By Eze Chukwuemeka Eze
In my series of examining the extraordinary feats of Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi and exposing him as the epitome of exemplary leadership in governance based on the theme for his 54th birthday ceremony that comes up on 27th May, 2019, I wish in this treatise which I titled, “Amaechi @ 54: His Impact as an Exemplary Leader in the Education Sector (Part Three)” intend to expose to the world the wonders this enigma achieved for Rivers State during his years as the Governor of Rivers State in the Education sector.
I have in my first treatise titled, “AMAECHI’S 54 BIRTHDAY: THE ROLE OF EXEMPLARY LEADERSHIP IN GOVERNANCE WITH SECURITY AS A CASE STUDY (PART ONE)” , highlighted how this man fought and dismantled the demonic menace of insecurity that caused Port Harcourt to be ranked among the worst and most insecure State capitals in the world. I concluded that piece by preferring solutions to the unfortunate insecurity situation of the State under the watch of Governor Nyesom Wike.
In my second treatise titled, “AMAECHI’S 54 BIRTHDAY: HIS FEATS IN THE AGRICULTURE SECTOR AS A CASE STUDY IN THE STUDY OF HIS EXAMPLARY LEADERSHIP IN GOVERNANCE (PART TWO)”, I highlighted the vision and extraordinary feats he achieved in the Agricultural sector when he was the Governor of Rivers State which sadly the present Governor of the State have destroyed and dismantled.
For avoidance of doubt, Rt. Hon. (Dr) Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, erstwhile governor of Rivers state, incumbent Minister of Transportation and the undisputable leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the South-South region of Nigeria, will be celebrating his 54th birthday on 27th of May, 2019. According to the organisers of this year’s birthday celebration, which theme is “The Role of Exemplary Leadership in Governance”, the great Obi of Onitsha, His Royal Majesty, Igwe Nnnaemeka Alfred Achebe, CFR, MNI, will be expected to chair the epochal event, while the keynote speakers have been carefully selected: H.E. Nasir El-Rufai, the Executive Governor of Kaduna state; Senator Olorunnimbe A. Mamora, the Managing Director of the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA); Prof O. Georgewill of the University of Port Harcourt; Barr. Bele Tariah, a beneficiary of Rt. Hon. Amaechi’s Undergraduate Scholarship Scheme; and Hon. Nancy Stephens, former Deputy Mayor of Port Harcourt local government area (PHALGA) will moderate the epochal event.
Though the great minds mentioned above, expected to speak on the theme are all well qualified and very capable to do justice to it, however having followed the politics of Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi these past thirteen years, I will be doing a great injustice to the world if I fail to bring to the fore what made this enigma of a man, not only unique, but a true example of what leadership is all about.
Today, as I earlier stated in this treatise, I will focus on how Amaechi changed the fortunes of Rivers State in the area of Education and how he succeeded to attract and make Port Harcourt the UNESCO World Book Capital.
AMAECHI AND THE LAYING OF A STRONG AND SOLID FOUNDATION IN THE EDUCATIONAL SECTOR FOR RIVERS STATE
According to the legendary Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” While to the famous Walter Cronkite; “Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.” To Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi, erstwhile governing Rivers State seems like a divine mission where tomorrow does not exist. In tune with the statements credited to the above sages, Amaechi seems to be in a hurry to accomplish so many things within a short period at the period of his governance of Rivers State and have in my recent treatise exposed his feats and strategies adopted to secure Rivers State and his revolutionary trends in the Agriculture sector, in similar function, I intend in this particular treatise briefly highlight the revolution witnessed by Rivers State within the eight years of the tenure of this young visionary man in the area of education amongst others.
