In all relevant discussions regarding the development or underdevelopment of education in Edo state, three names and three epochs will get some honourable or dishonourable mention.
The first epoch will be that of the late Professor Ambrose Folorunsho Alli, first executive governor of the defunct Bendel state. After he was sworn in as governor, Prof Ambrose Alli declared education free for primary and secondary schools in Bendel State. Children in these schools received free books, biros, mathematical sets, special pencils from Class one to Class five. Students therefore had no need to come to school with any text books, only their notebooks. At any point where Nigeria had to celebrate her independence or a children’s day anniversary, every child in the defunct Bendel State had a free meal of rice and stew, with a respectable piece of meat to go with it. It was a different scenario from the fabulous school feeding of today. Research carried out on the late Prof Ambrose Alli by Mr. Osamede Osunde, said that between October 1979 and March 1980, Prof Ambrose Alli established 80 new secondary schools in the state in addition to the 187 already in existence. Osunde said in his research that ‘approval was also given for the establishment of 338 new secondary schools in all parts of the state in such a way that no pupil would henceforth, travel more than five kilometres from his home to attend secondary school’. Prof Ambrose Alli also established four tertiary institutions for the training of NCE teachers, in addition to the College of Education, Abraka. Not only that, he made sure that all students in the state’s Colleges of Education were placed on special bursary. Serving teachers admitted into any of the colleges continued to receive their salaries in full while civil servants admitted for further training were placed on study leave with full pay. The late Prof Ambrose Alli also established two new polytechnics at Ozoro and Ogwashi-Uku in addition to already existing ones, five schools of agriculture to offer OND and HND courses. Part of what the Late Ambrose Alli would be honourably remembered for is the establishment of the former Bendel State University, now Ambrose Alli University Ekpoma. ‘By establishing the Bendel State University, we will ensure the development of intellectual capacities of individuals to understand and appreciate their environment and the acquisition of both physical and intellectual skill which will enable individual’s capacity to develop into useful members of the community’, Prof Ambrose Alli said on the day he inaugurated the university.
And that was the dream, and the benchmark set by this visionary leader. Unfortunately though, this great man died on his 60th birthday, struck blind from the inhumane treatment he received at the hands of the man now current Nigerian president. As the years went by however, certain characters found their way to the corridors of power willy-nilly dismantled this lofty dream brick by brick. One such character was Group Captain Baba Adamu Iyam, a soldier who served as military administrator of Edo state from August 1996 to August 1998, during the military regime of Sanni Abacha. Whilst military administrator, Baba Adamu Iyam sacked 8,000 Edo state workers, most of them the teachers that Prof Ambrose Alli had painstakingly groomed, invested in and nurtured. In February 1997, Baba Adamu halted grants to the Edo State University, and this was because he considered that government should not fund universities. Thereafter, he appointed a sole Administrator for the University answerable and reporting to him and him alone.
By his actions and onslaught on the educational legacy of the late Prof Ambrose Alli, Baba Adamu Iyam set the stage and tone for the disintegration of one of the indices of development that Edo became known by. By the time Prof Ambrose Alli was arrested by Head of State Muhammadu Buhari, education in Bendel State had became an exportable commodity: for instance in the late 80s, the law department of Bendel State University, BENSU, now Ambrose Alli University, AAU, was considered the very best in a university so young but buoyed by the lofty educational dream of its founding father.
This dismemberment of the Prof Ambrose Alli educational legacy was to continue under subsequent civilian administrations in Edo state. Under some of these administrations, bursaries for students that Alli instituted were suspended and nobody knows where those monies have gone; teachers were owed salaries for as much as 10months, and universities embark on strikes over serious issues that these civi-military administrations considered mundane. And with the nail driven down on the coffin of public educational institutions in Edo state by Baba Adamu Iyam, private secondary schools flourished.
But if Baba Adamu Iyam’s was to attack the foundation of Prof Ambrose Alli’s educational legacy, the current governor of Edo State Mr. Godwin Obaseki appears to be taking off the bricks of that foundation one by one. Before we go ahead to substantiate this assertion, it must be put in proper perspective that it also appears that Mr. Godwin Obaseki seemingly has his reasons in closing down nearly all the tertiary institutions established by the Ambrose Alli administration. Records have it that after visiting nearly all of these tertiary institutions – Edo State school of Nursing, College of Agriculture Iguoriakhi, College of Education Ekiadolor, aka Tayo Akpata University, the Institute of Continuing Education, ICE, Benin City, the centre for community development, CCD, Benin City – the governor said he was embarrassed that the institutions no longer bore the dream of the founding father. Indeed, that is true. Most of the schools were badly run, became business and miracle centres, and so he shut them down.
After shutting these schools down, Mr. Godwin Obaseki eventually appeared to be initiating his own educational philosophy. It is all there to see at the Centre for Community Development, which has been relocated to the hinterland in a God-knows-where called Bekuma and replaced with a state-of-the-art Migrant resettlement Centre; at the Institute of Continuing Education, ICE, rotting away and from the rot another state-of-the-art hub for Innovation and Start-Ups emerges; and at the Teacher Training College Abudu where in spite of the new look of the institution, workers are owed up to 10-12 months salaries.
Nothing is wrong with Mr. Godwin Obaseki coming up with his own agenda for educational development in Edo State. But he seems to be sacrificing the legacy of the founding father of educational development in Edo – Prof Ambrose Alli – with his contemporary template like an emperor or a military man. If not, were stakeholders in Edo state consulted before the said schools were shut, and a timeline for the re-opening of those schools? Take the case of ICE for instance: Edo people expected that in building a hub for startups and innovative ideas on that same premises where ICE stood, the governor should have discarded the fiscal and managerial system responsible for the rot in that school and replaced it with one based on zero-based budgeting (for example), or with the system currently being used to run the state-owned public transport system aka Comrade Bus. If you were to get to ICE today, you will experience a welter of confusion at a school where science labs, office equipment, cars, air conditioners, classrooms are rotting away apparently because the school was allegedly in the wrong hands. But are there no good hands in Edo state capable of running these educational institutions? If there are no good Edo hands to run these schools, why not bring in expatriates or private investors and let them run the schools? On that same compound where ICE is rotting away, a power generating set runs 24/7 to power an innovative and start-up hub unable to come up with any innovative idea how to contain the onslaught of the Covid 19 in Edo or Nigeria.
In The Fortunes of Wangrin (1973), Malian novelist Hampate Ba said that a library burns down when an old man dies. In Edo State, an arbitrary closure of tertiary institutions without a clear timeline for their re-opening is a theft of a dream. Mr. Godwin Obaseki can build his educational legacy side by side that that was already on ground without appearing to dismantle that of another. He has demonstrated that he has a passion for the development of Edo state with the work he did with a stadium left to rot. It is in taking a bold move to re-open or let these schools continue to rot that will determine whether or not history and Edo people will accord Mr. Godwin Obaseki an honourable mention.