen should know that the minimum wage is backed by law properly legislated upon by the National Assembly. In addition, the wage award is a Presidential Proclamation which also has the force of law as an Executive Order. Promotions, pension and gratuities are the rights of workers, which no law can deny them.
Therefore, instead, the chairmen should focus more on constructive dialogue and negotiation with the aim of arriving at a mutually beneficial resolution. The chairmen should find a common ground with the governor by acknowledging the far-reaching benefits of his proposition while actively voicing their concerns. Such an approach would promote a culture of collaborative governance. This is more likely to elicit public trust, affirming the role of the government as a protector and promoter of the people’s welfare.
Beyond its positive economic implications, this move also mirrors the administration’s moral responsibility towards its employees. It is necessary for the public sector to set an example as a fair and responsible employer by appreciating and rewarding staff members’ efforts adequately. Therefore, Fubara’s move helps to build trust between the government and its employees, promoting a more harmonious and respectful working environment, which is fundamental to productivity and employee satisfaction.
We express our admiration and unreserved appreciation for the governor, a paragon of exceptional leadership, humility, unwavering dedication to service, and an unyielding commitment to forging a bright and equitable future for all. His love for peace, respect for rule of law, fairness, equity and justice is unprecedented. Every facet of his character and endeavours exemplifies the epitome of excellence, inspiring others with his remarkable achievements and fostering a profound sense of unity and advancement. This is why we stand with Fubara on this move.
Ending Fire Disasters At Rivers Waterfronts, Jetties
Last Monday’s multiple explosions at the Bonny/Bille/Nembe jetty in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capi-
tal, have left many still counting their losses. The disaster caused far-reaching damage to goods and property worth millions of naira. Several people were feared dead with many bodies still missing in the depths of the river. The explosions and subsequent fire further engulfed six market boats, leaving passengers trapped.
The Bonny/Bille/Nembe jetty serves as a prominent transit point for riverine people travelling beyond Port Harcourt and the state. While the exact cause of the fire remains uncertain, some eyewitnesses have attributed it to the haphazard storage and transportation of unlawfully refined petroleum products in the vicinity.
An observer’s account of the incident stated that the fire allegedly originated from an explosion. It is believed that certain houseboats were transporting liquid substances, possibly refined petroleum products, at the time of the incident. The initial explosion triggered two ensuing detonations within the boats. Adjoining makeshift buildings and structures near the site were also impacted by the fire, said the source.
The State Governor, Sir Siminalayi Fubara, expressed profound concern and sympathy for the unfortunate victims, and pledged to collaborate with jetty operators to prevent annual infernos in the area. The Secretary to the State Government, Dr. Tammy Danagogo, confirmed the governor’s assurance during a visit to the scene of the inferno.
Recall that in November 2021, a wooden passenger boat caught fire at the jetty, killing five people, including three children. In April 2022, a pregnant woman, a two-month-old baby, and two others died in an early morning fire caused by individuals loading illegally refined substances called ‘kpofire’ at the same location. The fire destroyed over 40 boats.
Port Harcourt residents have suffered prodigious losses following illegal petroleum activities, resulting in the destruction of valuable property worth millions of naira. The increase in illicit petroleum product pursuits had previously worsened the presence of airborne particulate matter known as ‘soot’, causing residents to feel marginalised and neglected in rural Niger Delta communities.
Unfortunately, criminal activities at the jetties and waterfronts are widespread and deeply rooted, with felons illegally ferrying refined products with the help of security agents. The corruption extends beyond the military and police force, with alleged weekly financial payoffs to heads of security agency. This endemic decadence hinders progress and greatly undermines the state.
There is a need for the Rivers State Government to work with citizens and security operatives to combat illegal crude oil refiners, who have caused severe environmental pollution and fire outbreaks at the various waterfronts and jetties in the state. Media and civil society organisations should also launch public awareness campaigns to eradicate these villainous activities.
Governor Fubara’s commitment to addressing the constant fires at the Bonny/Bille/Nembe jetty is remarkable. His concern for the victims and determination to find a long-term solution to the intractable problem characterise him as a particularly true leader. However, desperate and decisive actions, realisation of strategic mitigative measures, and the effective establishment of necessary machinery to contain the menace are essential to back up this resolve.
The state government must invest in modern firefighting technology and equipment, train personnel, and strategically build state-of-the-art firefighting stations across jetties and waterfronts prone to frequent fire outbreaks. Collaborating with firefighting agencies and humanitarian relief organisations is essential for garnering the requisite knowledge and support.
The Bonny/Bille/Nembe jetty and others need strict regulations enforcement mechanism, including regular inspections, heavy fines, and penalties for non-compliant operators. Monitoring material loading and unloading protocols and safety procedures is critical. The government should adopt a zero-tolerance stance on wharf stakeholders’ negligence, as their dereliction has contributed to recurring fires.
The authorities can collaborate with private oil and gas firms in the Bonny/Bille/Nembe region to promote Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives, focusing on safety measures, infrastructure, environmental sustainability, and fire disaster management. This collective approach will reduce the burden on the government and ensure an inclusive approach to addressing the matter.
Encouraging research into the root causes of the fires at the wharfs would be a proactive step. The Rivers State Government can partner with academic institutions to delve deeper into other possible causes and effects of the fires and propose plausible solutions. This step would be especially pertinent as it will deploy a knowledge-based approach towards dealing with the awful predicament, ensuring that no stone is left unturned.
Incessant fires at our wharfs remain a ticking time bomb that calls for prompt neutralisation. While inadvertent fire surges might not be preventable, the frequency and impact can be decimated. Preventive measures should be integrated into the operating ethos of jetties to save lives, properties, and the environment. As a state perforated by multiple waterfronts and jetties because of its littoral and deltaic characteristics, it is incumbent on all residents to imbibe best practices in marine safety, good health, security and environmental sustainability to guarantee the future of the people who live and do business around those vulnerable communities.
Also, the state authorities must muster the political will to address this issue. Investing in safe marine transport system, through quality infrastructure and manpower development would be key in remedying this challenge. Further standardising the business environment in such a way that fire resistant structures are built several meters away from the jetties would savd lives and property of jetty users.
We believe that if these steps are taken, Rivers State would become a model of efficient, people-centric governance. It would also reassure the people living in the riverine communities that the government seriously cares about their lives, and appreciates their contributions to the prosperity of the state. We think that this is the right way to go!
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