Welcome to the 2015 edition of this column, and thank you for following me all these years. My areas of focus this year will be education, health, politics, and socio-cultural practices. As usual, I will endeavour to inform, educate, and entertain. While trying to hold our leaders accountable in the true tradition of journalism, I will also recognise, and even celebrate, excellence, wherever and whenever it is clearly demonstrated in the country.
To begin the year, I start with the recognition of the strides taken so far in achieving educational excellence in Ondo State. I use as a starting point the inauguration by the Governor of Ondo State, Olusegun Mimiko, of three state-of-the-art infrastructural facilities at the Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko on Friday, January 2, 2015. The facilities were the Yar’Adua Learning Resource Centre, which houses the university library and its workers; the Nelson Mandela Hall (an international conference centre); and the AAUA Senate Building, which was the centre of attraction. I use the Senate Building as the point of reference for the other facilities.
The launching brochure describes the ultra-modern Senate Building as “a well-ventilated, four-winged, five- storey complex radiating from a large courtyard. It comes with a Council Chamber of 50 seats; a Senate Chamber that seats 184; two 50-capacity conference rooms; 10 Board- rooms; 148 offices and 165 conveniences. There are three elevators and seven staircases”.
The building seats sedately at the centre of a 12-hectare property, adorned in front by two fountains and an open Piazza that conveniently seats 2,500 people. The entrance leads to a large Reception/Information area, from which you can negotiate elevators or staircases or go to the large circular Foyer or the Courtyard, from which four wings radiate through all five floors.
From my own experience of other university Senate buildings in Nigeria, the one in Akungba is unquestionably the best in Nigeria, if not in Africa. However, the significance of the building goes beyond the multiplicity of office space and other facilities. Beyond its symbolism as a sign of excellence, it is the crowning glory of the Mimiko administration’s investment in education in the last six years.
The significance of the building is better appreciated against the history of this educational investment. It all began with a comprehensive plan to simultaneously infuse the best practices into the lowest and highest rungs of the state’s educational ladder, while also fixing major problems with secondary education.
Accordingly, mega schools were built for primary schools, with state-of-the-art facilities, including libraries, computer centres, ample playgrounds, and appropriate learning and recreational facilities. Buses were also provided, which take the children to and from school. In order to improve the content of primary education, additional teachers were hired as needed. Even more importantly, a Quality Assurance Agency was established to monitor and enforce standards in the state’s primary and secondary schools.
Secondary education also witnessed a rebirth, largely in terms of curricular enrichment and teacher productivity. Libraries and computer centres were new additions in many schools, while teachers were exposed to periodic capacity-building seminars. Accordingly, the percentage of Ondo students who passed in five subjects, including English and Mathematics, in school leaving certificate exams improved from below 22 per cent in 2008 to nearly 40 per cent in 2012.
Although the figure dropped in 2013 to 29.9 per cent, in line with the national downturn in students’ performances, it rose again in 2014 to 32.4 per cent, thanks to the administration’s immediate intervention of instant capacity building seminars for teachers of English Language and Mathematics throughout the state.
The bulk of the educational investment, however, went to tertiary education, fearing three distinct institutions, namely the AAUA, Ondo State University of Science and Technology, and Rufus Giwa Polytechnic in Owo. Of the three institutions, one, OSUSTECH, took off during the Mimiko administration.
Yet, OSUSTECH obtained full accreditation for all its courses even in the first attempt. Besides, it was recognised in the NEEDS Assessment Report as one of seven universities nationwide with over 60 per cent of its teaching staff having obtained a doctorate. As for the AAUA and Rufus Giwa Polytechnic, they were adjudged by the United States Transparency International Standards as the best state-owned university and polytechnic, respectively, in Nigeria.
The AAUA has established numerous quality assurance measures, including the Centre for Research and Development, directed by Prof. Olu Aboluwoye and the TLC, which goes into full operation this year, aimed at promoting best teaching and learning practices. Within the last five years alone, about 20 full professors have been hired or promoted, while over 50 new hires have doctorates. In addition, at least 10 new major projects were completed. All these developments took place within the five-year tenure of Professor Olufemi Mimiko, whose term ended on Sunday, January 4, 2015.
It is no accident, therefore, that the AAUA students excelled outside the university, including the Nigerian Law School, where an AAUA student, Opeyemi Longe, bagged a first class degree, the first in 51 years, despite mass failure in the recent bar exams in Nigeria.
The significance of the three major structures inaugurated last Friday is best understood against the above developments. Only those who have seen the structures could understand the huge financial investment that went into them. But for Mimiko, no investment in education is ever too much. It is no wonder then that he recently took a further stride in consolidating the Medical Village in Ondo into the Ondo State University of Medical Sciences. At the moment, the Village consists of the Mother and Child Hospital; a state-of-the-art Trauma Centre; a Dialysis Centre; the Gani Fawehinmi Diagnostics Lab; and other facilities. The goal is to use the teaching hospital as the crowning glory of the state’s huge investment in health care, especially maternal and infant care.
Already, the Ondo mega school concept and the safe motherhood programme have been replicated in many other states, the latter even beyond Nigerian shores. However, it is one thing to copy these programmes. It is another thing to make them work or even sustain them. This is where the governor’s emphasis on relevant database for effective planning, political will, and cost efficient project investment is critical.
These factors were central to the effective completion of the Senate Building Project, which was executed within 26 months from inception to handing over. Today, the building houses the VC and his Deputies; the Registry; the Bursary; the Senate and Council Chambers; and all the staff servicing these Principal Officers and the Chambers.
It is not the case, of course, that Ondo State educational institutions have all suddenly become world class. The point is that the path to world class must be clearly charted and the journey carefully initiated. The government has surely put the state on that path and has come a long way on the journey.