By Dr Frank Osita-Chuks
Recently in an online forum of Igbo intelligentsia, a renouned Medical Practitioner and Consultant to the United Nations Organization, Dr Chibuzo Oguama dropped a comment which caught my attention and sent me on a memory lane on how we Nigerians do tend to forget out past so easily.
His comments reminded me of how much we concentrate on criticizing our leaders, past and present, rather than celebrating to encourag them. This phenomenon seems to be prevalent within the south east region (all due apologies). We are always quick to send our leaders to the gallows and their achievements to the bottomless abyss.
We don’t appreciate nor celebrate them but when they die we roll out drums and close markets to give them post humus recognition, medicine after death. Why should we wait till their demise before we accord them their well earned reputation and honour? just looking back to such leaders like Nnamdi Azikiwe, Mr. Okpara, to Emeka Odimegwe Ojukwu to mention but few, the story seems to be the same.
In his post, Dr Chibuzo expressed surprise to discover through a research, that during the administration of Dr Orji Uzor Kalu, that the Abia state government subsidized the fees of each students in Abia State Uiversity, irrespective of state of origin by N93,000 (Ninety Three Thousand Naira) leaving the students to pay only a paltry sum of N7000, which though was no small amount then. According to Dr Chibuzo, he was also surprised to discover that the same administration ran a complete FREE Education program in both the Primary and Secondary Schools throughout the 8 years of the administration. This was the only administration in the entire south east that could sustain such policy until the recent policy of Governor Okorocha of Imo state (I stand to be corrected)
It took Dr chibuzo from Enugu State to appreciate and remind me of what Dr Orji Kalu did for my people.
I could remember then how most parents from neighboring communities brought their wards to live and school in my Local Government area, Umunneochi LGA which is the only local government that is bounded by the rest four States of the South East – Enugu (Agwu), Ebonyi (Ivo and ishiagu ), Anambra (Owereizikala and Umuchukwu) and Imo (ihube /okigwe). Parents from this communities had friends in Umunneochi with whom their wards lived with so they can access the Orji Uzor Kalu FREE Education program.
In Abia state University, the school was always under pressure from parents mostly from other states who wanted their wards admitted. In most of the cases the school administration ended up admitting beyond the approved quota approved by University Commission, especially in Law, Social Sciences, Optometry and Medicine. In the social sciences, where there was no strict quota system, the crowd was so such that the school auditorium was permanently converted to a lecture hall.
Today the Abia State University environment looks very scanty with few students. The Orji Uzor Kalu subsidy is gone and the school fees sky-rocketed far above the reach of most parents. Those who could manage to pay do so by installments each semester. The FREE primary and secondary educations have also become history.
The surprise thing is that the Orji Kalu administration was able to perform these feats with very lean monthly resources. if I am correct, It was towards the end of the second tenure of the administration precisely at the middle of the 8th year that the state received her first one billion naira allocation from the Federal purse. It comes quickly to my mind how it was celebrated then as Abia joined the billionaires club. That the administration was able to sustain such costly policies without short changing other areas is still a feat that is worth researchig and emulation by present day administrations.
While Not holding brief for that administration, its still a surprise that beats my imagination how Abians seems to have forgotten this laudable policies. Chief Awolowo remains in the heart of every Yoruba man for the singular act of offering educational opportunity to his people, yet in the case of Dr. Orji Kalu, Abians and in fact ndi Igbo see no value this his performance or they seem to have forgotten.
How do we progress as a people if we lack the attitude of gratitude? Even God himself abhors ingratitude. How can we develop the land when we all seem to be suffering from Amnesia (temporary loss of memory)? Why do we engage so much energy and “wisdom” in destroying those that work hard for our interest and serve us charitably? Why so much hatred and lets-pull-him-down attitude for our leaders, past and present? We seek to destroy our leaders rather than appreciate what they have done for us. In the eyes of an ordinary Igbo man, all the leaders are thieves, rogues, robbers, corrupt, greedy, poor before they became leaders etc. nothing good is attributed to any leader once he is out of office. while I power we sing their praises and sycophantly raise them to the sky.
I once read a laughable comment on facebook by a young man who was still in secondary school and enjoyed the free education and of cause the subsidized WEAC Examination in Abia State in 2001 saying that former governor Orji Kalu was bankrupt before he became governor and that he has become a billionaire after his tenure. Of cause he must have heard it from somewhere, some of those blind critics of the former Governor, but his Amnesia syndrome could not allow him realize that he was a beneficiary of this man`s policies, something that was not available to his mates in other surrounding states then. His Amnesia sickness could not allow him to understand that he was a privileged few and that his present day brothers and sisters are not enjoying what he got on a platter of gold the. Of cause how could he have appreciated something that was give to him FREE. Education is his right yes, but did his mates I the other states get it free, nope.
