Sunday, April 4, 2021 12:00 pm
By Bolanle Bolawole
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In January this year, Gov. Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State announced the readiness of his government to return both primary and secondary schools to their original owners – but with a caveat. Certain conditions have to be met.
Missionaries have been upbeat in demanding a return of their schools. The pendulum of arguments for and against has swung here and there. In Ondo state, for instance, the Catholic mission had engaged Akeredolu’s predecessor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, on the vexed issue of the return of mission schools. According to those who claimed to be familiar with the matter, Mimiko played hide-and-seek with the missionaries until his two terms of eight years expired.
Undaunted, the missionaries started the fight again when Akeredolu mounted the saddle. The governor’s first term in office bore no fruit but as he prepared to flag off his second term, Akeredolu put a smile on the face of the missionaries by announcing the readiness of his government to return “confiscated” schools to their original owners. Part of the conditions to be met by the owners is an assurance that, once released, the schools will not discriminate against any admission seeker.
Said Akeredolu: “Once the hurdles listed by the government are cleared by the mission owners, we shall gladly hand them (the schools) over to them (the original owners)”, adding that religious organisations interested in taking over their schools should approach the state Ministry of Justice for the necessary briefs.
The Catholics have shown interest in taking over their schools. According to the National President of the Aquinas College Akure Old Boys Association (ACAOBA), retired Justice Adesuyi Olateru-Olagbegi, Akeredolu’s announcement was “the best birthday gift” anyone could have given to their old school. Aquinas, founded in January 1951, turned 70 last January and ACAOBA has been upbeat with various activities to mark the event.
According to the website of ACAOBA, St. Thomas Aquinas College, named after a patron saint, St. Thomas of Aquinas (1225 to 1274), was established in January, 1951. It started precisely on the 27th of January, 1951 with a class of 34 boys. The College was founded by the Catholic Diocese of Ondo under the leadership of His Lordship, The Most Rev. Thomas Hughes, who was able to convince the then Deji of Akure, His Royal Highness Oba Afunbiowo Adesida, to grant him land for the project.
Kabiyesi granted the Bishop the dreaded Oliki forest. The Bishop, with the assistance of the Catholic Church and the students of St. Augustine Teacher Training College, Akure, cleared the forest and commenced the erection of buildings. Today, Aquinas College has a student population of about 3,500 students.
Activities marking the school’s 70th anniversary have progressed in different segments. The first leg in January witnessed a press conference addressed by Olateru-Olagbegi at the Henry Ogiri Hall within the school compound detailing anniversary activities. A solemn mass at Mary Queen of Angels’ parish flagged off the activities with Rev.Fr. Jude Arogundade, the Catholic Bishop of Ondo Diocese, officiating.
Other activities included the commissioning of the rebuilt college gate and mentoring talk to students by Pastor Wale Akinyanmi. On Friday, March 19th, an ultra-modern sports complex was commissioned for the college by ACAOBA; it is the first of its kind that I have seen in a secondary school. Renovation of classroom blocks, building of a clinic; stocking laboratories, etc have been undertaken by ACAOBA. Further anniversary activities are lined up for the latter part of the year.
The philosophies underpinning the activities of ACAOBA are worthy of emulation by other old students’ associations. One is that the privileged should give back to the less privileged. Two is that a river that forgets its source will dry up. Three is that corporate social responsibility demands that we give back to the source that nurtured us.
There is also the understanding that education is so important that it cannot be left solely in the hands of the government. Resources are scarce whereas demands are overwhelming. Government alone cannot cope. Competing demands mean that other needs have to be met. In this balancing act, standards have fallen and as noted by Olateru-Olagbegi, “yearly budgetary allocation to education has not been enough to provide the necessary facilities in our schools”.
This is a problem nationwide. We cite the percentage recommended by UNESCO to fund education but, yearly, we fall far short of it. The result has been decrepit infrastructure in schools; over-crowded classes and lecture halls; lack of chemicals and reagents in the laboratories; shortage of teachers and lecturers; and absence of motivation for teachers and other workers, to mention but a few.
“Yet, we live in an age when our own children must compete with their counterparts from other parts of the world”, bemoaned Olateru-Olagbagi. We must admit that the odds are high against our children. That they still excel in such difficult circumstances is a function of God’s gift, and their can-do and never-say-die spirit.
