By Demola Akinyemi, Ilorin
Alhaji Jamiu Babatunde Olawunmi, in his 50s and from Ife Central local government area of Osun State, is a veteran broadcaster and a prodigy in the state politics. He worked as Ekiti State Bureau Chief of Osun State Broadcasting Radio and Television between 2007 and 2011 and retired as Business Editor in 2018. Olawunmi was appointed as Media Assistant to the former Deputy of Osun State, Sooko Adeleke Adewoyin, under the administration of Governor Bisi Akande between 1999 and 2003.
He was also the Acting Director-General of Oranmiyan Group, Deputy Director, Media of Ogbeni Door-To-Door in 2014, and Director Media Ileri Oluwa Campaign Organisation in 2018. He was part of the struggle of the present administration in Osun under Oyetola who appointed him as Special Adviser on Education. Olawunmi spoke during a private visit to Ilorin. Excerpts of the interview:
Question: When you came to the office, what was the agenda of the government and how has it been so far?
Answer: Before the inauguration of the present administration of Governor Gboyega Oyetola of Osun State, we made wide consultations across the state. First, we went on a ‘THANK YOU’ tour in December 2018; we tagged it, ‘Meeting of the people at the Constituency’. When we got there, the governor expressed his gratitude for all their support and we also listened to them as they made inputs into what government should do in each of the constituencies. Eventually, we relapsed into Town Hall meetings which were conducted to draw people into government.
The essence of the Town Hall meetings was to enable Osun residents and citizens to tell us what they want from the government and what the government should be able to do at the end of the term. So, during the Town Hall meetings, policies of government for the past eight years were looked at, and where we should readjust. “Whatever your idea is, the government is listening”, so, at the end of it, we collated the needs of the people and those needs were incorporated into the agenda of the government.
So, what the governor did in the first year was to try to situate these demands from the people and those were what informed the governor’s choice of cabinet members. Education was given the mandate of what to do as demanded by the people and so on and so forth. Before I came into office, there was the Department of Foreign Development (DFID). I also consulted on the needs of the people across the state. For instance, all the policies in education that we are looking at today were drawn from the Town Hall Meetings and DFID reports.
Question: So what’s the policy of this administration on education?
Answer: In our first memo to the Executive Council, I and Commissioner diligently discussed those issues; we had a 6-point memo for the State Executive Council. One of the issues there is the National Policy on Education, 6-3-3-4, meaning 6 years in primary school, 3 years in junior school, 3 years in senior school, and 4 years in a tertiary institution as applicable. For 8 years, Osun State did not run 6-3-3-4 but 4-5-3-4. It means that primary 5 and 6 pupils were moved into secondary school prematurely.
If you look at the age-grade expected in junior secondary school, you don’t expect anybody below age 10 and, if you go by the policy that a child must be 6 years before he starts primary school, by 12 or 13, that child should be in secondary school. And if you look at the morphological development of individuals at a particular age, a particular person can’t operate higher than his or her age. It means what we had then was having a 9-year-old in secondary school meeting with those who are older who could be bullies and exposed to some other things beyond the age of that child.
The surprising aspect of it is that while the government was running 4-5-3-4, private schools, which are more in number than public schools with about over 4000 schools, were not running government programs because the policy was not enforced. It means children of the poor were made aliens in their fatherland, they were running a program that was not in the interest of their future for 8 years. One of the negative takeaways of that is that we were no longer awarding Primary 6 Certificate in Osun for 8 years. If you want to join the military, they’ll ask for your Primary 6 Certificate, so those who graduated in primary school at that point in time didn’t have the Primary 6 Certificate which you and I had, so that policy can’t be sustained.
It is one of the policies we reviewed and anyone who thinks leaving primary school without a certificate is a norm will have a problem convincing Nigerians. One of the policies is making a unisex school coeducational. For instance, there is Baptist Girls High School and St Charles Grammar School in Osogbo. St Charles is males only while the former is for females if you now bring boys to Baptist Girls or girls to St Charles and when they write WAEC, that will create confusion when an individual named Demola Johnson graduates from Baptist Girls High School which is for females. So, if our government did not, at that point, think through what they were doing and people across the state, parents, stakeholders and even the children themselves were saying that we are making their future too challenging, “help us revert it”, I don’t think we’ve done badly. Another one is the structure itself, the 4-5-3-4.
Our reason at that time was that because they were feeding Primary 1 to 4, they didn’t want Primaries 5 and 6 to be traumatized, they moved them to secondary school, good reason, sociological reason, but it is not sustainable because it doesn’t help their future, food is not everything. By the way, the Oyinlola government started school feeding. It was not started by APC, it was inherited by our administration, so anybody who thinks that it was created by the APC government perhaps doesn’t know the history of that program. So if you now say because Primaries 5 and 6 pupils will be traumatized because they were not fed, they should be moved on to secondary school without a certificate because of food, it could be impulsive when we were taking the decision but, in fact, it is for the good of all. So we are talking about a policy that will make our party sustainable and remain in the heart of the people as a better party because we have 2 contending parties, APC and PDP.
