Let us “rescue” Imo State SUBEB first. – By Rosemary E.M

Upon the inauguration of the current governor of Imo state, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, on the 29th May, 2011, the joy of Imo state indigenes [Imolites] knew no bounds; especially those in the educational sector. Before his entrance into the gubernatorial race, Rochas as a name was synonymous with ‘FREE EDUCATION’. The motto of his Rochas Foundation was quite instructive: “Let’s make education free so that the poorest of the poor can learn”. Today, what we observe in our Imo state seems to be an obvious (if not deliberate) deviation from what used to be his old mantra.

The foregoing however, brings our attention to the state of secondary and primary schools in Imo state and the role of the State Universal Basic Education (SUBEB) in the above two cadres of education in the state.

For a start, SUBEB was initiated in order to make basic education available and accessible to all Nigerians. In order to achieve this, three bodies namely: UNESCO, the federal government of Nigeria and their state government counterparts, came together and agreed that the best way to achieve that goal was by pulling resources together yearly [counterpart funding]. What this basically means is that each state in Nigeria opens an account with the CBN and at the beginning of every year the FG and UNESCO will remit their own part of the counterpart fund into each state’s CBN account. This later money will remain “dormant” until the state government pays its own part of the fund into the same CBN account. Once that is done, the entire SUBEB money can be accessed by that state government for utilization.

Before the emergence of the current administration of Owelle in Imo state, the Imo state SUBEB was undeniably the best in the whole of the South East, if not Nigeria as a whole. This explained why the Executive Chairman of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) awarded the Imo State SUBEB the best and the most outstanding in the South-East Zone, in June, 2011 [which still covered the PDP era of Imo state’s SUBEB counterpart funding]. Please do not get me wrong here as this writer bears no affiliation to any political party but is more interested in the betterment of our people’s life.

While presenting a Gold Plaque and a cash prize of 100,000,000 (one hundred million naira), to the then Chairman of Imo state SUBEB, Hon Chief Joseph Obi, The Executive Chairman of UBEC re-iterated the fact that the award was based on excellent execution of contracts on the part of the Imo State SUBEB.

Today, the story is different. The question everyone is asking is: what happened to our award-winning, active and result-oriented Imo State SUBEB?

Late last year, there was news that the contractors handling projects for the SUBEB in Imo state, launched a protest to governor Rochas Okorocha as well as the Imo state House of Assembly over the stoppage of payment of contract fees already executed by the affected contractors. The contractors alleged that the current chairman of SUBEB in Imo state, Dr. Mrs. Uche Ejiogu, instructed the CBN not to honor their cheques. Surprisingly, neither the SUBEB chairman nor the state government has given any explanation to that effect: hence the state of inactivity of SUBEB in Imo state. What these contractors may not have known was that their cheques would not have been honored anyway, because this present administration is more interested in accessing the SUBEB money in secrecy so as to “spend” it the way it likes rather than paying their own counterpart fund into the SUBEB account and be compelled by its terms and conditions to spend it in an open, transparent and traceable manner.

On a closer inquiry on the activities of SUBEB in other states, one will naturally tend to wonder why that of Imo state has been idle and dormant since the inception of Owelle Rochas’ regime despite the millions of dollars lying stagnant in the state’s SUBEB’s CBN account.

In Kastina state for example, the Japanese government, in partnership with the state’s SUBEB, are building dozens of classrooms for the improvement and up-liftment of schools in that state. The fact on ground also suggests that they want to achieve similar feats in about six other states. In Kano state, over 50 classrooms are being built in the state, courtesy of the state’s SUBEB. Jigawa state’s SUBEB is not leaving any stone un-turned. They claim that they have ear-marked over N2.8 billion for the building and renovation of schools in the state. Abia state’s SUBEB, our close neighbor, is currently waxing very hot vis-a-vis SUBEB by building, renovating and equipping schools in the state. Very recently, many of such projects were commissioned in that state. Bayelsa state is not lagging behind either. The state’s SUBEB is currently recruiting teachers in order to strengthen their work-force. Of course in Bayelsa, building and renovation of schools are not left out. Examples abound to showcase the role of SUBEB in various states that were not even known for taking education as a major priority.

On our last check, almost nothing is happening in the Imo state SUBEB since Owelle Rochas came to power. This is despite the fact that Imo has an enviable record of academic excellence, coupled with a state governor who claims to be an ‘apostle of free and qualitative education’. Contractors are not being paid for the projects they have successfully and convincingly executed. No new contracts are being awarded nor are teachers being recruited despite the increasing need for much more standard school facilities in the state. Lately, teachers were arbitrarily and compulsorily redeployed to various local governments at the risk of sack if any of them refused to redeploy. No reasonable and humane Due Process was followed before this decision was foisted on them in a regime that is supposedly a democracy.

