By Chiedu Uche Okoye

Mr. Peter Obi’s return of schools to their rightful and original owners in 2011 was a commendable act that resonated with the people and drew accolades to him. However, he erred in that handover of schools exercise by bypassing private school proprietors, who were victims of the seizure of schools by Ukpabi Asika in 1970.

But nothing can obviate the fact that Mr. Peter Obi’s civilian administration in Anambra State played a significant role in revamping the Anambra state’s dysfunctional educational system. Being aware that education plays a big role in the development of a country, he carried out reforms in the state’s educational sector.

Education is the cornerstone of national development. No country on earth can achieve technological and economical development without a functional educational system. America, which is a super-power country, owes its greatness to the giant strides, which it has recorded in the areas of economics, science, and technology. The indisputable fact is that the American educational institutions are bastions of scientific, technological, political, and economic researches.

Like America, the standard of education in Nigeria’s educational institutions in the 1960s was high. At that time, our premier university, the University of Ibadan, was a Mecca for foreign students, who sought quality education in different areas of human learnings. And the premier of the western region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who espoused democratic welfarism, placed much premium on education. And he executed several interventionist measures to bolster the western region’s educational system.

Likewise, political leaders in other regions of the country were not remiss in executing educational policies to revamp their regions’ educational systems. In that regard, business tycoons and political honchos of Igbo extraction contributed their quotas in revitalizing the educational system in the east. They established primary and post-primary schools where students received qualitative education. And those schools helped to mould the characters of the students, who passed through them. At that time, the students, who passed through those schools, were not found wanting in character and learning.

Among the people, who established schools in the eastern region (part of which is today’s Anambra State) were Chief M.C Awgu, the founder of New Bethel College, Onitsha and Basden College, Isulo; Chief Belonwu, founder and proprietor of Holy Cross College, Umuawulu; Sir P. E Chukwurah, founder of Our Lady’s High School, Onitsha; H.R. H Igwe M.A Onwuzu, founder and proprietor of Eastern Academy, Onitsha; Chief E. I Oli, founder and sole proprietor of Merchants of Light School, Oba; Chief E.S.N Mbakwe and Chief T. Morah, co-founders and proprietors of Notre Dame High School, Abatete; Chief B.C Nduka, founder and proprietor of Okija Grammar School; and countless others.

But unexpectedly, by twist of fate, the proprietors of private schools in what is today’s Anambra state lost the ownership of their schools in 1970. The government of Ukpabi Asika took possession of privately-owned schools and the mission ones in the east. But against the background that the Nigeria- Biafra civil war had just ended, and given the fact that it would be foolhardiness to take on government on the matter, the private schools’ proprietors kept their cool and let sleeping dogs lie.

But between 1970 and 2011, when Mr. Peter obi, who was the governor of Anambra State, then, ordered the return of seized schools to their original owners, Anambra school system had suffered colossal damage. The schools were no longer centres of academic excellence. And most of the schools were beset with moral crisis what with teachers and parents aiding and abetting examination malpractice among the students during such examinations as SSCE and NECO. And the quality of education, which students in those schools received, was abysmally poor.

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Then, Anambra public schools, which were ran by the government, were grotesque caricature of what schools ought to be. Most schools’ buildings were tumbled-down; and their roofs blown off. And most of the schools were short-handed as fresh university graduates were wont to shun teaching jobs. Again, the teachers in public schools would moonlight to augment the meagre salaries, which they did receive each month.

Then, as part of his efforts and plan to reposition schools in Anambra State, and redress the wrong, which was done in 1970 by the Ukpabi Asika led-government, Mr. Peter obi, who was the Anambra State governor in 2011, returned 1040 schools to their rightful and original owners, that is, the churches. It was a commendable and judicious deed as mission schools are not known to be lax regarding inculcating good morals into students and offering quality education to them.

The schools, which were returned to the Anglican and Catholic churches, were given the princely sum of 6 billion naira by Mr. Peter Obi for their maintenance. And Dr. Willie Obiano, who succeeded Mr. Peter Obi as the governor of Anambra State, doled out 4 billion naira to the schools, which were returned to the churches. And the current governor of Anambra State, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, had given financial largesse to those schools to ensure that their culture of academic excellence and tempo of growth are sustained.

But there is a lacuna in this matter of Anambra state government’s return of seized schools to their original and rightful owners, which took place in 2011. Almost all the private schools founded by Anambra natives, which were appropriated by the East Central state government in 1970, are still in the possession of the Anambra State government. And, to make matters worse, compensations were not paid to those private schools’ proprietors.

So is the Anambra state government’s continued ownership of those schools not a clear case of daylight theft? Is not an inhumane, unjustifiable, unconscionable, and anti-democratic act? As what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, the Anambra state government should handle the lingering matter of seized private schools in the same way it handled the matter of seized mission schools. The principle of fairness or equity demands that compensations should be paid to those whose schools were unjustifiably taken by the government.

More so, it is saddening to note that many of the founders and proprietors of the seized private schools took ill and died because they were heartbroken by the government’s rash, insensitive, and injudicious action, then. Today, the children of the deceased private school proprietors cannot reclaim their parents’ properties owing to the Anambra state government’s hardline position on the matter. The government’s disposition to the matter is not harmonious with the tenets of democracy.

Governments exist everywhere to maintain law and order, protect the life and property of people, and serve the people’s interests. However, the existence of a tyrannical government in Nigeria will return us to the primeval and stone age period when might is right. So I am urging the Anambra state government to do the needful in this lingering and vexed matter.

Okoye, a poet, writes from Uruowulu-Obosi, Anambra State

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