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Drama as i was walked out of stakeholders’ meeting at Abuja yesterday

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By Dr Modestus Ezenwa
For asking what appears to the officials of the Federal Ministry of Education a hate-filled question, I was asked to leave the venue of the 19th Stakeholders Meeting on Unity Schools/Colleges. The order came in such an uncharitable, direct and malevolent manner! It matched the same venom that gave vent to it. I was not allowed to pick up my files and say a few words to colleagues. I must leave, and leave immediately within split seconds.
What did I say?
Priscilla Ihuoma, the spokesman of the Minister has just announced what appeared to me, the information that brought me to Abuja. I was waiting for this announcement. I got it. I predicted the minister. She played into my hands. I had waited for an opportunity to share my thoughts on my hatred, opposition and stance against Unity Schools and the injustice in Nigerian education system. I missed the opportunity in 2016 and 2017 to present my views. Then, the meeting was a hushed one. This time around, we were told the meeting would drag to two days. And stakeholders who have views could easily share them as the Minister would entertain such.
Mrs Ihuoma, the announced the breakdown of the registrations for the 2018 Common Entrance Examinations. A total of 71, 294 young boys and girls were registered for the examination, a little shortfall from the 81,930 that registered in 2017. Lagos State hit the top with 24,465, FCT came next with 7, 699. Of course you know why? Igbos in Lagos and FCT are included! Then, she murmured a well rehearsed statement: Zamfara 28, Kebbi 50, Taraba 95. These three states came first from behind.
She went ahead to tell us the obvious: that the nation has 104 unity schools; that most of these unity schools dont get up to their carrying capacity; A budget, running into billions of naira goes into their maintenance each year and that The Unity Schools take up to 45% of the budgetary allocation of the Ministry of Education.
I was bitter. I was overtly burning with rage and hate. I couldn’t wait for the question and answer session. I did all I could to get hold of the microphone and finally, I got to the aisle, looked directly to the raised table and heaved a sigh of relief. I glanced through my notes and let loose the canons:
Why do we have 12 Unity Schools in the East where more than 50% of candidates come from? Mr Minister, why are kids from Igboland not given admission to those Unity schools that don’t get up to their quota/carrying capacity? Honorable Minister, can you explain why A young girl from Imo state,seeking admission into any of the country’s 104 Federal Government Colleges (Unity Schools) must score 139 points out of a possible 300 to stand a chance of being taken. But her counterpart from Zamfara state only needs to guess two answers right?.Why does the young boy from Abia be denied admission even when he scores 198 while his counterpart from Gombe who merely wrote the examination ( but scored zero) is allowed to study in any unity school of his choice? Why do we have only 2 Igbo principals in the 105 Unity schools in Nigeria? Does this reflect intellectual preparedness or merely a reflection of the wishes of the leadership of the nation and that of the ministry? Why must the federal government set up a well funded advocacy team to persuade villagers, traditional rulers in North and clergy to encourage their citizens to send their wards to unity colleges while efforts are not made to accommodate thousands of kids from the East who are denied admission yearly. Our Minister, I hope you are aware that Last year, Nigeria’s four Federal Government Colleges did not produce a single candidate that scored five credits that included English and Mathematics, needed to gain admission into the university.
Hon Minister, i hope you are aware that, Federal Government Girls’ College, Bajoga (Gombe State); FGGC, Bauchi (Bauchi State); FGGC Gboko (Benue State), and the Federal Science and Technical College, Kafanchan (in Kaduna State) did not produce a single pupil with credits in English and Mathematics.
Honorable minister, I hope you are aware that In 2013, human rights lawyer and former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, filed a suit at a Federal High Court in Lagos over admission inequality in Federal Government Colleges. The court declared as unconstitutional, the decades-long state-based, quota system admission into federal government colleges. John Tsoho, the trial Judge, in his ruling declared that the action of the Minister of Education in prescribing and applying different requirements for candidates seeking admission into unity schools is in violation of Section 42(1) of the 1999 Constitution. If this is the case, and definitely that is the case, Why, does the Minstry of Education under you refuse to adher to the court ruling?
Why does, Zamfara State, with 28 candidates for the 2018 common entrance examination have three Unity Schools, while my state of Imo has only two!!! Why do we have three Unity schools in Taraba ( that has only 95 students this year) while Enugu State has only two. Hon. Minister, I can go on and on to…
It was at this point that heavens was let loose. Stop there!!! Voices form the elevated table raged. It was amidst claps and jeers, heckles and clear disapproval from those whose benefits have been threatened; acclamation from those whose grievances have been let loose, that i was ordered and whisked away from the ICC, venue of the stakeholders meeting. No harm befell on me. I retired to my hotel room, got enough rest and made a Lagos-bound journey. I am sure, the organizers wouldn’t invite me to subsequent meetings. But who cares?
From Dr. Modestus Ezenwa.

