I HAVE enjoyed seeing and feeling the warmth of joyful re-union amongst old friends. How wonderful to recall when we all were thrown together in the innocence of early youth, coming from different parts of the country, and from different family backgrounds, how through empathy and chemistry we quickly bonded together to establish strong abiding life-long friendships.
I congratulate Government College Ughelli for its great number of outstanding old boys, who are leaders in various sectors of the government, the military, the civil service, academia, the professions, the press and in business. Since starting my civil service career in 1957, I have had the opportunity of working with and interacting with many of your members.
Your Executive Council has asked me to speak this evening on â€śThe Place of Private Initiatives in Educational Development of Nigeriaâ€ť. This is a rather grave subject in such an evening of good food and wine. But when else can we have the opportunity to exchange views and arrive at conclusions on a matter so critical for the future of our country, conclusions which might catch the attention of those in charge of our national affairs and hopefully influence their policies and programmes.
All of us gathered here this evening owe our positions in life, the successes we have achieved and the positive contributions we may have made in our working life, to the very good education we received in our days in the primary, secondary and tertiary institutions, but perhaps, most important, in the secondary schools.
We were able to go from our secondary schools with our Higher School Certificates or GCE Advanced Level Certificates straight to Oxford or Cambridge or other leading universities in Britain and the Commonwealth, and to Ivy League universities in the United States of America, and to perform competitively and creditably with the home students and students from other parts of the world.
In the Colonial and immediate post-Independence period, the secondary schools were few but they were well funded and equipped and strictly monitored for standards by the government. As you all remember there were the schools like Kingâ€™s College, Lagos and the Government colleges in Ibadan, Umuahia, Zaria (Barewa), Ughelli, Edo College, Queenâ€™s College, Lagos. In the same league as regards quality were a few leading mission schools like St. Gregoryâ€™s College, Igbobi College, CMC Grammar School, Methodist Boys High School, Baptist Boys High School, Methodist Girls High School, Holy Child College in Lagos. They were a few others in towns such as Onitsha, Calabar, Abeokuta, Asaba, Port-Harcourt, Jos, Ibadan, Kaduna, etc.
There was a rapid increase in the number of secondary schools after 1951. Communities would levy themselves to build and support secondary schools often inviting the missions to staff and run the schools. Apart from Christian missions, the Ahmadiyya nd Ansar-ud-Deen Muslim Movements also established secondary schools. The government approved the syllabus of what the schools taught, regulated the minimum facilities and standards which must be met, and enforced the regulations by an efficient Inspectorate Department.
The government also operated a grants-in-aid system through which they part-funded non-government institutions to be able to pay the salaries of graduate and other qualified staff needed by the schools to meet the stipulated standards. The government of the Western and Eastern regions were spending about 40 per cent and 50per cent of their budgets, respectively, on education. Although, pressures for secondary school space were building up as a consequence of the free primary education programmes of the Western and Eastern regions and the increased drive for education by the Northern Region government, the situation which I have just described endured until the end of the Civil War of 1967 â€“ 1970.
One may mention briefly the concept of Unity Secondary Schools built and run by the Federal Government, drawing students from all over the country, as nurseries for national integration. The First Republic leaders started the first three one in each region. After the Civil War and with multiplication of states each demanding its own unity schools, the whole concept became very grossly mismanaged. They grew in number to 102, were poorly funded in tandem with the deteriorating quality of governance. Many today are certainly not centres of excellence and the Federal Government must take up the challenge of regrouping them into two or three categories of : (a) wholly government owned institutions, (b) those to be run by public-private partnerships, and (c) those to be transferred to completely able and competent private operators.
In considering our subject of this evening, the first question that arises is what should be the role and place of education in a developing country like Nigeria. We can attempt to answer this question from two angles. We can consider it a basic moral issue or we can approach it as a political and economic infrastructure question.
I observed earlier that we all are here this evening in this company because of the education we received. We belong to a very small minority of our countryâ€™s population, less than five per cent, are so very much better off in standard of living and quality of life than the vast majority of our citizens. Our Constitution prescribes education as a basic human right. Are we all, therefore, and the government, in particular, not morally obliged to ensure that every child is given good quality education up to the age of 18?
If we approach the question from the economic and political angle, we are reminded immediately of the enormous natural resource endowments of Nigeria which properly exploited will make it one of the richest countries in the world. As has been demonstrated by all nations which have achieved rapid growth and development, education is the key to unlock our enormous potentials.
Fifty two years after Independence which was welcomed with such great hopes and expectations, Nigeria is yet to begin to deliver on the promise.
There is indeed a â€śPlace for Private Initiatives in Educational Development of Nigeriaâ€ť but how significant ought it to be and can it be?
You will all recall that soon after the end of the Civil War in 1970, the Federal Government was persuaded, the initiative was not from the Civil Service, that it should take over all schools from the Missions and voluntary agencies.
The Government, Federal and State now took over all responsibility for the capital and recurrent costs of the entire school system except for one or two expensive private kindergarten and primary schools.
Being a speech delivered by Chief P.S.ASIODU at the Association Dinner Party of National Government College Ughelli Old Boys recently.Vanguard Nigeria