On assumption of office the Amaechi-led government declared a state of emergency on the education sector and completely took over the payment of salaries of primary school and junior secondary school teachers, hitherto the statuary function of local governments, to ensure that education takes its rightful place in the scheme of things. This intervention cost the state government then N800 million monthly, to pay salaries of primary school teachers. To further strengthen and ensure qualitative education in the state, ex-governor Amaechi signed into law five bills brought for his assent by the State House of Assembly. Among them were the Rivers State Universal Basic Education Amendment Bill 2012 and the Rivers State Senior Secondary Schools’ Board Bill 2012. The then governor was upbeat while signing into law these bills, including the one on social services levy recently passed by the Rivers State House of Assembly. The government targeted building 700 model primary schools with 500 completed – each with 20 classrooms costing about N116 million each and equipped with ICT facility, modern library, science laboratory, football field, basketball pitch, volleyball pitch and nursery playground. These model primary schools were built to the standard of the United Nations as obtainable in developed parts of the world.
The State Government also built 24 model secondary schools across the 23 local government councils in the state, well-structured and fully-equipped with modern educational, recreation and boarding facilities, with standard housing for teachers’1B, of which one was commissioned by the former president of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. These secondary schools have been referred to by some observers as universities. Said Amaechi about his mission: “We knew that the problem of the state was basically education, the state of our quality of education was abysmal and we knew that the quality can only improve if we take over primary education.” He expressed concern over what local government councils were doing with the money meant for this purpose. Rivers State under Amaechi introduced the study of ICT in the model primary and secondary schools. According to Dame Alice Lawrence-Nemi, then commissioner for education, whose word was a law on issues of education in the state: “The introduction of ICT in our schools was to enhance technological development of our students in the State. The world is a global village and the need to embrace technology at an early stage is essential in the intellectual development of the students. I am proud that Rivers State is the first state in Nigeria to introduce the study of ICT at the primary school level. All the schools in Rivers State today are equipped with ICT facilities with internet connection, as the state is eager to make all her pupils and students to be technologically ahead of their counterparts in other parts of the country.
“Our candidates are ICT-compliant and write external examinations like WAEC and NECO. Today, I am proud to state that technology has eased learning in our society as our students can do their assignments on the internet. Today, Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST) is leading the way in technological drive in Nigerian universities and has shown Nigerians how ICT can easily be used to enhance learning and administration process in the academic environment. All these are to the credit of the great revolutionist of our time – Rt Hon Chibuike Amaechi,” Lawrence-Nemi enthused.
Apart from retraining teachers, the government employed 13,000 teachers from the 20,000 shortlisted for interview, out of the over 45,000 teachers that applied – a feat uncommon by any other government in Nigeria. Rivers under Amaechi offered scholarships to over 2,000 students in Nigerian higher institutions, and spent about N5 billion on her students in foreign institutions. The state embarked upon building a world-class university, which when completed will turn out well-equipped graduates that will hold their own in any field. In the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, the Amaechi administration was building a hostel that will accommodate about 6,000 students, and accommodation for all the lecturers of the university that will be ICT-compliant. It is important to point out here that the Rivers State Government is among the few in Nigeria that offer free education and free health delivery to its people, but stands apart as the only state offering free education, free sandals, free books and free uniform in Nigeria. About 500 new primary schools have been built in 350 communities across the state.
Amaechi explains what his administration achieved for Rivers State under the educational sector within eight years of governance
“Education is one the strongest areas of focus by this Administration. Under our watch these last eight years, our educational system witnessed transformation in infrastructure and service delivery.
Although constrained by the reduction of our revenue by more than half, our administration is proud of undeniable successes in our educational sector such as infrastructure revolution: Building and equipping over 311 world class primary schools and five model secondary schools; The retraining and recertification of teachers with the involvement of the British Council in Port Harcourt; Total elimination of strikes and disruptions by takeover of payment of salaries of primary school teachers amounting to about N2bn per month; Recruitment of 13,210 teachers; Establishment of the Quality Assurance Agency; Introduction of Free Education up to secondary school level; Abolition of all fees in schools; Annual oversees scholarships in strategic branches of knowledge; Establishment of skills acquisition institutions to draw attention to self-employment and entrepreneurship; and above all, the outsourcing of management of schools in the state. The icing on the cake perhaps is the transformation of the UST from 79th to best state university in Nigeria and 12th overall best. There is also the establishment of a university of education.
