2019 International Youth Day: How Justifiable is Golden National Meritorious Award to Amaechi? 

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  • BY EZE CHUKWUEMEKA EZE•

The Nigeria youths and students in Nigeria have resolved to honour Rt. Hon. Dr. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi erstwhile Governor of Rivers State, immediate past Minster of Transportation of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and yet to be sworn in member of the Federal Executive Council of Nigeria with some other carefully selected great Nigerians in commemoration of 2019 International Youth day come 17th August, 2019 at Abuja the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and seat of power of Nigeria for their pivotal and crucial roles in reshaping education in Nigeria. It is based on this resolution by the Nigerian youths to honour this great son of Nigeria that prompted this treatise to examine if Amaechi rightly deserves such a Golden meritorious award or otherwise.

International Youth Day 2019: Theme And Significance Of This Day

Young people who were gathered in Vienna, Austria, for the first session of the UN’s World Youth Forum, proposed the idea for International Youth Day in 1991. In the year 1998, a resolution was adopted, proclaiming August 12 as International Youth Day. That recommendation was later endorsed by the UN General Assembly in 1999. International Youth Day was first observed in 2000.

The theme for International Youth Day 2019 is ‘Transforming education’, highlighting efforts to make education more inclusive and accessible for all youth. An initiative by the United Nations, the International Youth Day or IYD is celebrated on August 12 every year. First observed on August 12, 2000, the day marks an awareness day and draws attention to a given set of cultural and legal issues surrounding youth. Along with recognising efforts of the world’s youth in enhancing global society, it also aims to promote ways to engage them in becoming more actively involved in making positive contributions to their communities.

According to the UN, there are around 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24 in the world currently and paying a special attention to these youths is the need of the hour. The UN defines the worlds’ youth as the age group between 15 and 24 years old Therefore, in order to raise awareness of challenges and problems facing the world’s youth, the International Youth Day is celebrated all over the world.

The importance of quality education in youth development is well known. However, a number of youths are dropping out of schools and colleges these days. To promote education and encourage taking up studies, the United Nations is taking necessary steps.

How The Nigeria Youth And Students Intend To Celebrates The 2019 International Day

The Nigeria Youth and Students’ Organisation, in celebration of the 2019 International Youth Day resolved to use the occasion to honour and remember some great Nigerians that have played key and crucial roles in shaping and reshaping education in Nigeria. To demonstrate its seriousness and resolve in this regard the body decided to present a National Golden Merit Award to Rt. Hon. (Dr.) Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi whose impact in revolution of education in Nigeria while he holds sway as the Governor of Rivers State need not be overemphasised.

According to the invitation circulated by this body to me and many other Nigerians reads, ‘Eze, You are specially invited to the International Youth Day Golden Meritorious Awards in Honour of Rt. Hon. (Dr.) Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, and other Distinguished Awardees’

According to the special invitation, my other special friends, whose impacts in the educational sector of Nigeria need not be overemphasized, to be honoured on the same date are: His Excellency, Nasir El-Rufai, the Kaduna State Governor; Her Excellency, Dame Judith Amaechi, Founder, Empowerment Support Initiative (ESI); Yakubu Mohammed, Director General, Nigerian Television Authority (NTA); Arc. Sonny S. T. Echono, Permanent Secretariat, Federal Ministry of Education; Dr. Bello Aliyu Gusau, Executive Secretary, Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF); Prof. Nelson Brambaifa, Managing Director, Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC); my very brother, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, Director General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA); Mele Koko Kyari, Group Managing Director, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC); Prof. Charles Quaker Dokubo, Special Adviser to the President and Coordinator, Presidential Amnesty Programme; Dr. Garba Abari, Director General, National Orientation Agency (NOA); and Brig. Gen. S. Ibrahim, Director General, National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).

“Make it a date with the Youth and Students of this nation as they honour the Education Transformers. Leadership for All”, the invitation has said.

Though all these awardees are very special to me and occupy special places in my heart and I am fully aware of the great sacrifices they have made in promotion of education and empowerment of most of our youths but I will dwell more in this treatise on the golden award due to my brother and friend, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, erstwhile Governor of Rivers State and immediate past Minister of Transportation of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, if it is justifiable or not.

This epochal event, with the theme ‘Transforming Education’, is billed to hold on Saturday 17th August, 2019, at the historical Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre, FCT, Abuja, with Prof. Owunari Abraham Georgewill of the University of Port Harcourt as Keynote Speaker.

Amaechi And The Laying Of A Strong And Solid Foundation In The Educational Sector For Rivers State

To justify this golden meritorious award by the Nigerian Youths and Students to Amaechi, I intend to expose to the world how Amaechi changed the fortunes of Rivers State in the area of Education and how he succeeded to attract and make Port Harcourt the Rivers State capital the UNESCO World Book Capital during his years as the Governor of Rivers State.

