The buzz generated by the promise of Owelle Anayo Rochas Okorocha’s free tertiary Education, as a gubernatorial candidate, enveloped the entire Imo State. Upon his declaration as the Governor elect, the entire people of Imo State looked forward to free tertiary education as the prize of their votes. Once sworn-in as the Governor of Imo State, His Excellency Owelle Anayo Rochas Okorocha did not disappoint. He affirmed at every venue, he was given an opportunity to speak that free education to all levels will be fully implemented in the state by September 2012.
Recently he made a statement that Free Education to all levels has been fully implemented. But the realities of his Free Education Policy, in practice, have left a sour taste in the mouths of Imo people. It has virtually become the source of a gathering storm in the entire state, especially amongst the indigenous students of Imo State University, and indigenous qualified applicants into the university who were denied admission as a result of the fraudulent Free Education Policy of Owelle’s administration.
Imo State has been blessed as the State with the highest number of candidates for the West African School Certificate Examination (WASCE) for several years running. Consequently Imo State also holds the record for the highest Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board Candidates (JAMB) and University admission applications in the entire country.
Normally, these Imo indigene University admission applicants spread their choices of universities and polytechnics across all the universities and polytechnics in the country, under JAMB. However, in reliance to the Rescue Mission’s promised Free Education, over eighty percent (80%) of Imo applicants limited their choices to Imo State owned institutions. As a result applicants into Imo State universities and polytechnics were ten times the normal number.
In dealing with the over subscription of admissions into State owned university, inferences drawn from the facts, show that UTME was used to frustrate admission seekers into Imo State University. Most indigene admission seekers who sat for the UMTE Examination could not access their results. Without UTME results, there is no admission. When these state victims of this racket inquired, they were told that a computer glitch was responsible for the disappearance of their results in the same computers. But they were neither given a chance to retake the exams nor refunded back their application fee.
At the height of the machination to deny Imo indigenes admission into Imo State owned institutions, the Governor in a public function announced that a grade “c” in Igbo Language is now made a criteria for admission into any state owned tertiary institution. It is common knowledge that only National university commission sets the criteria for admission into universities in Nigeria. Nevertheless, NUC only sets the minimum criteria for admission, and a state policy requiring additional state criteria cannot be denied by NUC if that criteria is in furtherance of the state’s interest. Moreover, NUC does not admit students into Imo State University; Imo State University determines her own admission. Furthermore, a university that does not have a substantive VC but only an acting VC appointed by the Governor can only dance to the tune played by the Governor.
The combination of the alleged computer glitch and the proclamation that a grade “c” in Igbo language is now a criteria for admission, may have been responsible for drastically reducing the number of admission into Imo State University in this academic year 2012/2013. Just recently a report in one of the local tabloids credited to acting VC, Prof. B. E. B Nwoko, who incidentally got sacked right after the report was published, claimed that 1,453 students were admitted into the University this academic year. The report further claimed that the university will publish the entire names of the successfully admitted students and their local Government of origin to proof that over seventy percent (70%) of new admissions are indigenes of the state. In any case, Prof. B. E. B. Nwoko was sacked as the acting VC before the report could be published.
Nevertheless, to make sense out of the figures reported as new admissions, one must look at the numbers of new admissions in the three years preceding 2012/2013 academic. This is important in light of the claim that the promised free tertiary education by the Government of Owelle Rochas Okorocha affected Imo indigene admission seekers into Imo State owned tertiary institutions negatively.
My sources from the University claim that admissions into the institution has hovered around 3,000 for the past three years. This information was further confirmed by the lecture delivered by prof. Nwajiuba published in the back page of Nigerian horn of Monday December 10 entitled “Education, buying back our tomorrow-A new approach to education”
In that lecture as reported by this newspaper article, Nwajiuba, stated, “With a carrying capacity of 3,412, but with 53,530 applicants to imo state university this year, we had more than 50,000 applicants who will not be admitted”
The above capacity quoted by a high ranking staff of imo state university is only applicable to the institution during the era of no free tertiary education in imo state. The admission capacity of the institution suddenly shrunk under the free education policy of owelle.
Prior to free tertiary education in Imo State , the admission capacity of the State university was 3,412, but under free education the capacity was reduced by about two thousand candidates to 1,453. These are figures of high ranking staffs of the institution. This is inspite of the fact that Imo indigene admission seekers did concentrate their application to only Imo State owned institutions.
In essence therefore, only 1453 successful candidates for admission from a pool of applicants considerably less than the pool in 2012/2013, when the lure of free education made over 80% Imo indigene university admission seekers to limit their choice only to Imo State owned institutions.
The Owelle’s effect in all this, is that a substantial number of Imo indigene university admission applicants did not gain admission not because of qualification but rather because they are Imo indigenes, who has limited their applications to Imo State owned tertiary institutions in reliance of Rescue Mission’s free tertiary education promise.
