Bayelsa: A restoration agenda for education
By Bestman Ayebabomote
WHEN Governor Henry Seriake Dickson took over governance of Bayelsa State in 2012, at a time when the state was the hotbed of militants, the first thing he did was to declare a state of emergency on education. The decadent state of education – especially at the primary and secondary education levels at the time compelled him to do that. Also, there was no single boarding secondary school in the state. This was exactly the situation Dickson found the state and decided to attack the problem frontally.
Today, that decision has led to massive construction of schools that are equipped with what can rightly be tagged state of the art facilities that symbolises Governor Dickson’s restoration agenda in the education sector.
No doubt, on assumption of office, Dickson was convinced that lack of quality education is one of the reasons Bayelsan youths have become willing tools in the hands of those who enlist them into militant activities, he also embarked on an elaborate programme of scholarship awards; he sent several of Bayelsan students overseas for good education. And today, the measures are paying off. Dickson has established a university to take care of the tertiary education need of all Ijaws from all parts of the country. And in no distant future, young Ijaws will no longer take up arms against their state in the name on agitation via militancy; he will rather aspire to right the wrongs in his community through education.
And one of the groundbreaking achievements and legacies that Dickson will surely bequeath to the state at the end of his tenure is the Ijaw National Academy, a co-educational institution, established two years ago to provide quality education for children of Bayelsa State from all strata of life.
Located in the historic town of Kaiama, the school occupies a vast expanse of virgin land that is twice bigger than what is available to most private universities in Nigeria. With a student population of 900, the school which boasts of structures that can only be seen in first generation universities in Nigeria has students in JSS1 to JSS111 selected from schools in and around the state.
Scattered on the vast land is six newly built three storey hostel buildings – three each for male and female students, two one storey block of classrooms for JSS1&11 students and a yet to be completed storey building whose ground floor serves as classrooms for JSS111 students all equipped with durable plastic chairs and table painted in the green – white – green Nigerian colour and fitted with ceiling fans to make teaching and learning enjoyable.
Other eye popping structures in the school include the administrative block that houses both the teaching and non-teaching staff. This is the first thing a visitor sees as he steps into the premises after undergoing strict security screening at the gate, the ICT suites, laboratories and library which are situated very close to JSS111 classes. Also behind the administrative block are over 10 bungalows of three bedroom flats that serve as staff quarters. Though, the principal currently resides in Yenogoa, artisans are putting finishing touches to a building that will serve as his quarter. In fact, Ijaw National Academy is an ambitious project that will transform the landscape of Bayelsa’s education sector.
The ambiance is truly serene and conducive for learning and in the words of its Principal, Mr. Charles Johnson, a British national whose father spent a couple of years in Lagos as a British diplomat in the 1960s said this of the school, “the vision of the government is to pick the students from the region and settle them in one boarding establishment – obliviously a co-educational school – provide them with good facilities and opportunity to learn.”
Johnson who just took over as the principal of the school few months ago said that the school was modeled after what is obtainable in the United Kingdom, a co-educational institution that can take up to 1000 students, expose them to good facilities and opportunity to learn.
The top notch facilities in the school is a testimony to the fact that the Dickson administration is ready to stop at nothing in making the school one of the best in Nigeria and thereby leave a legacy that will speak for itself generation after generation.
The unique thing about the school is that it is fully funded by the government; there will be feeding. Three square meal in a day. The government spends an average of N 25 million every month as feeding and running cost for the Ijaw National Academy alone.
Dickson is not limiting admission into the schools to Ijaw children from Bayelsa state alone, Ijaws in neighbouring states like Edo, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Ondo and Delta are also eligible for admission.
And in the words of the state commissioner for Fefegha “Ijaw National Academy is like running a private school in a public system and the Governor’s ultimate vision by the end of his tenure is to place the state among the first three in terms of ranking at national public examinations like West African Examinations Council, WAEC, or National Examination Council, NECO, from our current seventh position.”
On his part the Secretary to the State Government, His Royal Highness, David Serena-Dokubo Spiff, traced the motive behind the establishment of the school by Governor Dickson back to 2012 when the level of militancy was so high that every Ijaw man was seen and described as a militant.
According to him, while most Nigerians erroneously dressed almost every Ijaw man in the toga of a militant, Governor Dickson thought otherwise. He blamed the militant activities which the youths of the state were involved in on lack of education and absence of job opportunities for those who managed to acquire one.
However, in spite of the achievements of Dickson in the last five years as the governor of the state, what he gets in return from political elite in the state is negative propaganda which portrays him as a non achiever and paints the state and every Ijaw man as a militant. A situation that has led to the under coverage, in the media, of the achievements of Dickson and his restoration government team in the area of road construction and provision of other critical infrastructure.