I feel bad Oyo teachers ask pupils to insult me –Ajimobi
Oyo State Governor Abiola Ajimobi tells OLUFEMI ATOYEBI that the new proposal on the management of some public secondary schools will not lead to job loss or selling of schools to groups and private individuals
With the heat associated with governance, especially when it comes to taking a critical decision and facing the opposition like it’s happening with your secondary school management proposal, are you under any pressure right now?
The existence of human beings is closely associated with facing challenges in the course of making attempt to accomplish something good and how to surmount the challenges.
I was born into a humble but noble family. Noble in the sense that integrity, hard work and decency are important to us in the family. I was taught to believe that two plus two must be four and that the only way to get to the top is by hard work and no magic. Like my father, I started from the bottom and rose to the top.
I attended St Patrick Primary School Abebi area of Ibadan which was a public school owned by Christian missionaries. From there, I went to another public school, ICC Olubadan. I had to walk several kilometers to school. From there, I moved to a public secondary school, Lagelu Grammar School. I also worked in Nigeria before I moved to New York where I also attended public tertiary institutions.
You cannot plant yam and harvest cassava but politics is relatively manipulative. It is about interpretation. Our people are relatively gullible, they don’t do their homework and that is why politicians manipulate them. They should be more scrutinising and seek the right information.
Did you find the last five years as a to governor challenging?
There will be problems and frustrations in government. I think the beauty of politics, comparative to the corporate world, is that in the corporate world, two plus two is four. You are expected to have some minimum qualifications to hold positions and think in line with the corporate goals and objectives of the organisation.
In politics, the average objective of human beings is self first. There is no other thing that God has created that is as selfish as human beings. There will be frustration and those are the challenges. It’s about getting people to have in the right perspective on issues.
I did a lot to perform and be re-elected as a governor. Oyo State benefitted from the magnificent achievement of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The first university in Nigeria, first radio and television station are here in Oyo State. That is why it is referred to as pacesetter state.
Suddenly the state became home to the culture of impunity where two plus two became 22. There was breakdown of law and order. Most of the infrastructure like roads, hospitals, schools and so on were collapsing. Previous governments tried their best to address the issues. When I came, we fashioned our government on a tripod of restoration, transformation and repositioning.
Is the recent education proposal involving some public secondary schools in the state part of the repositioning process?
If you keep doing things the same way, you will continue to get the same result. For things to improve, we must change. Our children are failing in public secondary schools and the infrastructure is dilapidating. If you go to some schools in the state, there are no chairs or desks and the roofs are leaking. Some teachers don’t even come to the schools. This is not the kind of environment where students can learn. That is why the pupils are failing at examinations.
Yet, this is the state where Awolowo started free education and produced thousands of professors and leaders in Nigeria. The same state came 34th out of 36 states in 2011 in the rankings released by the West Africa Examination Council.
We cannot continue like this. This was why we called for an Education Summit to proffer solutions to the problems. We had recommendations from the summit and we studied them. We began to rehabilitate the schools and called foreign partners to help us. They have built classrooms in 28 of the 33 local councils in the state.
What is the public secondary schools management proposal all about?
We are looking for help because we cannot do it alone. There is nowhere in the world where education is left to government alone to run. It is a combination of all stakeholders. Parents must educate their children, teachers must do their job and the society must play its role.
Even in the time of Awolowo, there were schools pioneered and managed by missionaries. In the US and UK, people participate in educating their children. It is not left for government to do alone. You don’t just leave your child for government to educate, it is a collective responsibility. Education is not absolutely free, anywhere.
For the sake of clarity, what will happen to the teachers and pupils in the affected schools?
We are yet to complete this process. So, we cannot start to speak about what will happen to the teachers and the pupils in the affected schools. It is not yet a policy. When we collate the proposals and memoranda that eventually come in, and it becomes a policy after rounds of robust stakeholder engagements, we shall decide what will happen. All we can say at this point is that diligent teachers have no cause for worry while the best interests of our students and their parents will always guide government policies.
Have you determined who your partners will be under this proposal?
We have only called for interested individuals and groups. We don’t know who will be in the plan yet. If you choose a date for a race, you cannot determine who will come first before the day.
How involved are the parents and other stakeholders in this initiative?
After a recent review of some of the outstanding recommendations we received from the 2012 Education Summit, we invited different stakeholders’ including religious bodies, parents, teachers and everybody to a stakeholders’ meeting where we hoped to discuss the recommendations. Labour is a segment of the stakeholders. In fact when you say labour, we are talking of the leadership which is less than 50 people in Oyo State. But they chose to disrupt the stakeholders meeting. Workers were not there, they did not come to the venue to disrupt the meeting.
But the labour leaders represent the workers?
The workers are represented by the leadership but before a decision is taken, the followers must agree with them. Did the labour leaders get the consent of the workers they represent to come and disrupt the meeting? No. We invited labour but they came to disrupt the meeting.
The sole objective of this government is to improve on education in the state. That was why we called the meeting to discuss the recommendations we have. With all sense of honesty and responsibility, I can tell precisely that our workers were not part of the disruption and brigandage.
The labour leaders said no property was destroyed during the protest and charges against them were trumped up to nail them?
They came to the venue to ensure the meeting did not hold and they upturned and threw about properties at the venue. But like I said, workers were not involved, only some people purporting to represent them. They were subsequently arrested by the police because what they did was criminal.
The purpose of that meeting was for people to come and say what they had in mind about the proposal. But a few labour leaders misguided themselves and opted to disrupt the meeting. Having done that, they now made matters worse by going ahead to declare a strike.
The law says that before a strike can be called, there must be a dispute. We did not have any dispute. So, the strike is obviously illegal. Democracy is about the rule of law; nobody is above the law, so let us follow due process in what we do. If you disagree with me, say it out. It does not mean that you will start disrupting meetings and disturbing the peace.