According to the legendary Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”  While to the famous Walter Cronkite; “Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.” To Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi, erstwhile governor of Rivers State seems to be on a divine mission where tomorrow does not exist. In tune with the statements credited to the above sages, Amaechi seems to be in a hurry to accomplish so many things within a short period at the period of his governance of Rivers State and have in my recent treatise exposed his feats and strategies adopted to secure Rivers State and his revolutionary trends in the Agriculture sector, in similar function, I intend in this particular treatise briefly highlight the revolution witnessed by Rivers State within the eight years of the tenure of this young visionary man in the area of education amongst others.

On assumption of office the Amaechi-led government declared a state of emergency on the education sector and completely took over the payment of salaries of primary school and junior secondary school teachers, hitherto the statuary function of local governments, to ensure that education takes its rightful place in the scheme of things. This intervention cost the state government then N800 million monthly, to pay salaries of primary school teachers. To further strengthen and ensure qualitative education in the state, ex-governor Amaechi signed into law five bills brought for his assent by the State House of Assembly.

Among them were the Rivers State Universal Basic Education Amendment Bill 2012 and the Rivers State Senior Secondary Schools’ Board Bill 2012. The then governor was upbeat while signing into law these bills, including the one on social services levy recently passed by the Rivers State House of Assembly. The government targeted building 700 model primary schools with 500 completed – each with 20 classrooms costing about N116 million each and equipped with ICT facility, modern library, science laboratory, football field, basketball pitch, volleyball pitch and nursery playground. These model primary schools were built to the standard of the United Nations as obtainable in developed parts of the world.

The State Government also built 24 model secondary schools across the 23 local government councils in the state, well structured and fully-equipped with modern educational, recreation and boarding facilities, with standard housing for teachers’1B, of which one was commissioned by the former president of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. Some observers as universities have referred to these secondary schools.

Said Amaechi about his mission: “We knew that the problem of the state was basically education, the state of our quality of education was abysmal and we knew that the quality can only improve if we take over primary education.” He expressed concern over what local government councils were doing with the money meant for this purpose. Rivers State under Amaechi introduced the study of ICT in the model primary and secondary schools. According to Dame Alice Lawrence-Nemi, then commissioner for education, whose word was a law on issues of education in the state: “The introduction of ICT in our schools was to enhance technological development of our students in the State.

The world is a global village and the need to embrace technology at an early stage is essential in the intellectual development of the students. I am proud that Rivers State is the first state in Nigeria to introduce the study of ICT at the primary school level. All the schools in Rivers State today are equipped with ICT facilities with Internet connection, as the state is eager to make all her pupils and students to be technologically ahead of their counterparts in other parts of the country.

“Our candidates are ICT-compliant and write external examinations like WAEC and NECO. Today, I am proud to state that technology has eased learning in our society as our students can do their assignments on the Internet. Today, Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST) is leading the way in technological drive in Nigerian universities and has shown Nigerians how ICT can easily be used to enhance learning and administration process in the academic environment. All these are to the credit of the great revolutionist of our time – Rt Hon Chibuike Amaechi,” Lawrence-Nemi enthused.

Apart from retraining teachers, the government employed over 13,000 teachers from the 20,000 shortlisted for interview, out of the over 45,000 teachers that applied – a feat uncommon by any other government in Nigeria. Rivers State under Amaechi offered scholarships to over 2,000 students in Nigerian higher institutions, and spent about N5 billion on her students in foreign institutions. The state embarked upon building a world-class university, which when completed will turn out well-equipped graduates that will hold their own in any field.

In the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, the Amaechi administration built a hostel that accommodates about 6,000 students, and accommodation for all the lecturers of the university that are ICT-compliant. It is important to point out here that the Rivers State Government under the watch of Amaechi was among the few in Nigeria that offered free education and free health delivery to its people, but stands apart as the only state offering free education, free sandals, free books and free uniform in Nigeria. Apart from the 500 new primary schools built in 350 communities across the state each Local Government Area of the State has an outstanding Secondary School termed to be the best in Nigeria.

Amaechi Explains What His Administration Achieved For Rivers State Under The Educational Sector Within Eight Years Of Governance

“Education is one the strongest areas of focus by this Administration. Under our watch these last eight years, our educational system witnessed transformation in infrastructure and service delivery.