In speaking to these youths, who missed out on University admission this year because they limited their choices only to Imo State owned institutions, a young adult from Oru West whose cut-off was significantly higher than the cut-off for admission in his chosen field of study, said “what it means is that you have to state that you are from one of the neighbouring South East States in order to gain admission into Imo State University. And once you are admitted, you still could be lucky to receive the hundred thousand cheque supposedly given to indigene students of the university since your royal father knows that you are from his community” Chinedu, a young third year student of Imo State University retorted , “Even if you had gained admission to IMSU, there is no guarantee that you will benefit from the Free Education”.
When I inquired why? Chinedu continued and said,
“I am from Okohia Autonomous Community in Umuna Town of Onumo Local Government. Our Eze, His Royal Highness, Abel Adimekwe died earlier this year, and my community is yet to crown a new Eze but a regent was appointed to represent my community. I did go to the appointed regent for the scholarship form, and was informed that only about 4 or maybe five scholarship forms was given to the entire community and the forms had all been given out. So I could not fill any forms because it was not enough for my community. I therefore did not receive any cheque”.
Kingsley, a young final year student from Nwangele then said, “I did fill the scholarship from and also received the hundred thousand naira cheque drawn from Diamond Bank. However when I went to the Bank to cash the cheque, none of the Diamond Bank locations in my area in Orlu could cash the cheque. I was instructed to go to Diamond Bank Mbari which is known as Ikenegbu Extension. Upon presenting the cheque, I was informed that I will have to pay an additional twenty thousand naira and when I pay the twenty thousand naira, the cheque will then be collected from me and a slip given to me which I will then present to the school as evidence of having paid my fees for the academic year.
At the end of all these information, the young student leaders from Imo State University who had organized the meeting and invited me to listen said, “Honourbale, you had always been right that there was no free education; what we have is really a reduction of school fees for a selected few in 200 level and above from 53,000 which we currently pay to 20,000. But the unfortunate many who did not receive the scholarship cheques their school fees will increase from 53,000 to at least M120,000. And for new admissions, the school fees is 170,000 for those who did not receive the scholarship cheques and N70,000 for those who received the scholarship cheques.
This young student leader then said,
“Some of our colleagues are threatening to drag the Government to court. But this is not an issue for the court because before the court decides on this case and all the appeals concluded, most of us would have graduated. Since one cannot be included in any Batch for Youth Service until all accounts with the school are settled, it means that going to court will amount to a waste of time”. He concluded by saying that we know how to handle issues of injustice on our own way”. After that comment, the meeting ended, and I left.
Youth restiveness is a product of injustice borne out of mistreatment of youths. Imo State generally cannot be said to be one of the states plagued by Youth restiveness in the country. The reason for this is because; Imo does have a high population of her youths in institutions of higher learning and the ones who are not in tertiary institutions are busy learning a trade. Despite the high youth unemployment in the state, youth restiveness, if any is at a minimum. But with a very high number of university applicants frustrated by the denial of admission due to Rescue mission’s alleged free education policy, the situation in Imo State may change fast. Youths, who would otherwise be university students, are now roaming the streets of Imo believing that their plight is as a result of deliberate state policy.
Their counterparts in the university and polytechnics not lucky enough to receive the hundred thousand scholarship cheques are smarting, believing that it is unfair and unjust to raise their schools about 150% while lowering the schools fees of their selected colleagues by over 100%. Imo indigene students attending institutions of higher learning not owned by the state are asking why should they be denied the right to the hundred thousand naira scholarship cheques from the state. Even some whose parents are civil servants in Imo State Government, but they are attending tertiary institutions not owned by Imo State are outraged. One such person at the meeting stated that his father, a civil servant pays his taxes to Imo State and yet he is denied the scholarship cheque because he attends Anambra State University.
Where such feelings, as the feelings expressed by these youths at this meeting exist, there is a gathering storm. Rescue Mission must immediately review everything about this free education to avert this gathering storm.
Free tertiary education without an enabling law is just rhetoric. I do agree that the court may not be the answer but not necessarily for reasons given by the young student leader who invited me to the meeting. To institute a viable lawsuit, your complaint must be based on a violation of some law. Without an enabling law backing the Rescue Mission free education policy, what exactly will a litigant claim in his lawsuit that the government violated. T his may just be the reason why free education, a campaign promise of the Governor is yet to be backed by Law even when the Governor claims that it is now fully implemented.
If there were no sinister motives in the governor’s free education mantra why has it not been reduced to a Law that will give legal rights to the intended beneficiaries? This is why Owelle’s free education is just another fraud on the gullible Imo people. Why would a Governor go as far as insuing hundred thousand cheques which is uncashable rather the recipient pays from his pocket? O! What a tangled web we weave, when we first try to deceive.
Imo must be better, but the Good people of Imo, can Imo really be better under official government fraud and deceit? The answer to our woes is simply to return Imo back to the hands of God.
By: Dr. Kelechukwu C. Okpalaeke