Since the government does not have the resources to cater to the needs of the schools, it stands to reason for it to admit that it has bitten more than it can chew. Off-loading mission schools appears, then, the most reasonable thing to do. I visited Aquinas College during the commissioning of its sports pavilion and rubbed minds with students, teachers and old boys alike. The consensus of opinion was that the return of schools was an idea whose time has come, to quote Victor Hugo.
The advantages are many. On the side of the government, it means less burden. Resources thus saved can be diverted to other pressing needs. On the side of students, it offers the opportunity for the creation of an enabling environment more favourable to learning. If the examples of such schools that have been handed over to their original owners are anything to go by, then, it means that better infrastructure will be made available; more attention will be paid to staff welfare; and students will be better able to compete with their counterparts from other parts of the world.
Now, the Academic Staff Union of Secondary Schools (ASUSS), Ondo State chapter has kicked against the government’s planned return of the mission schools to their owners. Union chairman, Balogun Tajudeen, described the move as ill-conceived, adding that it will only set back the state’s education sector in that such schools would be commercialised, thus denying the children of the poor easy access to quality and affordable education.
“We foresee a situation where the state government will stop paying the salaries of teachers when they know that they are not directly in charge of the schools. If the government stops the payment of salaries, it means the missions will start sourcing for money internally and charging exorbitant fees to meet its financial obligations, and what becomes the fate of the poor children?”
Not surprising, the typical mindset of Labour revolves around salaries and check-off! “If they (missions) are so much interested in education, they should build more schools. We have many mission schools today that are not under the state government”, Balogun was also quoted as saying. Oh no, sir! It shouldn’t work that way! It is the government that should return what it confiscated and go build its own schools from the scratch if it is so interested.
That was how the military confiscated the first television station in Africa and the then University of Ife, to mention but a few, only to dilute and make a mess of them. Therefore, in this debate, I am minded to vote for the return of mission schools. Rev. Fr. Arogundade hit the nail on the head when he said that many missionary schools taken over a long time ago by the government have become a shadow of themselves.
My own alma mater, Owo High School, is in such a terrible state today that, every day on the old students’ platform of my 1970/1974 set, we agonise over what is to be done. And the situation would have been worse had it not been for the intervention of various sets of old students making this or that contribution to the school. The age is far gone when the government alone can shoulder the responsibility of running schools.
To make matters worse is that the government no longer prioritises education. This is very obvious in the measly funds voted for the sector as well as in the avalanche of private schools everywhere – from nursery to university level. How many of the leaders have their children in public schools? How many of them even have their children attend school here in Nigeria? Citizens provide their own electricity, their own water, their own security, and must now brace up to provide quality education for their children!
It is difficult to understand what again the government exists to provide for the citizenry. They will not do and yet will not allow those who will do to do! I agree with Rev. Fr. Arogundade when he said the missions, if allowed to take over some of these schools “…can do a little better because those schools and facilities that we have and were not taken over are some of the best today”.
Of course, fees will be charged! Tell me, what is free in this country again today? But such fees must be even–handed. And this is one area where the government can still moderate things. Another area that the government and the missions must iron out very well is the politics of religion that enemies of progress have found a way to inject into our schools. The hijab controversy is not so much service unto God as it is doing the bidding of Satan.
God told Samuel that He looks at the heart and not on outward appearance. Church leaders who were commanded by Jesus to go to the uttermost parts of the world (including hijab-wearing Islamic countries) to preach the gospel fail to see the opportunity in receiving with open hands hijab-wearing girls and preaching the gospel to them. If the Mullahs see you convert them with rapidity, the same people off-loading them on you will quickly take them away with more profound rapidity!
And when Mullahs needlessly, shamelessly, and disgustingly promote violence and sectarian strife only to turn round to declare their religion the “religion of peace”, they make themselves a laughing stock. The god that cannot fight its own battles is not God. Honour killing is archaic, anachronistic and bestial. In saner climes, such vile murderers would hang by the neck until pronounced dead.
I counsel Gov.Akeredolu to forge ahead with the return of mission schools to their original owners. The policy statement has been made; it remains for him to follow up with policy implementation. Will he walk the talk or will he develop cold feet? Time, as they say, will tell!
Published in the Sunday Tribune newspaper of April 4, 2021.