As part of the Administration’s deliberate academic growth policy, we sent our children to schools overseas, while working on improving our facilities in the state. Back home, we sent others to rated secondary schools and universities. We are proud of our achievements in the education sector; and are equally proud of our children who proved that given conducive locale, they could compete with the worlds best and brightest. We have given over 3000 scholarships to our deserving children within and outside the country. Even with mounting pressure and competing interests made the education of our children a priority as indeed it should be. N800,000 ( Eight hundred million Naira) has been released to the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency in this light to enable it pay down some of its obligations to our scholars”
Amaechi and development of Human Capital through offer of foreign Scholarship to Rivers State Students.
Jean Piaget, a Swiss cognitive Psychologist on education having Amaechi and his exemplary leadership in Rivers State in mind stated and I quote, “The principal goal of education is to create men who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done”. In line with stand of Piaget, the Government of Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi not only offered free education to the people of Rivers State up to Secondary School level and offered scholarship in different universities in different parts of the world as follows – i. Canada 297, ii. India: 202, iii. Ireland: 30, iv. Singapore: 136, v. United Kingdom: 384, vi and over 1049 students studying abroad under the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency (RSSDA) in order to create the new Rivers State as envisaged by the founding fathers of the State.
PORT HARCOURT AS UNESCO WORLD BOOK CAPITAL 2014
Apart from all these feats, Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State of Nigeria, played a historic role when it hosted the US-Nigeria Bilateral Commission on October 16 and 17, 2012, thereby becoming the first city outside the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, to do so. This event is a top bill in international rating and the strategic relevance of the Gulf of Guinea area makes the meeting in Port Harcourt even more important. The United States Deputy Secretary of State and two Assistant Secretaries led the US delegation. On the side of Nigeria, the US-Nigeria Bilateral Commission is viewed with seriousness, especially by the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) led by Amaechi. It would be recalled that UNESCO, moved by the revolutionary feats of Amaechi in the education sector, crowned Port Harcourt the 2014 World Book Capital City in April 2014, beating ten other great cities that include Oxford in England and Moscow in Russia. For this to be achieved against all odds and challenges simply demonstrates that Amaechi was a visionary and focused leader who has received accolades in this regard by world leaders. His administration has, in addition, promoted overall United Nations activities in the South-South geo-political zone, through the provision of an outstanding facility that can house over 15 UN agencies in Port Harcourt. As a result, there are five UN agencies in Rivers State at the moment; and more are expected to follow in due course.
Port Harcourt’s reign as World Book Capital 2014 began with the handover by Bangkok at an impressive ceremony at Hotel Presidential in the Rivers State capital. Dignitaries at the event included former Governor Amaechi, former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar; Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka; UNESCO Director-General, Ms Irina Bokova; former World Bank Vice-President, Africa, Dr Obiageli Ezekwesili; wife of the former Governor, Dame Judith Amaechi; Engr Tele Ikuru, former. Deputy Governor of Rivers State; Rt Hon O.D Amaechree, then speaker of State House of Assembly, members of Rivers State Executive Council, senators and members of the House of Representatives from the state. This feat by Port Harcourt in becoming the very first African city south of the Sahara chosen as World Book Capital based on public voting, beating ten other great cities that include Oxford in England and Moscow in Russia, is commendable.
The Rivers State Government was adjudged the best performing state in the Education sector within the South-South zone during this golden period of Rivers State. In recognition of this the Federal Ministry of Education rewarded the state with the sum of N70 million for its performance.
The Rivers State Ministry of Education has won the maiden edition of Babs Fafunwa Education Prize for Service Delivery. The award is in recognition of the massive deployment of infrastructure, effective management of human resources and productive educational policies and programmes that have made a huge difference in the overall development of the education sector in the state and in the lives of target beneficiaries.
INTERNATIONAL ORGANISATIONS’ COMMENTS ON EDUCATION
The United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) commended Amaechi on the strides recorded by his administration in the health and education sectors. Country Representative of UNICEF, Ibrahima Fall, who described as tremendous the progress made in these sectors, said: “This is the most exciting news for every mother, for every child and for every family in Rivers State.”
