ALL over the world it is an undisputable fact, that the development and survival of any nation rest squarely, not in the abundance of natural resources, but in massive investment in educational advancement of its people.
The story of Japan is a classic example; in spite of near absence of natural resources, it has successfully built a world class technology-driven economy to join the enviable status of developed nations.
This is occasioned by its conscious drive and investment in human capital advancement through education, Research and Development (R&D).
In Nigeria, despite the abundance of natural resources in nooks and crannies of the federating states, the country is still unfortunately wallowing in poverty in the midst of plenty.
This is not a natural disaster but failure of leadership and the political will to address the needful.
In Bayelsa State, successive administrations have tried to invest in education, with a determination to pull it out of the status of the educationally less developed – a not cheering euphemism for poverty.
Happily, when Senator Douye Diri took over the mantle of leadership as governor, one of the cardinal issues which topped his development agenda was consolidating the gains made by his predecessors, by giving education a pride of place, in line with the vision of the founding fathers of the state.
In constituting his Executive Council, Diri who is a trained teacher and educationist could not go for anything less than picking a round peg in a round hole to pursue his dream for the state.
This is where the choice of Dr. Gentle Epilefa Emelah as Commissioner for Education received simultaneous applause across the state, regardless of perceived political divide.
A chieftain of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr. Oweikeme Ebiowei remarked on the appointment of Emelah: “Governor Diri has proved himself to be a statesman by this singular act of the choice of a professional teacher and former legislator. I have no doubt in my mind Gentle Emelah will muster the political will to confront headlong the educational challenges of the state”
Majority of those familiar with the profile of Emelah saw the assigning of the Education portfolio as a homecoming, a sector where he had worked as a teacher in secondary school, educational manager in Post Primary Schools Board and voluntarily retired to participate in politics.
As a member of the state house of assembly for eight years, he presided was House Committee Chairman on Education, a platform which further equipped him for the nitty-gritty of steering affairs of the education sector.
Shortly after his swearing in as Commission for Education, Emelah left no one doubt that the seemingly overwhelming task ahead was surmountable by developing the necessary political will.
One of the first things he did was a tour to inspect institutions in the state to have a firsthand report of the situation in order to address them accordingly. To his chagrin, some of the primary schools which are the bedrock of sustainable educational development were in a sorry state. Some had no desk, with only two teachers acting as Head Teacher and an Assistant Head Teacher.
Returning to his office, armed with the grim facts, he told whoever that cared to listen that the situation was unacceptable and vowed to reverse the trend.
Apart from mass posting of qualified teachers to boost teaching in rural areas, the Ministry of Education under his supervision quickly embarked on massive construction of school infrastructure and rehabilitation.
Among the schools that readily come to mind are Universal Primary Education, (UPE) Ovom. The school which was in a state of dilapidation was totally demolished and a new eight block classroom with twelve room conveniences for staff and pupils and six administrative blocks to serve as staff office, was constructed.
Besides siting new schools in various parts of the state including Yenezue-epie community where there was no school over the years, the Ministry of Education also embarked on massive construction of new buildings; these include the construction and completion of schools at Biogbolo, Akenfa, Igbogene and along AIT road in the state capital, Yenagoa.
As a matter of updating teachers with contemporary skills in information technology (ICT), for the first time in the history of the state, the Ministry of Education engaged the service of Microsoft in training 12,000 teachers. This has equipped them fully for the task of driving a knowledge-based economy. Today, they are delightfully being described as digital teachers in the state.
Besides formal education, the ministry introduced technical education with emphasis on practical acquisition of skills to promote self-reliance and entrepreneurship-driven economy.
To this end, government built technical colleges in each of the eight local government areas of the state. This is a paradigm shift from the past with benefits of using educational education as a tool of transforming army of unemployed youths from job seekers to big time players in job and wealth creation. This is in line with the Governor Douye Diri-led administration’s desire to enthrone a regime of prosperity and sustainable development.
The other twin challenges which higher institutions in the state have been contending with are accreditation of courses and intermittent student unrest. Emelah identified these as a major threat to the government’s vision for functional education. These institutions are the state owned Niger Delta University (NDU), Bayelsa Medical University, Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro College of Education, School of Nursing and the College of Health Technology.
The Commissioner having interfaced with management of the institutions, presented the case of accreditation of courses to the government. Without hesitation, the governor gave his nod and support by ensuring that the subject was largely addressed.
Today, it is heartwarming to mention that besides the success recorded with huge investment in the infrastructure demands of the institutions, Niger Delta University alone has secured accreditation of 71 courses at a stretch while other institutions are not left out in this regard. This is coming at a time the state and the country in general is contending with paucity of funds.
One of the principal characteristics which has endeared the commissioner to Bayelsans is his dexterity in nipping crises in academic institutions in the bud. This is not a surprise to many who are familiar with his profile as an ambassador of peace. Therefore, peace building in the academic environment is part of his calling in public administration.
Creating an enabling environment for education to thrive in the state, has made Bayelsa the choice for the establishment of the prestigious Nigerian College of Accountancy, a professional institution which churns out members of the Association of National Accountants of Nigeria (ANAN). The gains are enormous as the siting of the institution will save the cost and inconveniences of Bayelsans and people of the South-South from travelling all the way to Jos for such trainings.
Also, Bayelsa is set to host two military post primary colleges; Air force and Navy secondary schools which the state was lacking since its creation over twenty years ago. It will now enjoy benefits of the presence of such institutions.
Moreover, the state government has introduced the teaching of Ijaw language in schools. This is essentially to preserve the cultural heritage and values in the homogenous Ijaw state. The policy was received with wide jubilation as a positive and nationalistic step towards giving the Ijaw man a pride of place.
According to a retired secondary school principal, Mr. Waritimi Joel: “This policy is well placed. It was really disturbing that our language was going into extinct. Language is an essential component of our culture and values. May God bless the Diri administration for this bold initiative to reposition our identity and pride as a people”
There is no doubt, the Douye Diri administration is creating a new future of hope for Bayelsa through the instrumentality of functional education with commissioner Emelah as chief driver of the policies and programmes.
Even ardent critics of the administration can concede that the education sector is being given unparalleled attention for the sustainable development of the state. What the times demand is that the government should not rest on its oars by ensuring that Bayelsa truly becomes the education tourist destination of the people’s dream.