ADDRESS BY ARC. SUNNY ECHONO, PERMANENT SECRETARY, FEDERAL MINISTRY OF EDUCATION DURING A COURTESY CALL ON GOV SAMUEL ORTOM
1ST APRIL, 2021
Your Excellency, I want to personally express my profound appreciation for accepting to receive us at a short notice and in a very difficult circumstance that we have found ourselves in the state.
I bring you very warm felicitation from Mallam Adamu Adamu. He has asked me to particularly register his personal appreciation to you.
He recently received a report from the management and Governing Council of the Federal University of Health Sciences which informed him of the wonderful cooperation they received from your government and the people of Benue State including your prompt release and hand over of the Otukpo General Hospital to that Institution.
Your Excellency, before I talk about the specific mission that we are here today, it is important that I start with the issue of security in our state.
I want to commiserate with you personally on your experience and also register the appreciation of my own community of Odugbo and the whole of Apa – Agatu axis for the very prompt response that you made to the expanding challenge that we are now facing.
It’s moving all over the state now and we citizens of your state including those representing you at Abuja believe that no matter what we try to achieve by way of development efforts, they would come to nod if the country does not guarantee security for lives and property.
Particularly in Benue State, where the only industries we have are agriculture and education. If our people are not allowed to go to the farms, and our children do not go to school, there are consequences for our country in terms of security as well as the future development of our great country.
So I want to join you; you are far becoming the conscience of the nation. We thank you for your courage and your voice of reason and we hope that everybody, those who are our friends and also those who do not like us allow the people of Benue to live in peace and go about their daily living.
My primary objective here today Your Excellency, is to brief you about the progress with the Institutions, particularly two of them: the College of Education in Odugbo and the Polytechnic at Wannune which is the primary reason for members of my delegation being here today.
I want to report just like the University of Health Sciences for which instructions have now been given through the National Universities Commission for the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board JAMB to commence admissions to the Federal University of Health Sciences based on the progress recorded and the support of the government.
That exercise will commence very soon. With regards to the other two Institutions, I am pleased to inform you that Mr. President has approved Principal Officers and the Governing Councils for them. Also to say that Mr. President favoured us by appointing Benue indigenes to head the two Institutions as Rector and Provost respectively. The announcement will be made on Monday or Tuesday.
We are here to access in detail the arrangements, the existing facilities at the Polytechnic in Wannune and that is why we have a large delegation from the National Board for Technical Education to carry out this physical inspection.
The College of Education was billed to commence in October last year but because of all the challenges we had with Covid and so on, we are now just about ready to start. The temporary facilities for physical commencement are ready and as soon as the gentlemen I just mentioned assume office, they will be directed to work very closely with your government to see how we can fast track the commencement of academic activities for the College of Education within the next two to three weeks and for the Polytechnic later in the year.
The second objective of my reporting is the World Bank partnership with the Federal Ministry of Education. Benue is one of the six states benefitting from the programme. It is a skill acquisition development programme that will enable us train our young men and women who, many of them are currently roaming the streets or are unemployed to acquire skill they would need to employ themselves as well as create jobs.
We, particularly in states like Benue, all the entire agriculture value chain requires this level of work force to help us in things like improving our agricultural practices and agricultural interventions, value addition, packaging, mechanisation, planting, threshing, weeding and so on. People will be trained in these areas to be able to find jobs for themselves.
Benue has also taken a lead in terms of providing the work force in our construction Industries so we also want to inform that the practice of importing work men from various parts of Africa including Togo, Ghana Republic of Benin to do POP work may no longer be there because we have our able bodied men and women who would fit in by the way we emphasise skill programme.
So I will be working closely with the state Commissioner for Education to see that Benue benefits maximally from the programme. Luckily too, the National Coordinator of the programme is from Benue. So, that gives us added advantage of being able to liaise more effectively. And to inform Your Excellency that we have written to the World Bank for additional support to facilitate the establishment of three skill development centres in the state.
