REENGINEERING BAYELSA’S EDUCATION STORY

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Powered by a compelling vision of preparing his folks for a future beyond petroleum exploration and exploration with its peculiar, opaque challenges, Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State established the Bayelsa Education Development Trust Fund (BYEDTF) as a structured, sustainable platform to anchor the states educational development strides and more. *Stanley Nkwazema* examines the innovation

Peering through the dark racial fog that defined his era, Nobel Peace Laureate and the first elected president of democratic South Africa, late Nelson Mandela, observed that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.

Mandela said: “Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mine worker can become the head of the mine; that a child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.”

Mandela’s deeply felt position on education will certainly strongly resonate with the biologist from the swamps of Otuoke, Bayelsa State and former President Goodluck Jonathan, who incidentally, is the Honorary Special Adviser on the Bayelsa Education Development Trust Fund (BYEDTF). Jonathan’s humble background and the towering national and international heights he achieved pivot on education.

Going forward, the life successes and story of the stubborn visionary who conceptualized BYEDTF, former parliamentarian and current governor of Bayelsa State, Rt. Hon. Seriake Henry Dickson also pivot on education.

The former Science and Technology Minister, Professor Turner Isoun’s was appointed BYEDTF board chairman and will drive the vision of the Governor Dickson’s administration in its quest for academic excellence and human capacity building.

It is worth recalling that several years ago, Bayelsa State languished in the bottom half of states’ students’ performance chart in the West African Examination Council’s examination and other exams.

However, moving from the sad ‘laughing stock’ status and after investing heavily in the critical education sector – both in the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors, the state is now occupying an enviable 5th position in the latest chart released. The huge investment in the education sector is worth acknowledging and has changed the narrative by establishing the Ijaw National Academy in Kaiama and establishing model secondary schools in all the local government areas in the state.

The Bayelsa State Education Development Trust Fund Board was established by Law in 2017. With a 14-member board composed of folks with broad knowledge and expertise in major fields of education, fund-raising, endowments, educational foundations, et cetera. The Fund will be used to drive academic excellence and human capacity building in the State and help prepare Bayelsans for a future without petroleum. The board received N100 million as take-off grant from the state government.

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It is worth recalling that Governor Dickson brilliantly engineered the establishment of the University of Africa, Toru-Orua, Bayelsa Medical University, outside the Niger Delta University which was established before his administration, to increase the accessibility of Bayelsans to quality and affordable education.

Years ago, many doubted and questioned why the Bayelsa State House of Assembly would pass a bill establishing a new state-owned university when the existing Niger Delta University and other state-owned tertiary institutions could be further developed for optimal performance. Such a move was then thought to be irrelevant.

However, Governor Dickson in his usual unruffled and focused nature, calmed the storm and the fraying nerves by reassuring the citizens of the state that the University of Africa was being established to change the narrative of university education in the state and Nigeria, through a paradigm shift from a publicly funded university education to a Public-Private partnership, where the state contributes part of the funds and the private sector helps out with the other part. Now, skeptics are wiser.

Former President Jonathan saluted the efforts of the Bayelsa State governor in educational development observing that he had surpassed expectations and noting that the governor’s decision to deploy the tool of education for the development and emancipation of the society was the right way to go. He further stressed the initiative and landmark achievements of the governor would outlive his two-term tenure, especially with BYEDTF.

According to Jonathan, incidentally a former teacher, “the efforts of the present administration is in line with his educational policy to wrest the Bayelsa child from the claws of illiteracy when he was governor in 2006”, noting that the Education Development Trust would drastically change the story of Bayelsa as a state that was once listed among disadvantaged states.

His added: “I appreciate what Governor Dickson is doing regarding education. We all know that the only way you liberate and uplift a people is through education. From where I started as a child, if I didn’t go to school nobody would have known me outside my village. But today, l am known all over the world because I was able to go to school. So, supporting education is key.”