At an award ceremony in Lagos in 2015, a former Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Dr Goodswil Akpabio stated that he was encouraged to become a governor by what he saw Orji Kalu do in Abia State, and immediately he became the Governor of Akwa Ibom that his first project was to introduce the FREE Education for his people up to secondary school and full payment of WAEC fees for all students. This model was copied from Abia State of Orji Uzor Kalu. He took the policy, refined it and adopted it to his people, and today one hardly sees Akwa Ibom citizen as domestic servant.
We cannot go far with this mentality of not celebrating our leaders while they are still alive. What sense does it make that we close our shops and declare public holidays to celebrate a dead leader whom we could have shown gratitude for his sacrifices while alive. There might be shortcomings no doubt, but we should not crucify them for their little mistakes, after all they are humans prone to mistakes; but lets look more at how much good they did for us.
Looking back at what the administration of Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu achieved, I realized that the administration was the first in the country that started the monthly publishing of State account in the Newspapers which was highly commended by the then president Obasanjo who went further to direct Ngozi Okonjo Iweala to ask the other states to follow suit. So the whole money that came into the state was in public domain and how it was spent was also made public. That is accountability.
I remember the first time I saw the publication and somebody commenting said the administration would not sustain the publication by the time they start stealing money. But the monthly publication of the Accounts of Abia State was sustained till the last month of May 2007 when the administration winded up.
Dr. Chibuzo by this his recent posting actually opened my eyes and cured my Amnesia syndrome making me able to think back. My thoughts rushed down to the then administration and some of the other policies that are worth remembering. Had such policies been sustained by subsequent administrations, the state I strongly believe would have gone far in development and would have been copied by other states and by now the south east would have gone beyond what we see presently.
Let me quickly take you through memory lane to briefly enumerate some of the policy achievements of that administration sector by sector as I could remember now that my amnesia is gone. Though I was not a part of the administration but as a citizen of Abia State I saw first-hand those policies and projects being implemented. My training as a policy advisor and social activist also equipped me enough to analytically decipher the positive impact of these policies on our people.
Orji Uzor Kalu realized that education is the most powerful weapon with which the world can be changed. He knew it is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom if his people must excel I life. He understood education is the greatest empowerment he can give to Abians, so he made it one of the major policy mission of his administration.
There was FREE Education in both the Primary and Secondary Schools. During this period people from neighboring Enugu, Anambra, Ebonyi, Imo and other States brought their wards without discrimination to study in Abia. Student enrollment within Abia kept going up each year throughout the administration.
Free Writing Materials were always distributed in the primary schools. This brought about the eradication of “ wooden slate boards” in primary schools as pupils started writing on exercise and work books provided by the administration through the Abia State Universal Basic Education Board (ASUBEB).
There was subsidized payment of both junior and senior west African Examination Certificate fees by the government. Most parents never knew how expensive those examinations were until the exit of the administration.
The States prompt payment of her matching fund to the Universal Basic Education Program brought about many new school buildings in communities that were almost forgotten in the State. Infact it was during the administration that school buildings started wearing aluminum roofing.
Teachers salaries were promptly paid on or before the 25th of every month which motivated them to give their best.
Many graduates were employed into the state school system and Since 2001 till date Abia State have been among the best five performing states when it comes to WAEC, the record is there to be verified. The Orji Kalu administration is the foundation of that excellence in Education today.
In Abia State University, apart from the usually monthly subvention from the state which grew up to about two hundred million naira by the time the administration ended, the government under Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu was paying N93,000 as subsidy per student admitted into the school, while the students paid the balance of N7,000. This was what was believed to be the cost of a good education according to international standard and Kalu insisted he wanted the best for Abians thereby opting to subsidize each student to that tune. The result is that ABSU was able to attract the best brains in the academic world. From 2000 until the end of the administration, ABSU maintained the best results in law and in medicine.
In order to get accreditation for the school of medicine in ABSU, the Orji Kalu administration took up the big task of providing a University teaching Hospital for the medical students. The Aba General Hospital was transformed within few months into ABSU University Teaching Hospital, equipped to world standard. That Hospital recently was an eye sour due to negligence by the subsequent administration and management. I hope the present administration is paying attention to it. Therefore, that ABSU medical school got accreditation was Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu.
Bursary was paid regularly to Abia state students in various institutions across the country on a regular basis. This was sustained till the end of the administration. In some cases there were confusion as students from other states were registering as abians in the various institutions but they were usually resolved and bursary released .
The Abia State Polytechnic came into existence under the administration and given a class of its own. The siting of that institution in the metropolitan city of aba became a great motivation among the youths towards education
To be Continued
Dr Frank Osita-Chuks is a Public Policy Advisor and a Chartered Public & Local Administrator.