By Simeon Nwakaudu
As a scholar, President Goodluck Jonathan understands the importance of books to the development of the Nigerian child. Since becoming the nation’s leader, the President has never hidden his desire to ensure that the Nigerian child gets the right quality of wholistic education, necessary to sustain the various development initiatives being promoted by his administration.
When the President launched the ‘Bring back the Book’ programme, many social commentators had dismissed it as a flash in the pan. Several people claimed that it was one of those government initiatives that would fizzle out in no distant time. What most of these critics did not consider was the fact that the president as an educationist is concerned about the declining reading culture and its attendant negative consequences on the overall development of the nation.
Since commencing this term of office after his victory at the polls, President Jonathan has taken critical steps to revive the nation’s education sector, especially the foundational level, the basic education sub-sector. The president maintains and rightly so, that it is the right of every Nigerian child to have access to basic education, irrespective of the circumstances of his/her birth. To him, a sound basic education cannot be possible if the children do not have access to books and other instructional materials to enhance their knowledge and become worthy citizens, prepared to advance the cause of the nation.
It was on the premise of the President’s love for the dissemination of quality knowledge and information to the Nigerian child that he directed the Minister of State for Education, Barr. Ezenwo Nyesom Wike to ensure that all primary school pupils and junior secondary school students have access to textbooks in core subjects of English Language, Mathematics, Social Studies and the Basic Introductory Sciences.
For the President, no Nigerian child should be denied the opportunity of building his/her knowledge base on the ground of his/her poor social background. The President’s position is premised on surveys from the Federal Ministry of Education and the Universal Basic Education Commission, UBEC, which indicate that although the present administration’s interventionist programmes in the basic education sub-sector has led to increased enrolment in schools across the country, there remains the gap of the scarcity of instructional materials and books available to the less privileged Nigerian child.
A higher percentage of the children who have been enrolled in public schools in the country are from homes where their parents cannot afford to buy books for them to deepen their knowledge base and enhance their learning skills when they leave their schools for their homes.
On Thursday, June 7, President Goodluck Jonathan flagged off one of the most courageous book distribution initiatives aimed at returning the country to the days of qualitative learning with a view to building a critical foundation for the general development of the nation. The flag off which was performed on behalf of the President by the Vice President, Namadi Sambo was witnessed by State Education Commissioners, Chairmen of State Universal Basic Education Boards, teachers and pupils from the 36 states of the Federation.
Vice President Namadi Sambo who represented President Goodluck Jonathan at the event held at the Model Primary School, Maitama Abuja took time off to personally distribute the books to selected children from the six geo-political zones from the primary and junior secondary school cadres. From the faces of these kids, one could see their joy and appreciation for the President’s worthy priceless gift to them.
In the next few weeks, the Federal Government will conclude the direct distribution of 14million copies of primary one and two textbooks in English Language, Mathematics, Social Studies, basic science and technology. Also to be distributed are assorted library resource materials for junior school pupils totalling 4,929,593million copies. These books are to be distributed directly to benefitting Nigerian children.
Many stakeholders have raised the issue of the distribution network of the books. There are fears that like in the past, the books may not get to the intended end user, the Nigerian child. The President personally has instructed that every single book must get to the less privilege Nigerian child at no cost to his/ her parents. To this end, the Federal Ministry of Education and UBEC have put in place mechanisms to check the activities of fraudulent officials in the supply chain.
One of such measures is the setting up all encompassing books’ distribution commitees from the Federal through to the states down to the the local government councils to ensure that the books get to the Nigerian child. Timelines have been given to the committees with the overall supervision by the Minister of State for Education to be assisted by the Executive Secretary of UBEC, Dr Ahmed Modibbo Mohammed for the direct distribution of the books to the children. At the different levels, independent monitoring schemes have been established to prevent criminal diversion of the books to markets.
Another measure introduced is the bold inscription on every school page of all the books that they are not to be sold, but to be distributed free of charge to the less privileged Nigerian child in public schools. Beyond all these, is the involvement of security operatives to participate in the monitoring process. Security operatives at the states and local councils have been detailed to arrest and prosecute any official or trader found to be in possession of diverted copies of the books.
Minister of State for Education, Barr. Ezenwo Nyesom Wike believes that the structures put in place by the Federal Ministry of Education and UBEC are robust enough to protect the interest of the Nigerian child and ensure that the books are not diverted. Wike said that the mechanisms were jointly worked out with the State Universal Basic Education Boards and security agencies to avoid the mistakes of the past.
According to him: “The Ministry of Education will neither accept nor tolerate the malady of the past where such textbooks were either found in the open markets despite the branded inscriptions against such unwholesome practices or left unutilized in the storerooms of schools, unprotected from destruction by water, mold and pests. For us, education remains key to national development and the administration of President Jonathan is determined to ensure that primary school pupils and Junior Secondary students have access to relevant books for better learning to take place”.
To the Executive Secretary of UBEC, Dr Ahmed Modibbo Mohammed, the commission will collaborate with all the State Universal Basic Education Boards and other stakeholders to deliver the books to the children. The UBEC Executive Secretary noted that no effort will be spared in ensuring that criminal elements in the books supply system are deterred from denying zthe children their right to access these books.
What President Jonathan has done by distributing books free of charge to Nigerian children in public schools is simply to show an example privileged Nigerians and corporate organisations that the time has come for every group to make practical contributions to set the nation’s education sector on the path of growth.
Chairman, Senate Committee on Education, Senator Uche Chukwumerije was full of praises for the Presidential action, which he said that the Senate will continue to identify with and support. Senator Chukwumerije commended the Federal Ministry of Education and UBEC for working round the clock to address the decay in the nation’s basic education sub-sector. The Federal lawmaker noted that if the Senate had any doubts about the books distribution to less privileged Nigerian children will be successful, such doubts were dispelled by the realistic mechanisms put in place to get the books to the remotest parts of the nation.
Also speaking at the books’ distribution flag off, the House Committee chairman on Education, Rt. Hon. Farouk Lawan, said that the free books distribution programme is one of the best initiatives of the Jonathan administration to address the basic challenges facing the education sector. Lawan said that he administration in the last one year has impacted positively on the nation’s education sector.
For the less privileged children across the country, President Goodluck Jonathan has presented a gift of knowledge embedded in the critical books to be presented free of charge to them. The only role they have to play is to make themselves available to receive these books and take the very next step to read these books to upgrade heir knowledge.
Even as the Federal Ministry of Education and UBEC have put in place mechanisms to check the diversion of books to markets, parents and other Nigerians have a role to play to stop these evil minded persons from succeeding. Nobody should patronise anyone selling these free books. The duty parents owe to the nation is to quickly report anyone selling he books to law enforcement agents, so that they can face prosecution. This nation belongs to every Nigerian. As such, no criminal element should be given the free hand to frustrate genuine Presidential efforts to empower the greatest number, who are the less privileged.
For Nigerian child, President Goodluck Jonathan has made available books in core subjects. This is a gift of life, which will help all Nigerians have access to the good things of life. Hidden in these books are the treasures of personal and societal growth. Nothing can be greater than this Presidential gesture of love.
Simeon Nwakaudu is the Special Assistant (Media) to Minister of State for Education.