Although constrained by the reduction of our revenue by more than half, our administration is proud of undeniable successes in our educational sector such as infrastructure revolution: Building and equipping over 311 world class primary schools and five model secondary schools; The retraining and recertification of teachers with the involvement of the British Council in Port Harcourt; Total elimination of strikes and disruptions by takeover of payment of salaries of primary school teachers amounting to about N2bn per month; Recruitment of 13,210 teachers; Establishment of the Quality Assurance Agency; Introduction of Free Education up to secondary school level; Abolition of all fees in schools; Annual oversees scholarships in strategic branches of knowledge; Establishment of skills acquisition institutions to draw attention to self-employment and entrepreneurship; and above all, the outsourcing of management of schools in the state. The icing on the cake perhaps is the transformation of the UST from 79th to best state university in Nigeria and 12th over all best. There is also the establishment of a university of education.

As part of the Administration’s deliberate academic growth policy, we sent our children to schools overseas, while working on improving our facilities in the state. Back home, we sent others to rated secondary schools and universities. We are proud of our achievements in the education sector; and are equally proud of our children who proved that given conducive locale, they could compete with the world’s best and brightest.

We have given over 3000 scholarships to our deserving children within and outside the country. Even with mounting pressure and competing interests made the education of our children a priority as indeed it should be. N800,000 ( Eight hundred million Naira) has been released to the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency in this light to enable it pay down some of its obligations to our scholars”

Amaechi And Development Of Human Capital Through Offer Of Foreign Scholarship To Rivers State Students.

Jean Piaget, a Swiss cognitive Psychologist on education having Amaechi and his exemplary leadership in Rivers State in mind stated and I quote, “The principal goal of education is to create men who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done”. In line with the stand of Piaget, the Government of Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi not only offered free education to the people of Rivers State up to Secondary School level and offered scholarship in different universities in different parts of the world as follows – i. Canada 297, ii. India: 202, iii. Ireland: 30, iv. Singapore: 136, v. United Kingdom: 384, vi and over 1049 students studying abroad under the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency (RSSDA) in order to create the new Rivers State as envisaged by the founding fathers of the State.

Port Harcourt As UNESCO World Book Capital 2014 

Apart from all these feats, Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State of Nigeria, played a historic role when it hosted the US-Nigeria Bilateral Commission on October 16 and 17, 2012, thereby becoming the first city outside the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, to do so. This event is a top bill in international rating and the strategic relevance of the Gulf of Guinea area makes the meeting in Port Harcourt even more important. The United States Deputy Secretary of State and two Assistant Secretaries led the US delegation.

On the side of Nigeria, especially the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) led by Amaechi views the US-Nigeria Bilateral Commission with seriousness. It would be recalled that UNESCO, moved by the revolutionary feats of Amaechi in the education sector, crowned Port Harcourt the 2014 World Book Capital City in April 2014, beating ten other great cities that include Oxford in England and Moscow in Russia.

For this to be achieved against all odds and challenges simply demonstrates that Amaechi was a visionary and focused leader who has received accolades in this regard by world leaders. His administration has, in addition, promoted overall United Nations activities in the South-South geo-political zone, through the provision of an outstanding facility that can house over 15 UN agencies in Port Harcourt. As a result, there are five UN agencies in Rivers State at the moment; and more are expected to follow in due course.

Port Harcourt’s reign as World Book Capital 2014 began with the handover by Bangkok at an impressive ceremony at Hotel Presidential in the Rivers State capital. Dignitaries at the event included former Governor Amaechi, former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar; Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka; UNESCO Director-General, Ms Irina Bokova; former World Bank Vice-President, Africa, Dr Obiageli Ezekwesili; wife of the former Governor, Dame Judith Amaechi; Engr Tele Ikuru, former. Deputy Governor of Rivers State; Rt Hon O.D Amaechree, then speaker of State House of Assembly, members of Rivers State Executive Council, senators and members of the House of Representatives from the state. This feat by Port Harcourt in becoming the very first African city south of the Sahara chosen as World Book Capital based on public voting, beating ten other great cities that include Oxford in England and Moscow in Russia though commendable marks Amaechi as a hero of education in this generation.

Special Awards:

The Rivers State Government was adjudged the best performing state in the Education sector within the South-South zone during this golden period of Rivers State. In recognition of this the Federal Ministry of Education rewarded the state with the sum of N70 million for its performance.

The Rivers State Ministry of Education has won the maiden edition of Babs Fafunwa Education Prize for Service Delivery. The award is in recognition of the massive deployment of infrastructure, effective management of human resources and productive educational policies and programmes that have made a huge difference in the overall development of the education sector in the state and in the lives of target beneficiaries.

International Organisations’ Comments On Education 

The United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) commended Amaechi on the strides recorded by his administration in the health and education sectors. Country Representative of UNICEF, Ibrahima Fall, who described as tremendous the progress made in these sectors, said: “This is the most exciting news for every mother, for every child and for every family in Rivers State.”

