by Adekoya Boladale
‘By the grace of God, when ACN is sworn-in, we would provide FREE education for all primary and secondary students and there would also be FREE medical care for pregnant women and children’
– Sen. Ibikunle Amosun (2011)
For those privileged enough to witness firsthand the glorious administration of Chief Obafemi Awolowo as the Premier of the then Western Region, the memories of pure leadership and true dedication to service by the late sage is indeed impossible to wipe off. Amongst his numerous landmarks, two stands out as historical and unforgettable. While other Regional Premiers were busy placing citizens in the army and public corporations to secure and protect the relevance of their Region, Awo was looking far beyond the moment. He understood the importance of human capital development and ventured into a free education and health care policy that reshaped the status of the western region.
So you could imagine the excitement on March 2011, in the city of Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State when the governorship aspirant of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) declared among other things his resolve to make free education and free health service part of his seven-point-agenda. Not that this is a unique promise bearing in mind the decades of abuse and bastardization of the term ‘free’ by all manner of politicians and political jobbers, but this time around the man in the picture sounded genuine and truthful. He wasn’t promising a total free health care but one that concerns expectant mothers and children. He was careful to list primary and secondary school students as the only eligible class for the free education policy. This was fair enough and very realistic or so we thought.
Years after that declaration in Ijebu ode, the health and education sector in Ogun state is in comatose. The people have come to realize that the promise made on that day was nothing but mere charade conceived only to deceive and manipulate the judgment of the electorates while casting their vote. The less privileged citizens who proceeded to the state medical centers in search of free health services were turned back to their dismay. Stories of primary and secondary schools declared to be free for all and sundry are better told by students who attend the state schools and parents who directly feel the burden. Even though tuition fees have been eradicated, the state government through the back door strategically formulated a new policy which requires students to pay for learning equipment such as chairs, tables and Parent Teachers Association (PTA) levies. A cummulative of these payments supersedes the initial tuition fees being paid by the students.
Away from the failed promises one would have expected the state government to ensure adequate and appropriate facilities are available in each of the sectors. The importance of modern equipment in health centres and schools cannot be over emphasised. But it seems the state government is more concerned about urban renewal other than the lives and wellbeing of the citizens.
Few weeks ago the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) Ogun state chapter having been pushed to the limits cried out to the world on the putrefied state of the state owned hospitals and health centres and the non payment of 30-month salaries to doctors. Listening to the association President, my initial judgement was that he was a paid antagonist positioned to sore the integrity of the state government. But curiousity got the better part of me and so I decided to see things for myself. Going round the major health centres within the state I must confess that I am deeply ashamed to call Ogun my State of origin.
Permit me to share few of the pictures I took while going round the state owned hospitals and health centres.
If the state of the health centers is alarming then wait till you see the schools. The deplorable condition in which students and pupils are conditioned to receive lectures is unimaginable. Some of the schools are roofless while a vast majority of students are being made to sit on bare floors during lectures.
Recently the state government rolled out free textbooks and note books to students. The event was widely reported in major new and traditional media. This is a laudable venture only that the exercise came with a clause. The receiving students were mandated not to take the text books home as these were the properties of the state government; the books were only available for use during school hours while students are required to ensure names are not also written on the books. One is then left to ask, how do these students work on assignments and further readings?
It is important to appreciate the efforts of the state government on construction of roads and bridges but other key sectors of the state which include but not limited to health and education should be given priority too. If the state government can award road contract for whopping One Billion Naira per kilometre and even go further to access loans of over Two Hundred Billion Naira for bridges and expansion then nothing stops it from working excessively on the germane areas such as health and education.
Health they say is wealth, in spite of the road networks and beautiful bridges, if the common man who cannot afford the luxury of private health and educational institutions is made to fall victim of half baked education and environmental disease such as cholera then of what good will these infrastructures be?
The government must take cognisance of the fact that power is a thing held in trust, the people believed in the vision he publicised while seeking for election and so voted for him. If he decides not to live up to his promise then it is nothing short of fraud. Projects that impact directly on the lives of the people should be given priority above those that are seemingly fanciful.
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Adekoya Boladale, a political scientist and Convener, Advocacy for Better Leadership (ABEL). Follow him on Twitter: @adekoyabee