Given the historical narrative of education backwardness in Bayelsa State, spirited efforts by the administration of Governor Henry Seriake Dickson to break from the past represent nothing less than a paradigm shift.
Beginning from the 14th of February 2012 when Dickson assumed office and declared a state of emergency in this critical sector and to date, the story has been an adroit dedication to a total transformation of education as the lynchpin for social and economic development in the state.
From massive infrastructure provision, building new schools across the state and equipping them, to a holistic definition of the kind of education needed in a knowledge economy as a 21st century enterprise, public schools are witnessing a quiet revolution in an era of free and compulsory education.
Thus, for two days between the 14th and 15th of July, the historic community of Kaiama in Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government Area of the state played host to eminent Nigerians and friends of Bayelsa State who gathered to celebrate the inauguration of the Ijaw National Academy, a first rate top, flight model college.
“Although the roads and bridges are important (and we have actually done very many), in vain do we do all of these, if we do not first invest in the human mind. That’s the most important resource we have and why the government has embarked on this revolutionary approach to education”, Dickson declared at the commissioning ceremony performed by former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon (rtd).
The Ijaw National Academy has capacity for 2000 students but for now 1000 students are in session, the governor informed his audience.
According to him, 900 students from Bayelsa State were selected in a competitive process while the remaining 100 were drawn from across Ijaw communities in the Niger Delta, noting that the state, in effect, had to pioneer development of the Ijaw nation of which Bayelsa State is the arrow head or as he is wont to say Bayelsa is the “Jerusalem of all Ijaw nation”.
Dignitaries present included former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon (guest of honour) and his wife, Lady Victoria, notable Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Clark, who was the chairman of the occasion, wife of the governor, Dr. Rachael Dickson, deputy governor, Rear Admiral Gboribiogha John Jonah (rtd), Secretary to the State Government, Barrister Serena Dokubo-Spiff, Speaker of Bayelsa State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Konbowei Benson and members of the state executive council.
Others were members of the state house of assembly, members of the National Assembly from the state, friends of Bayelsa like the former Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, former Minister of Water Resources and former Deputy Governor of Sokoto State, Muktar Shagari, Aba Lawan Jire, Ambassador Ibrahim Kazaure, former Rivers military governor and Chairman of the Bayelsa State Council of Traditional Rulers, Alfred .Diete-Spiff, former Deputy Governor of Revers State, Sir Gabriel Tobi, leaders of Ijaw National Congress and ijaw Youth Council and many others.
Going down memory lane Chief Edwin Clark recalled that before 1968, there was only one secondary school in Bomadi covering the whole of the Ijawland but that when he became commissioner of education in the old Mid-Western State under the leadership of the late General Samuel Ogbemudia (rtd), over ten secondary schools were built before he left office.
Interestingly, one of them was the Government Secondary School, Toru-Ebeni, where Governor Dickson attended. Dickson has since helped to transform his alma mater into a boarding school, one of 13 such model boarding schools just as 25 other constituency secondary schools have also been built across the state. Hitherto, there was no single boarding school in the state.
As with the Ijaw National Academy established for grooming future leaders in the state, all boarding schools are run as free education institutions covering tuition, lockers and beds, uniform, sandals, and feeding. There are also free public non-boarding but qualitative secondary schools throughout the state.
Clark stressed that he was in agreement with those who said “there is no development without education”.
General Gowon who commissioned the school congratulated the governor for establishing the Ijaw National Academy. He further appreciated Dickson for what he said was the spirit behind the institution, “to improve education, to make education accessible to the people”, adding “I’m really impressed with what you’re doing in this area”.
While Clark was confident that the academy, like those before it, will grow from strength to strength as one of the best higher schools in the country, Governor Dickson averred that the future development of the state must be anchored on human capacity building as the most important investment anyone in leadership could make.
He said the educational journey was still unfolding but that the ground work towards actualizing this noble goal must be well set in motion as the Restoration administration had done in the state.
A day after the commissioning, the state commissioner for education, Elder Markson Fefegha and the school Principal, Mr. Charles Hudson, a British, were also on hand to welcome Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka and some Ijaw literary icons, notably Professor John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo and Dr. Gabriel Okara, now 96 years old, as well as Professor Ebiegberi J. Alagoa, a renowned historian.