In appreciation to the feats of Amaechi’s administration, the former Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, stated: “The impression that I always get when I come to Africa is that these countries have enormous potential, and your country and your state (Rivers) have enormous potential and I think that you happen to have at this time in history also, a dynamic, energetic and capable leadership that can make the dreams of building up the state into a reality of life for the 5.1 million residents in Rivers State that want their lives to be of much higher and greater quality.”
In extolling this great revolutionist, the United States’ Consul-General in Lagos, Mr. Jeffrey Hawkins, told journalists: “I must commend Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State for embarking on numerous people-oriented projects and showing enthusiasm on Niger Delta issues. We are very appreciative of all that Amaechi has done. We are quite clear that addressing the issues of the Niger Delta, the challenges require focusing on things like education development, agriculture, health, all sorts of issues. And the governor was kind enough to show us, on the ground, some of the projects the government of Rivers State is working on, so we are very deeply appreciative of his support.”
ABBEY WRITES AMAECHI IN APPRECIATION OF THE SCHOLARSHIP THAT MADE HIM WHAT HE IS BY TODAY
Dr. Samuel Jonah Abbey one of the beneficiaries of Amaechi’s policy on education wrote and I quote, “It is with a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation that I write to humbly say thank you for making me what I am today. The background story might be too long for you to read Sir, considering your busy schedule.
Sir, I had lots of aspirations as a child but the demise of my parents almost crumbled the skyline of my world. As an orphan, I completed my first degree in Civil engineering with upper class in 2010 at the University of Port Harcourt.
My horizons were then broadened when I heard about your overseas scholarship scheme during your term as the executive governor of Rivers state. Sir, the transparency of your administration gave me the opportunity to be assessed and awarded the RSSDA scholarship on merit to pursue MSc Civil Engineering in the UK.
I successfully completed my MSc with Distinction in 2013 and today your Excellency Sir, I have completed my PhD in Civil Engineering, Coventry University, UK and now addressed as Dr. Samuel Jonah Abbey.
Sir, I just want to say thank you so much for giving my life a meaning. Thank you so much. My entire family are ever grateful to you. May God bless you richly and protect you. May God shield you on every step and remain your pillar. May he protect your entire family in Jesus name, Amen. I will keep praying for you. God bless you my hero”.
Sadly, Governor Nyesom Wike the incumbent Governor of Rivers State not only stopped the scholarship scheme of the Amaechi’s administration, sacked the 13,250 Teachers employed by Amaechi and discarded all the great schools built by the Amaechi’s administration. He has so destroyed education in Rivers State that he has embarked upon vendetta against all the owners of private schools in Rivers State
Let me conclude this treatise by summarizing in brief the key areas where Amaechi proved that he is an exemplary leader of our time –
SUMMARY OF THE GREAT FEATS IN THE EDUCATION SECTOR BY AMAECHI
- Employed over 13000 teachers in one day
- Sponsored over 2000 Rivers people on foreign scholarship.
- Built about 10 world class secondary schools with boarding facilities.
- Upgraded the status of COE to I. Ajuru university of education.
- Gave free school uniforms to all primary school pupils.
- Made Port Harcourt world book capital.
- Built Modern Primary schools in almost all the communities in Rivers State.
- Built Modern Secondary Schools that is adjudged a university in various parts of the state. Unlike what is undeniable in other states, Amaechi made school fees for undergraduate students in all Rivers State owned higher institutions uniform.
- Gave Free Education fro Primary and Secondary School.
- Upgraded SBS to polytechnic.
- Automatic scholarship was giving to all indigenous Lectures in UST to upgrade to Ph’d.
- Upgraded COE to UOE which is the 1st in Nigeria. Direct payment of bursary to Rivers State students in tertiary institutions.
- Supported the federal university with infrastructural and human capital development.
- Backlog of over 4years un access found of UBEC and ETF was accessed to date without his interference… that made the board won an award as the BEST UBE state in Nigeria which attracted #500,000,000.00 to the financial strength of the state. The board is still the BEST in Nigeria.
It is a well-known fact that his weapon in revolutionising education was Lawrence-Nemi, a lawyer, who served as the commissioner of education. This unassuming Amazon, and definition of hard work, is a pride to her family in particular and Rivers State in general.