From FEMI FOLARANMI, YENAGOA
One of the few things Governor Henry Seriake Dickson promised during his electioneering is to declare a state of emergency in education and make education compulsory at all levels. As part of his promise to make education a top priority in his administration, Dickson resuscitated the secondary education programme known as Jonathan Scholarship Scheme, but now rechristened Bayelsa Restoration Scholarship Scheme.
The scheme conceived by President Goodluck Jonathan when he was governor, was to sponsor the secondary education of brilliant indigent students to reputable schools outside the state.
This is to prepare Bayelsa students for the challenges of the future. Between 2007 and 2012 when the administration of Chief Timipre Sylva held sway, the scholarship scheme was in near collapse as little consideration was given to it.
However, immediately upon assumption of office, Dickson breathed life back into it, welcomed the pioneers set and commenced the selection of the second set. Jonathan, who himself can be considered an indigent student when going to school but did not have the opportunity of a scholarship, explained that the credit should go to other people who made him buy into the scholarship scheme. Speaking at the reception of the pioneer 100 beneficiaries which set the stage for the second batch under the Dickson administration, Jonathan commended the governor for resuscitating the scholarship scheme.
Hear him: “I am quite pleased with Governor Dickson and the state Executive Council. I am happy for these young children. Most people would say Jonathan made this happen, but if we would share the glory of getting these children to this level, I don’t think I would merit 10 per cent. The first person I would give thanks to is Chief Diepreye Alameiyeseigha. When we came in 1999 and we took oath of office with my being his number one aide as deputy governor, his vision was to change Bayelsa in all aspects.
His vision was to look at our circumstances, circumstances as an Ijaw man in the context of Nigeria, our environment and get our people out of the situation and I carried that vision along. The second person I would thank is not really a Bayelsan.
He was not my adviser, commissioner or aide. His name is Sullivan Akachukwu from Anambra State. As a deputy governor, I met him when he was looking for a consultancy work on a project Shell was handling then.
The way he presented himself and his programme for Bayelsa endeared me to him. Though he could not get it but he sold an idea to Shell to help Bayelsa, especially with the high level of militancy. From his discussions with Shell, he was told that why few Bayelsans qualify for their scholarship is because they could not pass the exam.
So, he said Bayelsa must get students who can pass the Shell exam. He mooted to them to come and conduct exam and pick the best brains from Bayelsa. Shell initially agreed and others were to join but regional politics came and Shell withdrew. But I said we would continue and he was given the responsibility to continue with the programme” Jonathan disclosed the trouble his government went through before they got placements for the children, stating that he had to personally hold discussions with school proprietors and principals as vice-presidential candidate before they could agree to admit Bayelsa students. He captured it better: “Even though Shell withdrew from the programme, they helped us to do the selection.
This is why I have told Dickson to warn his commissioners and aides not to interfere with the selection. They selected, but to get placements for them became a problem. Most of the schools were reluctant. They feared that these students coming from Bayelsa noted for militancy, they could import it to their school. Secondly, they felt that the students we are bringing were from rural schools to compete with the students there would be difficult. I told Akachukwu to invite them to a meeting in Abuja.
And I spoke from my heart to them. I told them that the students are from very rural areas, no doubt about that they would have problems initially, but all I know is that they are very intelligent children. I told them that intelligence is like an energy that can be deployed to positive use. I assured them that in a few months, the students would emerge among the best. I also told them that we are sending 100 students and that I did not know a single one of them. By the time I finished, they opened up that after listening to me, they took all the students”.
When the programme started, some leaders tried to discourage Jonathan and advised him to build educational facilities instead of wasting state resources on scholarship, his response was that “our vision was to upgrade our educational facilities but that we cannot wait till then before we encourage our best” Jonathan’s response was re-echoed by Dickson who has maintained that there is no going back on the scholarship scheme.
According to him, government’s commitment is to equip the young ones with the requisite skills and values to enable them compete effectively with their contemporaries in an increasingly competitive global economy. The governor promised to consolidate on the worthy educational legacies left behind by President Jonathan, and christened the programme “The Bayelsa Restoration Scholarship Scheme”
The beneficiaries who travelled out of the state for the first time spoke eloquently of what the scholarship scheme has enabled them to achieve while in school. Miefa Agadaga spoke their minds: “We were asked to write exams in 2006 and I was one of those chosen. The programme has been very wonderful. I attended a public school. I went to St James Primary school, Lobia 1. I am not from a wealthy background. Life was not palatable before the scholarship. After school we normally go for fishing.
I never thought that the scholarship would come my way. At Vale College, Ibadan, life was very tough, being from Bayelsa, we found it difficult to cope in all ramifications. They had to give us extra lessons after school before we gradually picked up and became one of the best. My result was very fine. I had eight credits in my WAEC.
I appreciate President Jonathan and Governor Dickson for all what they have done for us, for the support given to education. In line with the promise of the government to continue to support us, I would want to study Accountancy in a foreign university” Kopa Godwill agreed, saying: “ I am from Kabiema in Sagbama Local Government Area. I attended Kabiema Community Secondary School.
Life in primary school was not interesting simply because I was staying in a community that is not developed. It was difficult for my parents to pay my school fees. I was not expecting the scholarship. After we wrote the exams and they released the names of those who had passed, I did not see my name there until after two weeks when the coordinator came to my community to inform me that my name was among those who passed. “My first day in school, I missed my parents coupled with the discrimination we encountered.
I want to thank the Government of Bayelsa State under President Jonathan then who initiated the scholarship. I also commend Governor Dickson who has decided to continue with the programme” Bridget Inogoda and Okordia amplified their experiences: “ I attended St. Matthias Catholic School, Ekeki. Life before the scholarship was not exciting. My parents are very humble as we struggle to eat.
This scholarship exposed me as it took me to The Bells School, Ogun State. When we first got to the school, life was hard; I particularly cried everyday that I wanted to go home. “When we got to the school, people were looking at us as if we were from another planet. The other students initially discriminated against us. We did not have clothes to wear and we don’t dress like them.
They laughed at us but gradually they got close to us and our educational capability was known to them. I had five distinctions and four credits. I want to say a big thank you to the government for this gesture. Before I went to Bells, I was not this confident, but now I can stand anywhere and talk.”