Dr. Leke Pitan’s Schools’ Tables and Chairs

by Banjo Odutola

The attempt in this article is responsive to the announcement by the new Commissioner of Education, Lagos State, Dr. Leke Pitan. It is appropriate to highlight the Commissioner’s concern; and impressive anodyne to a problem that can only be hoped is not a politician-speak.

The Commissioner’s concern that 50% per-cent of Public Schools in his State have no tables and chairs is not an eye-opener. For it is not a sudden problem begging resolution. In fact, it ought to dock the State government on a charge of inhumane treatment of children, at the minimum; and unmitigated negligence for which there is little defence. Is this a government that has welfare of Children at its heart? Does this government take serious schools’ inspections? What has happened to Schools’ Inspectorate? Has no one ever reported the abysmal situation to the Governor? Is the news of dearth of Chairs and Tables new to the State government? Is the interest of the Governor limited to the gimmickry of transferring authority of the State to children for one day? This new Commissioner’s disclosure is an interesting one. Lagosians should demand of Mr. Bola Tinubu’s government: how after eight years of governance – education of children descended to such a pathetic level.

Dr. Pitan is no stranger to me. Both of us shared tables and chairs in the same classroom; and studied in more conducive environment for years – when we were striplings. Since those days – our trajectories have differed; in a crowd – we may not recognise each other; and our paths are unlikely to intertwine. So, just as he acclaimed; and same is reflected herein: concentration is on what may one day become “Ijoko Pitan”. It is hoped solving the dire situation in education of children in Lagos State will not be reduced to “Digi Bola” – a Bagatelle eponymous of the State Governor. For clarity, and perhaps posterity, if the new Commissioner institutionalises a correction of the present situation, unlike the fatuous Digi Bola – a standard operating procedure will emerge. Such policy entrenchment will make a reversal almost impossible. As a consequence – never in the State would Children experience such inhumanity from their government.

I shall attempt on three heads to crystallise why the new Commissioner must consider exigencies precipitating the current situation. Throwing money at the problem without exploring facts will not solve the problem. Neither would offers of contracts for cabinet-makers parading themselves as Furniture Designers abate or mitigate the current trend. The Commissioner must return to basics before deciding on what to do. To charge at the problem as intoned in his interview may miss an opportunity to bring to bear a legacy of good stewardship which stands to impale achievements of recent past holders of his same office.

But before such attempts as I wish to proffer – it must be stated that the immediate past Commissioner in that Ministry was most probably a square peg in a round hole: a misfit for the post. To come out of a Ministry with tellingly statistics where so many children sit on floors at State schools is indicting. What could possibly mitigate and absolve the immediate past Commissioner? The requirement for chairs and tables is not complex. It is not Rocket Science. Or, is it? It should be inquired whether past Commissioners before Dr. Pitan served as Charge hands overseeing payments of wages and salaries, rather than foreseeing deteriorating situations where children are herded in school buildings without chairs and tables?

So, firstly, whatever the new education Commissioner seeks to do – he must query enrolment policies which offered more pupil admissions than available physical capacity. Has the State government documented requirements for provision of chairs and tables? Did previous Commissioners alert the Governor to the state of schools? Is the Governor at the centre of this recklessness? Who determines the number of admissions to schools? Are these decisions formulated at local or State level? When last did the State Governor undertake impromptu tours of State schools as he wades through floods at Victoria Island and Ikoyi for pictorial opportunities as another of his gimmicks?

It seems there is no absorption at whatever level admissions are offered. Does the State ministry possess number of pupils in each school? And, how come for so many years, the Ministry failed woefully to correlate intake numbers to available desks and chairs? This failure is not short of criminal negligence. Accordingly, the Commissioner must rout his Ministry, firstly, by disengaging those who have failed our children; or, at best orientate his staff to the demands of new expectations. He should also create task forces of Carpenters, labourers and apprentices to go into schools constructing simple styled; and enduring chairs and tables. Solution of this problem ought not provide opportunities for Contractors to be enriched. Scarce resources must be managed through direct labour of Craftsmen who are stationed at schools – teaching apprentices how to make required chairs and tables which the new Commissioner bequeaths as:“Ijoko Pitan”. As a benefit of direct labour – the Commissioner with involvement of apprentice training will after a short to medium term succeed in giving opportunities to train as tradesmen on his State government training scheme; and in a way resolve the scarcity of properly trained Craftsmen in Lagos.