We did this because we realised that addition to the normal design of the programme that would focus on our technical schools and also the private sector led effort. We have a number of facilities in the state currently not being used; one of them is the proposed site for the Federal Polytechnic in Adikpo.
We believe that a lot has been put on that site. The team that went on inspection made that report and we felt that rather than just leave it lying fallow and waiting for whenever approval will be granted for that Institution, we should start using it as a skill acquisition centre the right equipment and funding to begin to put that to use.
The second facility is right here in Makurdi which was established by the Central Bank – the Entrepreneurship Centre on the way to the Federal Secretariat. We also feel that, that facility can be upgraded and the Governor can make an arrangement around it to ensure that we move our Kids on the streets again to acquire these skill.
The third one will be in Zone C, Otukpo precisely, or any other place we could find such a facility. We have received agreement in principle but we need to work out the details of how to go about it. I have directed the Coordinator to liaise with the Hon. Commissioner of Education and the team that you already approved for Benue state so that we could quickly accommodate it.
Again, Your Excellency, I will be discussing the details with the Hon. Commissioner on the need for greater collaboration of our higher educational institutions with the Federal Ministry of Education particularly BSU and the details would be worked out.
There are so many activities that are happening and we also have programmes that Benue has not maximally benefitted from. One of them for example, we have one of the highest number of Federal Government Colleges in the country. We have four of them but the enrollment of our own indigenes in these schools is low.
Also, the schools themselves are not carrying their maximum capacity. This is a surprise because Benue as I said earlier, is an agrarian and educational state. So we have to take special measures to ensure that the approvals that we are now granting to Institutions to increase their carrying capacity are also reflected in the number of our indigenes that are admitted.
A lot of it has to do with lack of awareness because we do a National Common Entrance through which we now select those who will participate.
Another similar Institution is the gifted Children’s School in Suleja. A state like Anambra for example ensures that thirty candidates in that state are admitted in that Institution every year and it is based on a deliberate policy; what they do is to identify the best students from the graduating class in all their schools and encourage them to apply to that Institution.
It’s a free Institution, you don’t pay fees, they give you laptop, they take them abroad because that is where we incubate the future leaders of this country. And they also take time to plan to prepare those students for exams because it’s very competitive.
Admission there is on merit and that is why Anambra is able to produce more while other states produce only one, some two. Anambra has consistently been doing that. I believe Benue State too can do that because we are richly endowed in terms of our young men and women.
If you do a concerted programme of selecting the best students to compete for this and preparing them ahead of the exams, I believe we would be able to increase the number of our indigenes who would attend such schools.
The next Sir, is the issue of Federal scholarship. We have so many scholarship programmes. About two days ago, I had the privilege of addressing the Germany Scholars who are sponsored by what we use to call the DFID now Foreign Common Wealth Development Office. These are scholarships that are offered to Nigerians every year. They go to the UK to do all sorts of courses – many Masters and Post Graduates. When I went through the list, I didn’t see one single individual from Benue State and I felt it not because we do not have the right talent but because we are not even aware of it.
I was not aware of the programme until I got to Education. Similarly, we have the Common Wealth Scholarship. A Professor from Benue State here was part of the Accessors at the last exercise and he again, bemoaned this fact that he was looking out to at least see only one or two of our students included in that exercise.
So we believe that we need to create awareness about the existence of a lot of these opportunities. There are about eleven different scholarship schemes. We have the bilateral ones in fourteen other countries.
We have been doing well in that in overall terms but I worry that if you don’t institutionalise it now, by the time people like me are gone leaving that Ministry, we may not have the right number.
Benue is normally the number one now for some of those scholarships; but we need to have solid ways – a conveyor belt of bringing them in annually not through personal intervention.
So Your Excellency, this is a solidarity visit as well as briefing session to keep you abreast of what we have been doing at the center and to also salute you for the courageous work you are doing to protect our people.