Indeed, Dickson had on March 31, 2017, signed the education trust fund bill into law, which made it compulsory for different categories of workers, including contractors and civil servants in Bayelsa, to pay education levies.

In June 2017, he inaugurated a 14-member board of the education trust fund chaired by a former Minister of Science and Technology, Turner Isoun. The board went to work and in February 2018, presented its first annual report to the governor, declaring a receipt of about N800 million out of which it spent N300 million, leaving a balance of N500 million.

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Governor Dickson said, “We have also drastically reduced the number of out-of-school children by 90 per cent. Our model boarding schools, which today has over 10,000 students, mostly from poor indigent families on full government scholarships, is also one of the revolutions that has happened in that sector.

According to the governor, when the time comes, he would consult with Jonathan and other major stakeholders in Bayelsa State.

To mischievous detractors, Govrernor Dickson, for good measure clarified he is not fighting former President Jonathan over who emerges as the next governor in the state. The governor who disclosed this while reacting to recent reports of a serious friction between him and the ex-president said that when the time comes, he would consult with Jonathan and other major stakeholders on the candidate that will emerge on the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) platform,

He said: “Let me say that that events should have shown you there is no problem between us. Jonathan is my elder brother and my leader and will continue to receive his due respect. We know what to do quietly. Even in this transition, if there is one person I am going to sit down with; it is going to be former President Jonathan. When I am ready after all these prayers, I will visit him because he is an elder and we will compare notes.”

While formally launching the trust fund in Yenagoa, Governor Dickson had appealed to Jonathan to use his influence to attract donations to the fund. On his part, Jonathan had while acknowledging that the investment in education was worthwhile explained that “Governor Dickson has done much higher than I projected in 2006 in terms of expansion of educational work. Today, let me also thank Governor Dickson for this initiative because most problems we have in governance is not scarcity of good ideas but how will that endure?

Jonathan said: “By setting up a board established by law has made the Education Development Trust Fund endure beyond his eight years in office and that really has made me very happy and my foundation will continue to partner with this board.”

Dickson believes that his administration viewed investment in the education sector not as a burden but as a responsibility because of its far reaching impact on society, while recounting some of his achievements in the sector. He called on the private sector and all people of goodwill to support the education trust fund stressing that education must be seen as a collective responsibility of all.

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To Dickson, lack of education was at the root of instability, militancy and insurgency urged multinational oil companies to emulate the Nigerian Army by adopting secondary schools already built by the state government while disclosing that the government had committed N80 billion to the development of educational infrastructure in Bayelsa in pursuit of the vision to create access to education in the state.

According to him, the state has 13 functional model secondary schools with about 10000 Young Bayelsans enjoying free education in quality boarding secondary school.

The governor also called on the multinational oil firms and stakeholders in the private sector to support the Bayelsa State Tertiary Education Loan Board designed to create access to indigent students to acquire tertiary education in the state. The State under his leadership had committed Five percent of its IGR to fund the board while also constituting a board for landmark programme which had made it easy for prospective applicants to access the funds to pursue higher education in the state.

His administration, he disclosed, was prioritising to educational development because that was the only way to equip the people to demand for their rights and fight oppression
Indeed the hardworking Governor has added 13 Model Schools which provides free boarding and tuition to the students as well as 25 constituency schools newly built by the Dickson administration.

Chairman of the Education Development Trust Fund, Prof. Turner Isoun, also assured donors of the judicious use of the funds as the books of the board are open to external auditing. Isoun said the proceeds from the launch would be utilised for the provision of high quality and sustainable development of education for good as after investing heavily in the education sector both in the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors, the state is occupying an enviable 5th position in the latest chart released.

The huge investment in the education sector is worth acknowledging and has changed the narrative by establishing the Ijaw National Academy in Kaiama and establishing model secondary schools in all the local government areas in the state and more.

With the sheer power of his actions, Governor Dickson is simply proving that there can be no better way of validating Mandela’s enduring insight that, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.

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