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Opinion

Ebonyi 2019, between Umahi and Ogbuoji

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Engr. Dave Umahi

Engr. Dave Umahi


By Muhammad Ajah

The gubernatorial race in Ebonyi state is going to be very tough because the two major contenders are from the same senatorial zone. It is going to be a fight between two brothers tied together by the Ebonyi Equity Charter (EEC) of “Egbe beri Ugo beri”. They are the incumbent governor, Engr. Dave Umahi of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and a serving member of the of the Red Chambers Federal Republic, Distinguished Senator Soni Ogbuoji of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Umahi is seeking reelection for a second term; Ogbuoji dumped the PDP to clinch the APC flagship. Both are from the Ebonyi South senatorial zone. Ogbuoji hails from Afikpo South Local Government Area; Umahi is a native of Ohaozara Local Government Area.

According to the Ebonyi equity charter, each of the three senatorial districts should produce a governor of the state. It simply means that the governorship position should unconditionally rotate amongst the three senatorial zone of the state. The state has been under the rule of the Peoples Democratic Party since 1999. The opposition had struggled in the past to no avail to unseat the PDP in the state. Umahi was so powerful that he used the party to defeat his former boss, Martin Elechi who defected to another party when Umahi frustrated him out of the PDP. Strictly to that chart, both the north and central senatorial zones have had their turn of eight-year uninterrupted leadership – that is two tenures of four years each.

Though likely unwritten just as the north-south political dichotomy in Nigeria is prevalent, the Ebonyi North represented by former governor and now senator, Dr. Sam Ominyi Egwu had its uninterrupted turn of eight years, just like the Ebonyi Central, represented by Chief Martin Elechi did. Martin had planned not to favour his then deputy, Umahi, thus received the biggest shock of his life. By this, May 29, 2019 will be the end of the first four years of Ebonyi South under Umahi. Is the second tenure to be completed by the same representative, Umahi, or by another son of the zone, Ogbuoji?

Ebonyi state has been a stronghold of the PDP since 1999. Umahi has been a strong member of the party and had rescued it from collapse when former governor Elechi tried it. If not, Ebonyi state would have been an APC state like Imo state. Umahi is believed to be doing well. He seems to be in the good book of President Buhari as he has often proclaimed that he is in support of Buhari’s good leadership style, despite their party differences. Whither the genuinely of the proclamation, Buhari has reciprocated by specially visiting Ebonyi state to commission projects built by Umahi for not only Ebonyi people but for the benefits of Nigerians dwelling within or in neighbourhood with Ebonyi.

Senator Ogbuoji was a strong member of the PDP through which he secured the senatorial slot he still enjoys. It was a big shock to the PDP family when he waved goodbye to them and embraced the APC. In short, the chairman of the PDP in Ebonyi state, Barr. Onyekachi Nwebonyi could not believe the defection news for a long time. The strong senator did not stop there. He struggled hard to win the governorship candidate of APC in the state, defeating other aspirants in open primaries that took place at Pinnacle Hotel in Abakaliki, the state capital.

While Umahi had no opposition at the PDP primaries, the 64 year senator-graduate of the prestigious University of Nigeria (UNN) defeated eight contenders pulling 785 votes against his closest challenger, Bernard Odoh, who polled 519 votes. Ogbuoji had been in good rapport with the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, who hails from Uburu, Ohaozara country home of Governor Dave Umahi. Onu, a founding father of the APC, has always been in the opposition to any Ebonyi governor but has never succeeded in controlling the state government. According to Ogbuoji, the APC was the best option for the Southeast geopolitical zone, especially as the zone eyes the Presidency by 2023. “I am one of those who believe that the issue of Igbo marginalization cannot be corrected by shouting in the media”, he once burst out.

