THE golden prize won by Regina Pacis Model Secondary School students in Onitsha, Anambra State, who participated in the $10,000 2018 Global Technovation Challange in which students from 115 countries participated on August 9 in California came to most Nigerians as a surprise.
The school girls emerged victorious by designing an internet application to detect fake drugs, which has been a social scourge in the country and elsewhere. Nigerians were also surprised to learn of the bronze medal clinched by Tochukwu Anyigbo, a student of Lagoon Secondary School in Lagos, but sponsored by Governor Willie Obiano because she hails from Anambra State, in the International Robotics Competition held in Mexico a few days after the world competition in California. The prizes should not have surprised many Nigerians.
Anambra State has in the last few years been undergoing an unmistakable educational renaissance. In one of my most well received articles published in the mass media in January, 2016, entitled “Anambra: Leading the Return of Education and Enlightened Values”, I called national attention to the infectious enthusiasm which Gov Obiano, winner of the 1974 John Kennedy Memorial Essay Competition organised by the American Embassy in Lagos, has been demonstrating towards educational excellence.
The immediate context was how Obiano invited to a meeting of the state Executive Council students of a public school who had just won the first prize in a Mock World Debate in South Korea as part of the preparation for the contest in Germany where they were also to do very well. He repeatedly called them heroes and heroines. The lads received rock star treatment which is reserved for mostly victorious football players in Nigeria.
Pius Okigbo, one of the most engaging economists and polyvalent intellectuals from modern Africa, must be feeling good in his grave at the turn of events in Anambra State. At the graduation lecture at the University of Lagos in 1992 entitled “Crisis in the Temple”, Okigbo showed with facts and figures that the intellectual tradition has been abandoned in Nigeria even by the universities.
Higher institutions were no longer paying homage to knowledge but to mammon, as the rest of Nigerian society engaged in what Okigbo called calibration of our national life in pecuniary terms. He cited several examples of how our universities were falling over themselves to award honorary degrees to barely literate “men and women of power and money”, and not to persons of ideas or integrity.
Therefore, Okigbo must be satisfied, wherever he may be now, to see his state governor demonstrate reverence to knowledge rather than mammon, as the scripture calls money in a very derogatory manner.
He must be proud that his home state has in recent times been excelling in various competitions. Loretto Special Science School at Adazi, Anaocha Local Government Area, for instance, last year won the first prize in the senior secondary school category of an intensive of assessment of schools throughout Nigeria while Queen of the Rosary Secondary School in Onitsha took the first position in the junior secondary school category.
Ave Sancta Maria School, also in Onitsha, made the best result among primary schools, and Clement Okodo from Abagana in Njikoka Local Government Area was judged the best primary school teacher in Nigeria.
A teacher in another school in the state won the previous year the award of the Best Teacher in a nationwide competition sponsored by Nigerian Breweries plc. Olusegun Adeniyi, former presidential special adviser who now chairs Thisday editorial board and participated in the teacher’s award, told me in a private conversation that he found Anambra teachers very competitive in every area.
Anambra is the only state in Nigeria where teachers generally higher than civil servants. Science, English and Igbo teachers receive an additional 10% of their salaries because these subjects are considered key.
Those who teach in hard-to-reach places like Anambra West Local Government Area which is a riparian place, are paid an additional 20%. In other words, a science or English or Igbo teacher in a hard-to-reach place earns not just his or her monthly salary like the counterpart in the civil service but an extra 40%.
The impression should not be given that Governor Obiano pays great attention to basic education but not higher education, for it will be misleading. He made it possible for medical students of the state university to graduate for the first time since they were admitted nine years earlier into medical school.
They could not graduate because the medical school established by ex Governor Peter Obi failed get the accreditation from the Medical and Dental Registration Council of Nigeria which regulates medical education. It was starved of funds.
It did not possess the right number and caliber of staff, the right equipment and other critical facilities. Obiano quickly provided the needed funds, with a directive to the authorities to get it accredited for training not just medical doctors but also specialists. Gynaecologists, paedetricians and other consultants are today trained there.
At Executive Council meetings, Obiano defers to professor members. In the middle of a debate, he often would say, “I rule in your favour because the professors are supporting you. You know I admire professors because of their knowledge”.
No wonder, the two education commissioners, both incidentally female, are professors. Kate Omenugha, Commissioner for Basic Education, is the hardworking Nigeria’s second mass communication female professor and Theresa Nkechi Obiekezie, the young Commissioner for Higher Education, is a geophysics professor who in 2010 won the African Union-World Academy of Science National Young Scientist following a ground breaking research in life and earth sciences.
In consideration of Anambra’s prioritization of education, former World Bank vice president Oby Ezekwesili who is an ex Minister of Education, counselled the state government two years ago to take education from its list of economic enablers to its list of development pillars. Ezekwesili advised the governor to consider making the state Nigeria’s knowledge hub the way Massachusetts has become in the United States.
California is another American knowledge centre. California would be the fifth or sixth largest economy in the world if it were a separate country. Its economy is driven by ICT and entertainment, and its excellent institutions like Stanford Business School are central to the development. The United Kingdom earns huge revenues from its excellent education. The University of Manchester prides itself on soft power because it has produced, more than any other British higher institution, more foreign heads of state, prime ministers and other leaders.
Any government, national or sub national, which places premium on knowledge is most likely to do well. Therefore, it is no surprise that Anambra State has been doing exceedingly well in various areas in the last few years. Just a month ago, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, assisted by Health Minister Isaac Adewole, presented the first prize for excellent immunisation campaign to the Anambra State government. Of course, the state remains Nigeria’s safest, and is increasingly recognized as the most peaceful and socially harmonious state in Nigeria.
It has the best road network in the country and the rate of its agricultural and industrial development is very impressive. The only state to increase workers’ salaries in the past six years, Anambra always pays workers and pensioners before any other. These are, indeed, good times for the government and people of Anambra State.
It says a lot about Gov Obiano’s attitude towards education that a number of his commissioners and other senior officials have just returned from a leadership programme at Harvard. Another set will soon leave for the Lagos Business School. The significance of Obiano’s commitment to lifelong learning and development is the topic of another article. In the meantime, other states can borrow a leaf from Anambra which has proved to be truly the Light of the Nation.