If there is any sector Governor Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola has made salient and loudest impact since his assumption of office, it is in the area of basic education. This, however is not to deduct from the other laudable transformational projects and programmes going on across the length and breadth of the State of Osun. However, his education policy is by far more rewarding and enduring. It’s obvious that the Governor’s primary role in governance is to address the debilitating problem of education which is central to the fight against extreme poverty.
The reason be that all other things, as it were, may perish or decay, depending on who Governor Aregbesola took over the mantle of leadership from or who takes over from him after he must have climb down from the saddle. The same cannot be said of the knowledge acquired which inculcates values, attitudes, competence and skills that are capable of transforming individuals and turning them to self-regenerative, recreative and rebounding agents of change.
A case in point is the virtual aptness of a junior school student, Miss Yetunde Ojo who came 3rd in dancing competition held at Osogbo Grammar School, Osogbo during the Tree Planting Programme which attracted students from schools in Osun-Central Senatorial District. Miss Yetunde who was asked to name her three trees in order to nurture them with tenderness to maturity gave their names follows: (1) Yetunde (2) Ojo and Top-casts. To the astonishment of the mammoth crowd she told the audience that Top-casts is the name of her future company, when the moderator demanded to know who is Top-coasts! That is the imponderability and imperishability of education.
So, one is not surprise to know that the State of Osun is taking the lead in the number of students enrolment in Nigeria, including female student, across the country. A report by the National Bureau of Statistics in Wikipedia puts Osun children’s in primary school enrolment between 70 to 80 percent. The report by Wikipedia was posted on July 8, 2013. According to the report, no other state in the country falls within Osun’s category while Ekiti, Delta, Cross River, Enugu states rank between 60 to 70 per cent. Ondo, Lagos, Rivers, Bayelsa, Abia rank between 50 and 60 per cent, while kebbi and Yobbe states were on the lower rung of the ladder, with 10 per cent enrolment.
Commenting on the enrolment feat in a parley with some journalists, Governor Rauf Aregbesola attributed the grand-breaking achievement to God and commitment. He said: “We thank God that our efforts are being recognised and appreciated. The Nigeria National Bureau of Statistics has published in its July, 2013 edition that Osun tops in primary school enrolment across the country”.
The governor is of the view that the role of education in poverty eradication, in close co-operation with other social sectors, is crucial. He said no country has succeeded if it has not educated its people. He posited that not only is education important in reducing poverty, it is also a key to wealth creation. The governor submitted that the only way for Nigeria to realise her full potential is “to promote EFA policies within a sustainable and well-integrated sector framework clearly linked to poverty elimination and development strategies”.
The success story is largely attributed to the Osun Elementary School Feeding and Health Programme (a.k.a O’MEALS), the brain child programme of the Governor. The Governor elected on the well thought out programme so as to reverse the very low academic performance of pupils in both internal and externals, and the realization that good nutrition is necessary for proper cognitive development of pupils. The School feeding of the O’MEALS Programme which commenced on Monday, 30th April 2012 has increased the numbers of school pupils in public primary schools astronomically. So far, O’MEALS School Feeding Programme is being implemented in a total of 1,375 Primary Schools across the State of Osun.
The daily feeding allowance for each pupil has been increased to an amount of N 50. 00, totalling N 250. 00 (equivalent to $ 1. 56) per School week. For effective service, a total number of 3,007 food vendors/cooks were trained and are currently employed to serve midday meals for pupils of classes 1, 2, 3 and 4 in all Primary Schools in the State of Osun. All food items being utilised for feeding pupils are available locally and this is to boost the income of local farmers and others on the supply chain. Nutrition experts developed a menu-table of foods to be served to School pupils.
The cheery news is coming at a time most Africa’s education systems are failing to meet the brave targets of Millennium Development Goals projected towards Education For All (EFA) in 2015. President Goodluck Jonathan attested to this fact a few weeks ago that Nigeria cannot meet the MDGs target of (EFA) by 2015. Though, the President acknowledged the fact that Nigeria cannot meet the target, but come short of telling Nigerians what efforts his administration is making or planning to make to boost enrolment in both public and private primary schools.
Before now, Osun has witnessed low enrolment turn out in primary schools until the debut of Elementary School Feeding and Health programme of the present administration. The programme, no doubt spurs a great deal of parents and pupils into enrolling in public school in large numbers and this explains why the state towers above other states across the country. Fortunately, the pace-setter State of Osun with a middle income status is reaching the world’s full school attendance benchmark thanks to a ruthless focus on primary school enrolment policy of the governor.
The development goals, which Nigeria and other poverty-stricken countries will fail to meet in two years, are in the areas of basic education, childcare, maternal health, hunger, gender equality, environment etc. With at least 10 million children out of school in 2013, Nigeria is far from meeting the goal of universal primary education. Education For All (EFA) in 2015 is clearly not one of the issues on the national agenda. The statistics on infant and maternal mortality remain as grim as ever. Extreme poverty is globally defined as living below $1.25 dollars a day; millions of Nigerians still fall below this baseline.
It is useful to think about what 2015 means to power-seekers in Nigeria and the significance of the year to the global movement against excruciating poverty. The lesson of the failure in meeting the 2015 MDGs is that the aim of policy should henceforth be education and poverty eradication. At a time when the global attention is on education and poverty reduction is most appropriate for such a debate. The debate is important and urgent. Any administration that fails to acknowledge the failure of our educational system, the unacceptable degree of human misery there on the streets is not only unfair to the people, it is also a disservice to that administration.
Nigeria governments at all level should think big in matters of making poverty history in the land. But relative to the resources available and the growing potentials, there is a lot more that can be done about stamping out poverty through training and retraining in Nigeria. For the avoidance of doubt, there is nothing utopian about this proposition. China is reputed to have moved 680 million people out of poverty in two decades. That is more than four times the population of Nigeria. Brazil under President Lula achieved significant poverty reduction through education with other aggressive people-centred policies to a global acclaim. India has recorded a success story of moving millions out of poverty.
The progress Governor Aregbesola is making in the area of education should serve as a clarion call to the federal government and other state governors to have a second look at their education policy. The unprecedented impact his education policy thrust has made in less than 3-year in office is a pointer to the fact that it is not too late to engage in programmes that bring happiness to the greater number of the populace.
Written By Biodun Eyinola