The first time I meet Senator Soni Ogbuoji was at Sokoto House in Abuja when he came with his Senate Committee on an oversight function. So blunt to the truth and passionate about Ebonyi people and Nigerians, it required no further explanation what he would be capable of doing whenever any position of trust is handed over to him, as he is doing for his people as a senator. He believes that the Igbo people have a responsibility to determine what should happen about marginalization. “I believe that by joining forces; sharing ideas with those who are already in APC, we have a better chance of improving what we have”, he once proclaimed, noting that the level of governance received from PDP governors was not going to help the case of the PDP and the Igbo, as the Igbo have continually been offending themselves that PDP is an Igbo party. “As we speak today, APGA may lay claim to being an Igbo party; but certainly, PDP cannot lay claim to be an Igbo party,” he said.

He described Umahi’s leadership of Ebonyi state as years of unfulfilled promises, suffering and hopelessness predicated upon deceit and intimidation of citizens. While explaining to journalists in Abakaliki about “The New Ebonyi all Ebonyi people desire”, he chronicled the failed electoral promises of the Governor since 2015 and his lackluster administrative method and submitted that the State has descended into the abyss of hopelessness and despair. “Individuals who belong to different political associations have had their businesses closed down. Government cannot be a terror to its citizens…If we allow this to continue, someday we may begin to pay taxes from the dowries of our daughters, but I say God forbid.”

As for Umahi, there were rumours of his plan to defect to APC, though he debunked that on the grounds that he can never be in the same political party with those he described as “failed leaders” in the state. Apparently referring to his own townsman, Onu and other big- weight politicians from Ebonyi south, it was alleged that all attempts he made to join the APC was frustrated. He cautioned people not to mistake his relationship with President Buhari as an indication that he loved APC, not to talk of joining it, adding that his relationship with Buhari is personal. Frowning at such speculations, he said that neither the President nor APC chieftains have ever asked him to join APC ahead of the 2019. “As for today until Christ comes, there is no crisis in PDP. Even if there is a need for me to leave PDP, I can never leave PDP to join the kind of APC in Ebonyi state.”

Umahi described himself as a focused governor. He insists that party politics should be left to party men and women so as to focus more on governance. According to him, the fever that has been griping him since the day he was elected was for him to do his job, to deliver the dividends of democracy and solve the plight of Ebonyi people. “So, they should leave me alone with their dirty politics. I am focused; I am in PDP. As a member of PDP, I have benefited on the platform to be a party Chairman, a deputy governor, and now a Governor. I am a man of character,” he stated.

It is normal in politics to change the goal post at any time. Umahi and Ogbuoji are sons of Ebonyi senatorial zone. It is not the zone that will decide who wins. It is the other two zones. There has been the consistent political dichotomy between Abuja-based Ebonyi politicians and the state governor. It has never worked except for Umahi who was assisted by the Abuja political bloc. He is now being faced with the situation. The two zones have left it for the two brothers to log out. Ebonyi state must have a governor after the March 2019 governorship election. The governor is going to be Umahi of the PDP or Ogbuoji of the APC. But the spirit of inclusiveness of all socio-political and religious groups in Ebonyi must be considered. It is reportedly lacking in one. May God bless my dear Ebonyi state, the salt of the nation.

Muhammad Ajah is an advocate of humanity, peace and good governance in Abuja. E-mail mobahawwah@yahoo.co.uk.

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Opinion

What NOUN Bill Amendment Means

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By Ibrahim Sheme

It is no longer news that President Buhari has assented to the bill sent to him by the National Assembly for the amendment of the Act establishing the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN). People have been asking: what does it mean?

This question will be fully explained during a press conference the University Council will hold in Lagos on Monday.

However, let me explain briefly. NOUN is not going to operate exactly like the other universities, as some think. It remains an Open and Distance Learning (ODL) institution – without classrooms or hostels, etc. Of course, we have Faculties and Departments.

The latest news is all about NOUN graduates of Law being permitted by the Council of Legal Education (CLE) to go to the Law School and become practising attorneys. In the past, the CLE (which runs the Law School) had barred our graduates from entering the Law School, using (as an excuse) a provision in the Act governing NOUN that it was a “correspondence” institution. But NOUN has since gone beyond being a “correspondence” university; it is an ODL one.

The university had asked the National Assembly to amend the NOUN Act in such a way that the word “correspondence” would not be part of it. After a public hearing, the NASS did just that, plus other amendments to the Act. And now the President has assented to the amendment of the bill. This has become a game-changer for NOUN in so many ways. For one, the image of the university will automatically improve. Secondly, more and more people wishing to study Law through the ODL system of “work and learn” will flock to the university. It is a great opportunity!