In appreciation to the feats of Amaechi’s administration, the former Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, stated: “The impression that I always get when I come to Africa is that these countries have enormous potential, and your country and your state (Rivers) have enormous potential and I think that you happen to have at this time in history also, a dynamic, energetic and capable leadership that can make the dreams of building up the state into a reality of life for the 5.1 million residents in Rivers State that want their lives to be of much higher and greater quality.” 

In extolling this great revolutionist, the United States’ Consul-General in Lagos, Mr. Jeffrey Hawkins, told journalists: “I must commend Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State for embarking on numerous people-oriented projects and showing enthusiasm on Niger Delta issues. We are very appreciative of all that Amaechi has done. We are quite clear that addressing the issues of the Niger Delta, the challenges require focusing on things like education development, agriculture, health, all sorts of issues. And the governor was kind enough to show us, on the ground, some of the projects the government of Rivers State is working on, so we are very deeply appreciative of his support.”

 

Abbey Writes Amaechi In Appreciation Of The Scholarship That Made Him What He Is By Today 

Dr. Samuel Jonah Abbey one of the beneficiaries of Amaechi’s policy on education wrote and I quote, It is with a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation that I write to humbly say thank you for making me what I am today. The background story might be too long for you to read Sir, considering your busy schedule.

Sir, I had lots of aspirations as a child but the demise of my parents almost crumbled the skyline of my world. As an orphan, I completed my first degree in Civil engineering with upper class in 2010 at the University of Port Harcourt. 

My horizons were then broadened when I heard about your overseas scholarship scheme during your term as the executive governor of Rivers state. Sir, the transparency of your administration gave me the opportunity to be assessed and awarded the RSSDA scholarship on merit to pursue MSc Civil Engineering in the UK.

I successfully completed my MSc with Distinction in 2013 and today your Excellency Sir, I have completed my PhD in Civil Engineering, Coventry University, UK and now addressed as Dr. Samuel Jonah Abbey. 

Sir, I just want to say thank you so much for giving my life a meaning. Thank you so much. My entire family are ever grateful to you. May God bless you richly and protect you. May God shield you on every step and remain your pillar. May he protect your entire family in Jesus name, Amen. I will keep praying for you. God bless you my hero”

Sadly, Governor Nyesom Wike the incumbent Governor of Rivers State not only stopped the scholarship scheme of the Amaechi’s administration, sacked the 13,250 Teachers employed by Amaechi and discarded all the great schools built by the Amaechi’s administration. He has so destroyed education in Rivers State that Rivers State now takes take the back seat on issues pertaining to education.

Summary of the Great Feats in the Education Sector By Amaechi

Let me conclude this treatise by summarizing in brief the key areas where Amaechi proved that he is an exemplary leader of our time –

  1. Employed over 13000 teachers in one day
  2. Sponsored over 2000 Rivers people on foreign scholarship.
  3. Built about 10 world-class secondary schools with boarding facilities.
  4. Upgraded the status of COE to I. Ajuru University of Education.
  5. Gave free school uniforms to all primary school pupils.
  6. Made Port Harcourt the world book capital.
  7. Built Modern Primary schools in almost all the communities in Rivers State.
  8. Built Modern Secondary Schools that is adjudged as a university in various parts of the state. Unlike what is undeniable in other states, Amaechi made school fees for undergraduate students in all Rivers State owned higher institutions uniform.
  9. Gave Free Education from Primary to Secondary School level.
  10. Upgraded SBS to polytechnic.
  11. Automatic scholarship was giving to all indigenous Lectures in UST to upgrade their education to PhD level.
  12. Upgraded COE to UOE, which is the 1st in Nigeria. Direct payment of bursary to Rivers State students in tertiary institutions.
  13. Supported the federal university with infrastructural and human capital development.
  14. Backlog of over 4years un access found of UBEC and ETF was accessed to date without his interference… that made the board won an award as the BEST UBE state in Nigeria which attracted #500,000,000.00 to the financial strength of the state. The board is still the BEST in Nigeria

CONCLUSION

The title of this treatise reads, ”2019 INTERNATIONAL YOUTH DAY: TRANSFORMING EDUCATION AND GOLDEN NATIONAL MERITORIOUS AWARD TO AMAECHI, HOW JUSTIFIABLE? EZE EXPLAINS” and if you have carefully read through my submission in this treatise you can agree with me that the Nigeria Youth and Students didn’t make any mistake in their choice of a great and true revolutionist in the person of Rt. Hon. Dr. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi as the winner of their 2019 International Youth Day Golden meritorious Award!

I have done my best to justify the choice of Amaechi as the winner of the Golden National Merit Award for transforming the Education Sector during his days as the Governor of Rivers State but if you have a contrary view on this, do alert me accordingly to circulate your view accordingly.

  • Eze, Media Consultant is based in Port Harcourt ezemediaconcept2020@gmail.com



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