By Emeka OMEIHE
Given the outcome of the last elections in Imo State, one would have been hesitant to interrogate so soon after, the outgoing administration of Governor Rochas Okorocha. Not because there are no issues deserving of such grill.
It does appear however, he would not allow the ruffled political atmosphere peter out. He seems to have found his voice once again, stirring so much controversy. Last Wednesday, he organized a media briefing in which he dwelt extensively on the giant strides he claimed to have recorded in the education sector. He told his audience with much confidence that he has established six new universities, four new polytechnics and two colleges of education fully ready to resume academic activities.
Okorocha sought justification for the litany of his new tertiary institutions with statistics of students of Imo State origin who enlisted for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination UTME from 2012 to 2018. According to the figures, Imo had 183, 865 applicants in 2012 representing the highest number of applicants followed by Delta State with 88, 876. In 2013, it recorded 134, 610 again followed by Delta with 101, 610. Also in 2017, the figure was 101, 868 and 92, 890 in 2018.
Barely 10 per cent of this population got admission in the nation’s tertiary institutions, hence the imperative for these new institutions to take care of the burgeoning student population, he told his audience. The new universities which he claimed the state House of Assembly has made necessary laws for their establishment are: University of Agriculture and Environmental Services Aboh/ Ngor-Okpala and Umuagwo where the state polytechnic is currently located, University of Science and Technology Onuimo and University of Creative Technology Omuma Isiaku/ Nkwerre.
There is also the University of Medical Sciences at Ogboko and Marine University, Oguta which he said is still under construction. Okorocha further justified the University of Medical Sciences on the ground that his regime built new ultra-modern 200 bed hospitals in each of the 27 local government areas of the state that will provide outreach services to it. A day after the press conference, he was sighted displaying a certificate said to be operating license issued by the NUC for one of the universities.
Those conversant with events in Imo State especially as they relate to the education sector must have received these disclosures with mixed feelings. There is first, the temptation to be swayed by the news. This is especially so given the limited admission spaces hitherto available to indigenes of the state in existing higher institutions.
There is thus, the temptation to jump at the seeming rosy picture painted by Okorocha on which basis he seeks to justify the replication of universities and polytechnics in a manner that suggests he lacks proper understanding of the difference between universities and glorified secondary schools. A cursory appraisal will expose the inherent contradictions in some of the issues that have been traded.
And as can be gleaned from statistics of UTME applicants within the timeframe, there have been a steady and sharp drop in the number of applicants from the state, dropping to an all time low of about 50 per cent in 2018 from the 2012 position. We needed to be told the factors responsible for the huge drop in the number of UTME applicants from the state.
It is vital to account for this drop given fears that the trend could continue. If the trend continues, the very reasons on which he rationalized the establishment of the new institutions would have become demonstrably superfluous. He may as well discover that he has no need for the many universities and polytechnics he claimed to have established.
Had his government subjected these figures to some form of rudimentary analysis, they may have discovered to their chagrin that the figures have been on a steady decline. The next thing is find out why it is so. With such inquisition they may discover that low standard of the much dramatized free education programme may have been largely contributory to the drop. It also bears positive correlation with the level of success recorded by its students in the relevant qualifying examinations for UTME applicants.
And as can be seen from WAEC results, Imo has lost its position as leading overall performer. In 2016, the state came fifth after Abia, Anambra, Edo and Rivers states and fourth in 2017. Again, in 2018, Imo placed fifth coming after Abia, Anambra, Edo and Rivers states.
When this is paired with the drop in the number of applicants for the UTME, the figures point to clear signs that something has gone awry with the overall standard of education in the state. Then, the real issue to address should be quality and not quantity.
As if these contradictions are not worrisome enough, Okorocha shocked many when he claimed his new university of medical sciences at Ogboko will be served by the outreach facilities of 200-bed modern hospitals he built in each of the 27 local governments of the state.
For all one may care to know, there are no such hospitals existing in the state now. So, their prospects of providing outreach services remain the figment of the imagination of the outgoing governor. We know as a matter of fact that some buildings were set up in 27 local governments, ostensibly as hospitals. These uncompleted buildings have since been overtaken by weeds and rodents in many parts of the state.
While uncompleted buildings without any medical facilities and human capital do not constitute hospitals, it is no less correct that the one in Okorocha’s local government is now adorning the signpost of the Nigerian police as their office. Another somewhere around Owerri has been donated to the Nigerian Air Force. How these security posts will now serve as hospitals, betrays the hypocrisy and deceit in the claims.
Again, he said the new universities will be funded under Public Private Partnership, PPP arrangement and that students will pay fees. How that will address the interests of indigent Imo students, remains largely illusory. At best, they will serve the interests of the elite who can easily find admission spaces for their children in existing private universities that are currently undersubscribed.
There is the need for full disclosure on what this arrangement really entails; the overall financial commitment of the government to the projects, the identities of the private sector participants and their financial contributions. It is hoped nobody is using state funds to set up these institutions using surrogates as private sector participants. It is also curious how Imo State University of Agriculture and Environmental Studies which operating license the NUC was said to have issued, can fit into the PPP arrangement given its current status as a state university.
He claims the state assembly has made the necessary laws to back the setting up of the institutions. But details of such laws remain the exclusive preserve of the government. No one will be surprised if a compromised and comatose assembly comes up today to cover up what seems an obvious attempt to shortchange and compromise procedures for setting up of such institutions.
More seriously, why would a government with barely one month to go, embark on bogus projects that are yet to come before the table of the approving federal agencies? Why would Okorocha overburden the incoming administration of Emeka Ihedioha by inaugurating an implementation committee for ill-conceived projects; projects that only exist on imposing billboards?
Or is it part of the subterfuge to continue to massage his ego (as is the case with his 27 hospitals) that he set up so, so and so universities but his successor abolished them? Why would he be inaugurating implementation committee for the institutions; boards of parastatals et al, a couple of days to his exit? They betray his ambition to hang on to his current office through other means. He had no plans to leave office so soon. So sad!