As I said, this is in brief. I will return shortly with a more elaborate explanation on the matter.

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Opinion

The All Deserving Hameed Ali

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Hameed Ali

Hameed Ali

By Abe Kolawole

It is that time again when hard work and dedication to duty and fatherland is rewarded. When I learned of the Sir Ahmadu Bello Sardauna Legacy for True Leadership Awards as put together by the Arewa Youth Council, I leaped for joy for very obvious reasons. Chiefly amongst them is the fact that the award would seek to promote hard work and dedication to duty of its recipient.

I went into deep thoughts on who is deserving of the award in the avalanche of people that have been nominated. I was somewhat confused because the various nominees have indeed distinguished themselves in service to the fatherland. But one name struck me so hard that I had to devote substantial time to study him and his contributions to the growth and development of Nigeria. In my research on this notable individual, I was astonished on how he has made a mark in the sands of time within three years. Enter the world of Hameed Ali, the incumbent Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs Service.

Under his watch, the Nigerian Customs Service has posted brilliant results regarding revenue generation. In 2017, The Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, recorded its highest revenue collection ever of over N1 trillion as against N770 billion target set for 2017. According to the Public Relations Officer of the NCS, he stated that the Comptroller-General of Customs (CGC), undertook some strategic measures regarding restructuring and repositioning the service for efficient service delivery which resulted in this historic revenue figure from the service this year.

Also, in May 2018, the NCS recorded its highest-ever monthly revenue collection of N100.1billion. The list is quite inexhaustible and a testament of the numerous reforms that was introduced by the Comptroller General. I must add that I was also surprised that all of these could be achieved in a sector that has been hijacked by a notorious cartel. Previously we were witness to the shady deals in the Nigeria Customs Service. It was so bad that we fear that at some point, the country would collapse before our very eyes because of the criminality ongoing at the borders and ports.

But fast-forward to 2018, the exploits of the Nigerian Customs Service has improved tremendously that accolades are not in short supply. Also, the operational effectiveness of the NCS improved tremendously that we witnessed lots of interceptions at the seaports, airports and land borders. Worthy of mention are the several interceptions of rifles, ammunition, military uniforms, military hardware and other dangerous items by men of the NCS.

What this tells us is that the days of the jackal are over. And sanity restored to the system. I must also add that it is only a brave heart that can embark of such a mission considered suicidal in a way given the various interests represented there. But Col. Hameed Ali proved his mettle. He also showed that the era of business, as usual, has ended regarding undue interference by political institutions and office holders.

A good example was seen in his rift with the Senate of the National Assembly where as usual they tried to intimidate him into surrendering to their whims and caprices by resorting to blackmail and other untoward means. But guess what, he didn’t succumb to the threats and stood on the path of the truth. What impressed me was that if he was someone that had skeletons in his cupboard, I am sure he wouldn’t have taken the tough stance. Instead, he would have negotiated and sort for relief. That speaks a lot about integrity and service to the fatherland. I recall at a forum, Col. Hameed Ali stated that “I took this job because of my commitment to serve this country selflessly, having earlier done so in the military. So, nobody can tell me that am not a committed Nigerian,” and I could not agree less. This commitment to the Nigerian cause is what endeared him to my heart that I decided to pen this article.

The Arewa Youth Council should do well to recognize the gift of Col. Hameed Ali and look no further for that individual that fits the award. I say this with all sense of modesty because there must have been a reason why President Muhammadu Buhari so appointed him the head the NCS. And in my opinion, the reason was to sanitize the NCS and confront the vicious cartel that has held the country to ransom. And it is to the credit of Col. Hameed Ali that the NCS has bounced back to operational efficiency and recording improved revenue generation.

It is thus my considered opinion that Col. Hameed Ali is all deserving in recognition of his invaluable contribution to the fatherland. And to think that since he was appointed the Comptroller General of Customs, there hasn’t been a single scandal in the operations of the NCS. If this is not phenomenal, I do not know what to call it.

And so, the Sir Ahmadu Bello Sardauna Legacy for True Leadership Awards fits his cap perfectly in my opinion. It is hoped that men like Col. Hameed Ali would be given the due recognition that they deserve in a country like Nigeria because they need to be encouraged to continue to render selfless service for the continued growth and development of Nigeria. And who knows if this award can further spur him to greatness.

Kolawole, former PRO, National Association of Nigerian Students [NANS] wrote from Lagos.

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