Question: The mixing up of schools and the 6334 system, is there any way these errors will be corrected in the future?
Answer: After our memo to the Council, the governor raised another committee to look at the crucial issues. One of them is the mixing of schools and non-conformity of some local governments to the 6334 system. Education anywhere in the world cannot be funded by government alone, there are stakeholders who support the government. For example, old student associations have assisted in providing infrastructures for schools. The review committee succeeded in reverting the names of some schools to their old names. The panel was made up of emeritus professors and educators who were not politicians. These people gave us professional advice on what to do. This is not about anybody but the future of future leaders.
Question: Pundits believe that the governor was part of the administration of Ogbeni Aregbesola. What was his own mind at that point in time on this policy that was just reviewed?
Answer: I’m currently the Special Adviser to the Governor on Education, and the best I can do if he doesn’t do my bidding is to throw in the towel. The governor tells you what he wants to achieve, and as a supporter, you assist him in achieving those goals. Ogbeni Aregbesola’s administration achieved so many things in 8 years. Everybody was given a bit of governance which did not allow them to match the space, so as to encourage him to take another look at those policies. Like the current administration, we must do whatever we can do to adjust those policies.
QUESTION: What can we do to encourage teachers to move education forward in Osun?
Answer: Myself and Hon. Folorunsho Adedoyin, the Commissioner for Education, started a stakeholder meeting; we met with NUT, ANCOPPS, and the FORUM OF OLD STUDENTS ASSOCIATION. We also met with principals, headmasters among others. We exchanged ideas. They told us about their problems. Then we assembled secondary and primary school teachers and apologized profusely to them for what they passed through, for half salaries to some and full to some. After the meeting, we gave them our phone numbers. And it was the first time teachers would ever have access to the government on how to run schools. And today no parent or guardian can ever come to assault teachers. It was because of the assault teachers received that led to the lockdown of schools in the state. Let your teacher know the worth of what he/she is doing. By doing this he/she will teach well. One of the problems we had when students became unruly was that almost all schools wore the same uniform. No policy for uniform recognition, hardly did you know the difference between each school uniform and this resulted in something bad. For example, a politician who is against the government could use that as an allegation. And cultists used that to cause problems in the state. School badge on uniform couldn’t help because you have to move closer to see the name of the school.
But by the next academic session, every school would go back to its own uniform. Those who were tempted to sell during the single uniform were taken to Ilesha and remanded in prison for adulteration. The economic aspect of that, that was lost has been restored.
Question: What about the payment of half salaries?
Answer: Of course, we should salute Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola; before he left, he started paying full salaries to workers. And that we’ve sustained. Between the 22nd and 27th every month, Osun workers, especially teachers, receive their salaries fully. We promised to pay in arrears, but everybody can see the state of the economy now. But we are very committed to paying full salaries.
Question: With the current hardship, is there any hope that things can be much better at the end of this administration for the people of Osun?
Answer: As things are now, Governor Oyetola is being described generally as a godly, meek, gentle, industrious, and intelligent man by the people. And he doesn’t look for trouble; as we speak, this government is about revitalizing 20 medical centers. There is no state in Nigeria that has been able to do that. We are also building a [100-bed] hospital at Asubiaro for resident doctors, all within one and a half years. We are constructing 54 kilometers of roads in some areas where for 22 years, roads were not tarred. Such places include Ofatelade in Alekuwodo, Peter Ajibola, Sawmill, and Akindeko. Today, we have completed those roads. In fact, it was one of the takeaways of the election for those people who had wanted to give a protest vote against our party. But on the assurance by the governor who was a candidate then that “I will do your road, I will tar it”, they took him by his word and they voted for him. And they were the first set of roads we did. Look at the Covid-19 pandemic and the governor’s demonstration of diligence and commitment to the welfare of the people. Because of the diligence and commitment, men of integrity and leaders of the people assisted us in putting up infrastructures. Asiwaju Bola Tinubu gave us a lot of money to build isolation centres and we are better for it. If you look at the sense of commitment he has given to the welfare of the people, if you go to town, my governor is rated very well. In every ten people, eight people will say Governor Oyetola is wonderful. And I want to challenge anybody to conduct an opinion poll and let us see the result.
QUESTION: There was this issue about the Federal College of Education that was approved by the Federal Government for Osun State. Initially, there was controversy over where it was located. As the host government, what is the situation now?
ANSWER: The state government has no position, the Federal Government owns the college and it has been sited in Iwo. I and the Commissioner in fact visited Iwo to look at what they can offer as permanent and temporary sites. And Iwo people have positioned themselves to receive the college. So since the Federal Government is the owner of the college, we are only to host. They didn’t allow us to choose a site for them, they announced the location.