Articulated Projects are not awarded. Funds are not released for the commencement of laudable SUBEB projects earlier approved by the last administration in the state. Despite the touted free education and its attendant fanfare, our rural schools are in a state of disrepair and abandonment while pupils are still studying under collapsed and collapsing structures. One does not even have to talk of the need to provide for these innocent children potable water, sanitary toilets, chairs, and other essential academic materials despite the availability of these funds lying waste in the state SUBEB account. Then the questions again are: does it mean that Imo state has no further needs for SUBEB while other states do? Or does it mean that there are no funds for the execution of SUBEB projects in the state?

The answers are not far-fetched. If Imo state had no further needs for SUBEB, it would have long been abolished in the state, and we are not yet seeing how else it would be easier for any state to meet up with its obligation of enhancing the educational system of its state without the partnership and co-operation of SUBEB. Meanwhile, funding is not the problem of lmo state SUBEB. We are all aware that the Federal Government has allocated the huge sum of N 111 bilion for SUBEB in Nigeria this year, 2013 just at it did in 2011 and 2012.  This is, of course, in addition to the millions of dollars that UNESCO provides yearly for SUBEB in Nigeria. All a state government needs to do is to pay their counterpart fund for their own states’ SUBEB so as to enable them access their yearly allocations from the Federal Government and UNESCO. We are not seeing anything so difficult in doing this, since there is a yearly allocation for education in our state’s budget already.

A reliable source on strict condition of anonymity, confirmed to this writer that Owelle has not bothered to pay his state’s counterpart fund, but rather, he surreptitiously attempted to withdraw the huge some of 500,000,000 (five hundred million naira ) from lmo state SUBEB’s account with CBN. This money constituted the counter-part fund paid already by the FG and the UNESCO only.  Of course, that attempt was denied by the relevant authorities. It’s a pity that years 2011 and 2012 have passed and we are now in 2013; yet the Imo SUBEB is dormant because its funds are trapped while this regime is busy thinking of shortcuts to access that money in a way that it will not be duty-bound to account for it. Our state is therefore behind other states by “2 SUBEB” years.

Even more shocking is the story of a company called Roche. Several years ago, Owelle Rochas used to be called Roche by his friends. Is it not too much coincidence that as soon as Owelle Rochas became our state governor, the Roche Company suddenly appeared in the state and started hijacking state contracts? It is disturbing that while this government awards contracts to Imo indigenes without giving them proper papers covering the contracts or giving them mobilization fees, the Roche Company collects these contracts under several disguises once the poor contractors, after wasting the little money they had on the ill-fated contracts, abandon them. Roche will finally execute these abandoned contracts under secret government cover.

One wonders whether it was not a deliberate policy by the Owelle government to award undocumented contracts to Imo indigenes without any mobilization fee, knowing quite well that after wasting the little money they had, the contract will be abandoned for Roche and its subsidiaries. Even the old SUBEB contracts that were awarded by the last regime, before Owelle, have been abandoned in same manner for Roche as the contractors are being forced to abandon them due to lack of funds. How Roche Company gets paid for these old SUBEB jobs remains a mystery to discerning Imolites.

It is easy for an ignorant reader to think that awarding contracts without mobilization fees is the best way to ensure that contractors do a good job or that they do not abscond with the government’s money. Anyone who has handled government contracts before knows that this is far from the truth. It actually takes the collusion of the contractor and the same government for such a fraud to happen because there are strict checks and balances. For example, following the Due Process, before a contractor is given mobilization fees, he will be made to deposit same amount or even up to 30% of the total value of the contract. This amount is called the Advance Payment Guarantee [APG]. Which contractor will therefore run away with a mobilization fee while leaving behind his APG, after going through the expensive rituals of securing a government contract? And do not forget that the quality of the contract job done is monitored closely by the government before more funds are released to the contractor.

This writer is of the humble opinion that if the Governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, is sincerely on a ‘RESCUE MISSION’ in Imo state, let him rescue lmo state SUBEB first as that will be a major effort that will give credence to his highly touted free and qualitative education .

Also, let him disentangle lmo state’s SUBEB from his strong-hold, by paying his counterpart fund as well as allowing her some autonomy which includes the capacity to award contracts that fall within her jurisdiction [as spelt out in the SUBEB modus operandi and joint agreement]. The idea of the state government attempting to be awarding contracts for the purchase of text books, chalks and pencils for schools in lmo state from the government house is most laughable and can be described as deliberately creating room for profiteering and racketeering at best. Government exists in order to ameliorate the sufferings of the people, not aggravating them; so Imo state SUBEB should try as much as possible to clear all outstanding debts owned to her contractors while at the same time, come up with her 2013 action plans that will take education in Imo state to the next level.

Owelle, ‘having a good mind is not enough, putting it to work is more important’!

Rosemary E. M.
Concerned Imo Indigene.

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