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Education and national development: Lessons from Peter Obi’s model

Mr. Peter Obi
Mr. Peter Obi
Esin Suji

There is universal acknowledgement of the primacy of Education in the sustainable development of any society; and this can hardly be over-stressed. Education is the foundation on which societies are built and defines the quality of life.

Up to the mid-1980s, Nigeria’s educational institutions were rated among the best in the world. With a first degree in Nigeria, for instance, one could secure straight admission for post-graduate studies in a top university in North America or Western Europe – and excel above one’s peers!

Alas, the rot set in and began to fester across the land; putting the sector in dire straits. At all tiers – primary, secondary and tertiary – this strategic platform for meaningful progress has been tottering on the edge of collapse, with adverse implications for the economy, polity and society.

Even as we bemoan the state of our education, it is pertinent to observe that a reversal to the era of integrity, distinction and fulfilment is largely a function of purposeful leadership – leadership of clear vision, determined agenda, strong commitment and diligence. In focus here are lessons from the revolutionary strides of Mr. Peter Obi who served as Governor of Anambra State from 2006 to 2014.

With the inauguration of his administration, Peter Obi began to strengthen and build institutional structures in the State, which had been variously crippled and non-existent. In a New Deal for the education sector – an area very dear to him — he steadily boosted administrative and management capacities, complete with a magnificent edifice for State Universal Basic Education Board [ASUBEB]. Who would believe that barely four years before his tenure, schools in the State were shut for about one calendar year due to non-payment of basic salaries to teachers? We could also juxtapose that scary experience with the hard evidence that the same area had previously produced leading educated elite in Nigeria.

The Obi administration stabilized Basic Education in Anambra State with his singular and courageous decision to hand over the management of some schools in Anambra State to their initial proprietors. The transition also went with operating grants to the missions in the sum of N6 billion spread over 15 months and subject to approval of their work plans. Obi’s administration also donated buses, laboratory equipment, transformers and power generators, dispensary consumables, sports gear, computers and other ICT tools to schools in the State.

The momentous decision of the Obi administration to hand over schools to their initial proprietors was widely acclaimed nationally and internationally. The two leading clerics in Anambra State Archbishops Valeria Okeke and Christian Efobi were overwhelmed. While Okeke said it was the greatest thing to have happened to the State after the civil war, Efobi said it was a great rebirth for the state that could only be witnessed when the righteous were on the throne. Today, among others, Anambra State is adjudged the best in improved school infrastructure in Nigeria. In addition, a World Bank study supervised by Professor Paul Collier of Oxford University, UK recommended the Anambra Model for the rest of Africa and other developing countries. On his part, renowned cleric, educationist and Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Most Revd. Dr. Matthew Hassan Kukah urged Nigerian Governments at all tiers to emulate what he termed the “Peter Obi Education Model”. He noted that the sector was at its lowest ebb in Anambra State prior to Peter Obi’s far-sighted decision to return schools to the Church, backed with adequate funding, with the effect that the State is now doing well educationally. In the same vein, a former Minister of Health, Professor A.B.C. Nwosu contends that the greatest thing that happened to education in Anambra State was the return of schools by the then Governor Peter Obi to the Church proprietors – a formula he advised other States to adopt.

Tertiary education was also part of Peter Obi’s new deal for education – receiving boosts in structures, facilities, faculty, welfare, accreditation and improved funding. Benefitting institutions included: Anambra State University [and its various Campuses and Teaching Hospital]; School of Agriculture, Mgbakwu [with laboratories, hostels, classrooms, administration and staff offices and demonstration farms]; School of Nursing and Midwifery, Nkpor; and College of Health Technology, Obosi, Nwafor Orizu College of Education, Nsugbe, among others.

In a bold measure to promote a reading culture among students and literate residents alike and expand research resources in the State, the Obi administration constructed a Central Library in Awka [named after renowned educationist, Professor Kenneth Dike]. That gigantic project attracted the support of Bank PHB drawn, again, from Governor Obi’s goodwill. Interestingly before this, the only such facility in the entire State was a divisional library set up in Onitsha in the 1960s. The Obi administration also renovated and expanded that facility.

Exhibiting admirable dynamism and foresight, the Obi administration procured and distributed personal computers to post-primary schools in the State, along with professional ICT teachers, power generators and Internet connectivity. Included in the package was the setting-up of Microsoft Academies in designated secondary schools — the first State in Nigeria to embark on such a project. He also institutionalized the ICT infrastructure, tools and competencies for best practices in governance, management, instruction and learning.

As one of its complements to formal education, the Obi administration – in collaboration with committed partners – embarked on a comprehensive programme to re-orientate and empower the youths and integrate them into the mainstream of the development process. Tagged “Anambra State Youth Re-Orientation and Empowerment Programme [ANSYREP]”, the scheme incorporated a re-orientation exercise, skills acquisition, further studies and job placements.

One of the unique features of Peter Obi’s giant strides in education was a deliberate policy of extending support to private institutions. Critics were faced with the hard fact that pupils and students of those institutions were wards of Anambra indigenes and other Nigerians domiciled in the State.

It is also revealing that Peter Obi used his tremendous goodwill to attract private sector support for his education initiatives and institutions. Since leaving Government House, he has continued the practice of providing assistance to educational institutions. In a schedule he tagged “School Apostolate”, he raises funds from friendly and good-spirited sources and undertakes visits to selected schools to help fulfil their areas of need.

Education is easily the strongest launching pad we can provide our children and youths, to enable them hold their own in our increasingly dynamic world. The deliverables of any educational system depend largely on focused leadership, proper planning, effective management and adequate funding. As Governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi did not let education slide into the doldrums and anarchy; but elevated it to a pride of place in the developmental scheme of things. It was not the cost as much as the benefits that mattered – and should matter. As the great philosopher, Aristotle reminded us, the difference between the educated and the uneducated is as the distinction between the living and the dead.

Suji writes from Owerri

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