By Rabiu Dogara Omakwu
The inability of Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura of Nasarawa State to fulfill his covenant with the people of the state by ensuring that the partial free primary and secondary education see the light of the day is a complete gimmick to gain cheap political relevance.
The declaration on 28/12/2013 met stiff agitation even at the hallowed chambers of the state Assembly that the free education was just a mouth pouring policy. The speaker Nasarawa State House of Assembly, Musa Ahmed, has come to reality following the re-introduction of school fees and other levies that are never in existence even before the pronouncement. The worst aspect of the introduction of the policy was that parents are losers at the receiving end, as the Prospectus which was sold for N200 now goes for N500, while Text books of core subjects (English and Mathematics) are not compulsory until the failure of the new policy.
A stakeholder in the education sector who spoke to our correspondent on the condition of anonymity said even the partial free education is a forgone issue, adding that the system the state governor declared was not a total free education rather a failed partial free education. He said the Parent Teachers’ Association revised the free primary and secondary education due to the inaction of the governor to actualize his promises, stressing that no level playing ground was created to ensure a conducive learning environment for primary and secondary schools.
The call on the chief executive to act fast for the policy to see the light of the day failed woefully in the very eyes of principals and other stakeholders who are strongly in opposition to the policy. It could be recalled that some of the challenges confronting government schools in the last one year include the inability of the state government to conduct a clear cut annual school census in the state (Nasarawa) failed to comply to the presidential directive of the Federal government to ensure a head count of pupils and students in government schools. It was authoritatively gathered that even in the subsequent school census accurate information was not captured by the people saddled with the responsibility.
It is no longer news that no school census was conducted in 2012 but financial commitment was removed by people identified to be Al-Makura’s political acolyte.
A stakeholder in the education sector said students were tasked to come along with desks and chairs but this is not obtainable with the proclamation of the governor’s free education. Other things lacking are dossiers.
Further investigation revealed that the Principal of Government College, Lafia announced to fresh students on 14/10/2014 that tuition fee is free but students are expected to pay the sum of N6,300 before attending lessons. She further explained that a fresh student must pay N200 for the repairs of borehole within the school premises.
At Government Secondary School, Arumangye, Doma Local Government fresh students are tasked to pay the sum of N4,150 which the school authority said the money was to cover N500 meant for the payment of salary of security employed by PTA as well payment of PTA staff employed by the Nigerian Parent Teachers Association Of Nigeria (NAPTAN)
The PTA chairman, while shedding more light on the introduction of school fees and other levies in Nasarawa public schools, averred that the state government has no say in the introduction of levies, rather it was resolved that parents should pay their contributions to the upliftment of education. He said the free primary and secondary education of Governor Al-Makura lacks some ingredients to make it feasible. The chairman opined that PTA, because of its magnanimity resolved to task parents N2,290 per ward. He further buttressed that the importance of PTA shall never be over emphasized.
Similarly, Umaru Ebenya highlighted that some of the activities of the union include employment of teachers, cooks in boarding schools, building of classes and examination hall cut across schools.
“With the free education things are no longer at ease as we exhaust our fund. This compelled PTA to disengage staff employed under her payroll because on announcing the policy we are forbidden from collecting any levy from students. It will take us some years to recover from the few months of introduction of free primary and secondary education.”
Fallout Of The Free Education Policy
Sudden hike of admission letter/prospectus from N200 to N500; the jerking of N200 PTA levy was to enable the state government realise some fund to help in the running of other activities. They purchased text books ranging from English and Mathematics, while some schools took over school uniforms as another means of getting their loot. There was also the introduction of unrecognized levies like N1000 charged as caution deposit levy annually. According NAPTAN chairman, the amount is to be paid annually for three years after which government will make refund if it discovers that the students did not destroy any facilities.
The free education policy is seen to encourage ineptitude by teachers and Chief Inspectorate of Education, even as no CIE embarks on school supervision since January.
The partial free education leads to the premature closure of schools due to shortage of food in boarding schools.
Solutions are Government should revisit the partial policy by supplying enough chalk as at when due as this will encourage attentiveness by teachers; adequate foodstuff should be supplied to boarding schools as at when due, as some principals also decried shortage of manpower, presence of obsolete facilities, lack of commitment by government as factors contributing immensely to the dwindling state of education in the state.
Other principals lament lack of WAEC centres in their schools as a major challenge facing their schools. “Like in my school, I have only 60 students without WAEC centre and I have to pay N100,000 to WAEC to get registered. Where do you think I will generate the money from?”
Also one of the principals described the policy as partial free education, “partial in the sense that government and parents share responsibility with the state government.”
The position of the governor towards the new policy did not go down well with principals of secondary schools, as in spite of the executive directives, principals still collect school fees to register external students.
All efforts to speak with the chairman of the committee, HonorableAbdul-Hamid Yakubu Kwarra, proved abortive as the Senior Special Assistant to Governor Al-Makura on Public Affairs promise to contact our reporter, a promise that was not actualized, and as at press time all efforts to contact him failed as his line was said to be switched off.
When contacted, the chairman House committee on education, Science and Technology to comment on the re-introduction of school fees in the state, he declined comments.