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Salako’s letter to Governor Ajimobi

Your Excellency Sir,

Re: Expression of interest – Public/Private Partnership and Ownership of Schools in Oyo State

May I invite Your Excellency to the situation room with some suggestions?

Introduction

Your Excellency Sir, I write to you as a concerned citizen of Oyo State living in the Diaspora. I write, not just out of an urge to be heard, but to offer alternative or complimentary ideas to yours, in the funding and running of public secondary schools in our state. I have been deeply bothered, and justifiably so, ever since I saw the media advertorial of government that asked interested individual members of public to pay N250,000 application fee for expression of interest in public-private-partnership (PPP) and ownership of the public schools in Oyo State.  Your Excellency, my worries are not unfounded having been a product of public schools myself and given the prevailing demographics of our dear state that classified over 70% of our people as living below the poverty index, with the attendant implication that this huge population invariably depend on the public school system to access basic education for reason of its comparative cost advantage! I had before now reacted in a post on my Facebook wall with the intention of testing the waters to ascertain the popularity or otherwise of government’s policy thrust on this matter, and to confirm my fears, my reaction was widely read and shared by the huge followership and friendship I enjoy on the social media. The reaction even got published with permission by many online blogs. It is therefore my conclusion that the majority of our people did not buy this idea and this is what is driving my passion to get in touch with Your Excellency to save our state from a possible academic cataclysm. This is the bit I feel duty behooves on me.

As a Nigerian, and an Oyo State citizen, who benefitted from the lofty ideals of our forebears to make education accessible to all, via the public school system. I do hope that Your Excellency will find my suggestions useful and worthy of note for the common good of our people. Some of your close associates have said you only intend to return missionary schools to the original owners – the religious bodies, but concerned citizens, like me, consider the advert a clear step towards the sales of public schools, into the private hands for profit making. This is because the expression of interest advert should have been specifically targeted at religious bodies, not necessarily any interested member of public. I also listened to you on the SplashFM 105.5 radio earlier today, where you described the PPP arrangement as a way of democratising enterprise, relationship and investment for inclusive participation, involving government and private businesses. You mentioned examples of roads construction, in which private companies would invest in public road construction and would make return on investment by collecting tolls, and you gave an example of Lagos – Ibadan expressway project, which was awarded through PPP. Your analogy sounds fine particularly because, everyone who can afford to drive a car should be able to pay the tolls for enjoying good roads. It could be related to buying fuel to one’s car. There are similar examples around the world. In the USA – tolls are paid, in the UK – car owners pay road tax. The tolls and the road tax are used to maintain the road.

  1. However, with all due respect sir, you were unable to correlate the PPP idea in road construction with your PPP idea in reforming and financing public schools. When asked about the affordability of school fees for the children of poor parents, in the PPP regime, you simply responded by saying: “We are not asking you to partner with us to make money. We are not selling schools to people to make profit.” Meanwhile, in the course of the interview, you had earlier said “we are not a socialist government”, and the government also demanded payment of N250, 000 (two hundred and fifty thousand naira) for partners to express interest. This could be implied as purely a business venture for the prospective partners. I do agree that education of our children should not be left to government alone. But, Your Excellency Sir, could it be said that you actually meant to involve philanthropists or voluntary donors or call for companies and business ventures to fulfil their social responsibilities, and not necessarily public-private-partners in the context of a business venture? This is because, a public–private partnership is a business venture that is funded and operated through a partnership of government and one or more private sector companies. While government may or may not make profit out of this business arrangement, the private sector company involved has one primary objective, and that is to make profit on its investment, helping people is secondary to it. On the other hand, a philanthropist or a voluntary donor is only spending his money or donating material things or services to, primarily, help others. He derives joys in helping people. Whatever personal benefit he might derive is remotely independent of the beneficiaries of his or her magnanimities. Indeed, a philanthropist most of the times does so anonymously. Even a company/business venture fulfilling social responsibility in our schools could be grouped among voluntary donors, especially when there is NO tax holiday for such business venture for donating to the cause of education!  Now, if actually, these “partners” would not make any profit as you asserted on the radio, and they will be voluntary donors, why will government of Oyo State be calling them to express interest by paying N250,000? I suppose government should appeal to “not-for-profit-making partners” to freely donate, NOT asking them to pay a fee to express interest? Why would the government use the words “ownership of schools” in the advert, if truly the “partners” are not-for-profit-making-partners? Why will government be calling for an expression of interest and at the same time calling for stakeholders meeting? Should not the latter precedes the former? Your Excellency, while I know you are striving hard to solve the problem in our public schools, I am afraid, the people are suspecting and questioning the sincerity of government due to the approach adopted.

Let us go into the situation room:

  1. Your Excellency Sir, I acknowledge that you want to solve the long-standing problem of education in our state, and there is no doubt paucity of funds to accomplish this noble objective. This is why government needs to assemble thinkers into the situation room to manufacture popular policies and funding ideas that will provide acceptable solutions to the problem, solutions that would be calibrated with facts and figures, solutions that will enjoy extracts of working policies from other places, solutions that would be time tested.
  2. Sir, you once noted that the Legendary Late Obafemi Awolowo conceived many good ideas in Ibadan, and implemented them, including FREE EDUCATION.

“In order to attain the goals of economic freedom and prosperity, Nigeria must do certain things as a matter of urgency and priority. It must provide free education (at all levels) and free health facilities for the masses of its citizens,” Late Obafemi Awolowo.

The statement quoted above, was made many decades ago, and it is still very much relevant today.

I believe the writers of the Nigerian 1999 constitution included free education in Section (18) because they considered it to be important to our national development in line with the statement above.  Section 18 of Nigerian 1999 constitution reads inter alia:

“(1) Government shall direct its policy towards ensuring that there are equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels.  (2) Government shall promote science and technology.

(3) Government shall strive to eradicate illiteracy; and to this end Government shall as and when practicable provide:   (a) Free, compulsory and universal primary education;   (b) Free secondary education;   (c) Free university education; and   (d) Free adult literacy programme.”

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