Do you have proof of this allegation because Labour said none of its protesting members touched the Secretary to the State Government as alleged?
I have copies of the photographs taken to show the level of disruption. The modern day labour union is prudential, contributory and participatory. That is what democracy is all about.
Are you saying that the workers and the public are in support of the proposal?
We have no problem with the workers or the public. The public who are in larger numbers than the labour union leaders have since come out to say that they want peace in the state; they want communication and consultation. They are saying that democracy must thrive in the state and not brigandage and hooliganism.
When the stakeholders’ meeting was later held, what was the outcome and where do things stand now as it regards the proposal?
The outcome is that everybody contributed and we are still waiting for more memoranda from the public and from different segments. Interestingly, labour at the national level submitted their own recommendations to us. This is what we are asking for. We don’t claim to know it all and that is why we want everybody to contribute. The only non-negotiable point is that we will not accept brigandage in this state.
What are the recommendations of labour?
I have not read the recommendations. There is a committee that has already agreed to act on such recommendations..But just as they have their recommendations, so do other stakeholders. Just for the records, labour does not represent the whole population of Oyo State. Labour is less than 10 per cent of the population of the state. Ten per cent cannot be equal to 100 per cent. We have only 105,000 workers in the state. I am not saying that they do not matter in the affairs of the state. I am only saying that more people support what we are doing than the few who do not. This is because we are transparent.
The fear of labour is that the affected schools will be sold out and high school fees will be introduced even in the face of their unpaid salaries. Did you consider their plight?
Of course, we did. And still do. But governance is not only about what some people think in the corner of their union office. It is about the global reality. The reality on this issue is that there is a proposal that need to be discussed by all the people concerned. If your group doesn’t want to discuss, you have the right to stay away but not to come and disrupt and intimidate people who are very willing to offer their own perspectives.
What kind of teachers do we have in this state that will go and incite children in school against the government?
These children are supposed to be taught civics and etiquettes; about their relationships and responsibilities to the public, to government and elders. But you are teaching them to disrespect government and to call the governor a thief. I am old enough to be grandfather to all these children. You have taught them to disrespect constituted authorities, destroy government properties and disrespect elders. What kind of teachers are these who go to school and lie to children that Ajimobi has sold their schools? You even exposed them to dangers.
These same teachers have their own schools. They did not go there and ask their own children to come out and stage protest on the streets. This is condemnable. To whom much is given, much is expected. Whatever you teach the children is what they become tomorrow. If these children know better, they will not be in schools. They are in the schools to be taught but unfortunately, the teachers who should teach them are exposing them to danger and teaching them to disrespect constituted authority; teaching them to vandalise public property. It is painful and I was saddened at what I saw.
We must strive to have a civilised society where people talk and listen to each other. I am not angry or frustrated but I am concerned at the inability of the opposition to comprehend and to go so low.
One of the issues that labour is raising is that you sent their leaders to Agodi prison for three days. How would you address this perception?
I did not send labour leaders to the prison. Why would they say such things? Some people came to destroy government properties, police arrested them and took them to court. I don’t have a hand in that. If you do anything illegal, the police are there to do their job under the law. If you criminally engage yourself, the law is there to judge you. Nobody is above the law. But the truth is that I did not send anyone to prison.
Are you giving up on this proposal?
I am not dropping the proposal because I am here to improve things. That was why I was elected twice.
You have alleged the hands of your political opponents in this issue, do you have the facts?
We know what is going on. Some of those that we have defeated refused to accept God’s verdict and that of the people. It is in their character. They are bad and sore losers who don’t like to accept defeat. They have no spirit of sportsmanship.
We have evidence and facts that not only the opposition we defeated but some labour leaders who want to become popular are behind this issue. Why should you go out and be telling lies against the government.
In Oyo State, we have 631 secondary schools, 33,000 classrooms, 436,000 pupils and about 15,000 teachers. There is no way that the state government, with the present economic situation, can shoulder the responsibilities attached to these items. We are saying that if associations, alumni, religious bodies, community leaders, philanthropists and so on are willing to help us out, why should we rebuff them?
After all, we will still control the schools involved. These people are not asking for anything in return but the satisfaction of playing roles in the education sector of the state.
Labour is claiming that the proposal is going to lead to the selling of these schools. Are you actually returning schools to the missionaries?
How can we sell our public schools? Has any government in Nigeria sold public schools? Have you heard or seen any such thing in our speeches and advertisement? It is an intentional misconception and it is politically motivated. We are not returning schools to anybody. How can a labour leader who attended university come around to say that our advertisement looked like we are selling the schools because we asked partners to pay certain amount? Of course, we are not. If you pay for an exam, does the payment guarantee that you will pass?
Will Oyo economic situation improve soon as you promised the people?
Of course it will but within the context of the nation’s steady improvements. Where is Nigeria now? Can Oyo State exist outside of Nigeria? When there is national economic catastrophe, it affects everyone, more so in a federation where there is no true federalism, where the state will go to the Federal Government to go and beg for money.
The socio-economic base of the state is not sufficient to launch the state without going into agriculture and looking inwards. Economics is about multi-dimensional actions. It is about the infrastructure, the manpower and so many things. It’s not only about government because we are simply the supervising and coordinating authority of what the people do. The people must participate and education is important. Countries who are doing well today have sound educational background.
Our present education cannot stand the test of time. Many of our graduates and teachers cannot even speak correct English. I have spoken to them so I know what I am saying. But if our people say they are happy with the dismal standard of education in the state today, we will stop doing what we are doing. Thankfully however, majority of our people have agreed that the state of our public secondary education needs a whole lot of improvements.