Secondly, the new Commissioner must consider demographic studies available at his Ministry, if available. It is not in my wildest imagination to expect such studies exist. We are a nation governed by leaders who plan without facts. Projections must be available to forecast number of children resuming at schools in densely populated areas. It may well mean that classes are planned in shifts. Sc

rutiny of education policies of the Ministry in context of available scarce resources is imperative. Would the new Commissioner now realise he serves a government driven by propaganda, instead of proactively delivering well rounded children – educated in conducive environments?

If studies are in existent at the Ministry – the new Commissioner may wish to consider commissioning these studies. The point being, such situations as he has met at schools were not created suddenly. There are variables, actions, inactions and decisions that led to situations where pupils have to sit on bare floors to learn.

Thirdly, in view of scarce resources, it is now time to involve direct participation of Volunteers who are prepared to assist at schools. In developed countries there are various organisations that avail themselves to alleviate burdens on schools administration. Such examples include where the Organisation is established as Friends of a particular school. We can do the same in Nigeria. Involve graduates at Churches, Mosques and Commerce to adopt schools where they want to see the children and their schools thrive. Present the idea as “putting back into society”. Many people want to do it – if properly organised.

In considering direct participation – the Commissioner should be conscious of the danger such Elixir portends. Although, it presents a solution that has no costs to the Ministry – an improper oversight of it, has its own problems. Were the Commissioner to involve direct participation – Volunteers must be subjected to rigorous examination of their backgrounds and antecedents; registration with the Ministry and the Police; and such people must not be allowed to vie for Contracts for which there are pecuniary benefits. Also, the Volunteers must be reminded of legal obligations of holding out themselves; and as such must appreciate such obligations are not suspended because of non-remuneration. It calls for the Commissioner to set up, at his Ministry, a team to assist Volunteers and codify Direct Involvement as a Policy. If stringent guidelines are understood before commitments of Volunteers are accepted, the Commissioner will readily have to hand – reports of what is happening at various locality of his charge.

What is happening in Lagos Public schools begs several questions. Is this what Mr. Bola Tinubu has achieved in governance? Why has it taken this long for a courageous Commissioner to raise the alarm? What was the last Commissioner doing in the period in that post? In essence – whatever, Mr. Tinubu may achieve in government – there are thousands of children who forever will be reminded they started out in life under an irresponsible government that could not provide chairs and tables for schools. These children will talk about residing in one of the most dynamic states in the Nigerian Union. Yet, their reminiscence will be of learning to read and write on schools’ floors. The state governor, if for nothing but a legacy that will abide – should set aside politicking; concentrate on assisting his new Commissioner to reverse what for years may be ascribed as his recklessness – when that ought not be the case.

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Sabella Abidde April 17, 2006 - 10:45 am

Hello Mr. Odutola:

Long time…welcome…it's nice to have you back. Welcome!

Anonymous April 17, 2006 - 10:05 am

Bandwagon criticism. It appears you have been waiting in the wings to indict Tinubu. We have not seen your articles praising his many policies that have improved the fortune of this state. It baffles me how people in foreign land prefer to be arm chair critics rather than doing something about it? How many NGOs or donations have you given or taken to donate books, desks and tables to Lagos state children? Is that beyond you? Moreover, Tinubu as you have well stated is gorverning under exceptionally difficult circumstances which you fail to appreciate. With a state bustuing in its seams and with no extra FG revenue allocation to compensate for this and riddled with severly over stretched , aged and un servicable federal and state infrastructures; the governor has been trying his best as far as most lagosians are concerned. I will be glad if you can position your self and tout these your theory including ur so called "studies" as a manifesto. How many "studies" will you carry out before your are thrown out of the round house – I wonder! The turn around of the health ministry from which commissioner Pitan was transferred from, will most definitely be witnessed soon in Lagos states education sector. Why don't you give the governor credit for realizing there was a problem in this sector and taking steps to redress them albeit late? Our problems are numerous, and we should give our leaders support when they need them. Not a whole sale indictment that you just issued.

Anonymous April 17, 2006 - 7:18 am

Dear Sir,

As someone born and raised in Lagos(An experience that I credited for my survival skills today in the good ol USA)your story saddened my heart. I have also read articles about how this man – BOLA TINUBU drove around Lagos with his entourage in expensive cars. What a disgrace!!!! There are dozens of social clubs all over US cities now…such as EKO CLUB etc and are doing beautiful things in terms of fund raising. I would personally pass the message to them. We dont have to wait for these mother f—–s to take care of our children.


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