They were assembled to interface with the students and to inspire them to greater achievements and to be the best they could be.
Dickson set the tone of the conversation when he told the students who were also joined by students from similar institutions including the famous St. Jude’s Girls Secondary School, Amarata, Yenagoa, that he and others in his generation read the works of the eminent literary icons on parade and as such the students would do well by tapping inspiration from them.
He spoke forcefully to the students of the new opportunity they had to have a fruitful and satisfying future. Said he to the students:
“Today, you have some of those who helped to mould our minds. When we were your age, we read their works and got inspired. So they are here to talk to you, to widen your horizon. My charge to you is to fly as possibly as you can, fly as high as your dream can take you and conquer the world…you’re children of the world.
“The report we want to hear is that in the next 20 to 50 years, you have attained and conquered your field of endeavour. The reason we have made this investment as in other schools in the state is because we want to groom a new generation of leaders who will stand up and do what’s right and fair and have the courage to say no when no is the right answer.
“In the last five years, we’ve embarked on a quiet revolution, quiet change. We didn’t make much noise but we’ve done so much”.
The governor further stated that the costly financial investment in the education sector, now put at N55 billion since 2012, derived from the burning desire to change the abysmal prevailing conditions and to give the state and indeed the Niger Delta the necessary conditions for growth and development.
He sees education as a potent weapon to liberate the mind, free the people from ignorance, poverty and militancy and thereby changing the stereotype and misconstrued perception of the people about the Niger Delta as well as opening up opportunities for development.
“The reason our people are marginalized, the reason they are not involved as much as they would like to be involved is because we, too, have not developed the critical mass of educated, skilled professionals. And it is more and more competitive now and so we have a duty to prepare the young ones for the more competitive society that awaits them”, he stressed.
Gov. Dickson had earlier presented a cheque of N100 million as part of the government’s commitment to funding the free education programme and said that the government’s Education Trust Fund was being funded by deduction of 5 per cent from the state’s Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) as he called on individuals, public spirited entities and corporate concerns to support the initiative.
The commissioner of education, told the gathering that Ijaw National Academy alone gulps N25 million monthly to feed the students and meet other financial needs.
Highpoint of the interactive session was when some select number of students actually had the opportunity to sit with Professor Soyinka and the other literary icons on the high table and ask them personal questions about their lives and professional careers to the applause of the audience.
That moment, perhaps, was what Gov. Dickson really wanted to achieve as inspiration to the students who would one day recall that they once interacted with such mighty scholars and came away with the inspiration to pursue greatness.
There was also poetry reading of some of Soyinka’s poems. His famous work, a play, was also performed by the Bayelsa State Cultural Troupe.
Ijaw National Academy, Kaiama, is situated on a massive, beautiful landscape with a total of 26 modern buildings comprising bungalows as staff quarters, one and two storey buildings for boarding, classrooms, a massive ICT laboratory, health centre with doctors and nurses and other major facilities to promote the development of a good academic culture, reminiscent of a university campus. It is the largest model boarding secondary school in the country and may be the most modern and well-equipped. All through the events, the faces of the students were lighted up, their enthusiasm clearly.
The focus on education projects was preceded by the commissioning of other landmark projects in the state by General Gowon and at the laying of wreath at the Ijaw Heroes Park and the commissioning of a new Government House which was described as “Iconic Governor’s Office Complex”.
The new office, a befitting modern structure, with state of the art installations and equipment, has a ship architectural design, which the governor said was special because it was the beginning of the unveiling of a new Bayelsa to the rest of the world.
“From now on, the new Bayelsa will be unveiled in all areas beginning from this governor’s office”.
The improved security situation in the state which has since lowered incidents of crime especially from 2012 making Bayelsa one of the safest states, according to the Special Adviser to the Governor on Security, Dr. Boma Spero-Jack, who conducted senior editors round the security chambers in the state capital, was achieved through deployment of technology as invaluable assets of monitoring the entire state and nipping crime in the bud.
With all these developments and which are products of a visionary leadership, Bayelsa is clearly on a trajectory of progress and a better life for its people.
Iworiso-Markson, Chief Press Secretary to Bayelsa State Governor, sent in this piece from Yenagoa