Kehinde Odeneye: Ogun State Central Constituency representative in the House of Representative and member, House Committee on Education.
How will you react to an allegation that members of various committees in the House of Representatives take bribes?
I disagree with the allegation because it is unfounded and baseless. It is not true that we go on oversight duties when we are broke. It is our constitutional duty to visit tertiary institutions, ministries and government agencies to assess their compliance with the usage of the funds that had been appropriated to them. Apart from the Committee on Education, I belong to other committees including Housing and Air Force Committees but let me state that throughout last year, the education committee did not visit any tertiary institution and it is because we believe that we should first visit all the other agencies including the National Examination Council, Tertiary Education Trust Fund, National Universities Commission, National Board for Technical Education and the West African Examinations Council.
The idea is to enable us to have a fair understanding of how money is being released to these institutions so that when we get to them we will have a grip of what is going on there. The oversight function we are doing is like the work of an auditor and an ill-informed auditor will never do a thorough job. So, we decided to visit the supervisory agencies first to get first hand information on the activities of these institutions.
But before last year, your committee did oversight function and it has not been able to indict any institution for corruption. Are you saying there is no corruption in those institutions?
Let me first clarify one issue about our assignment. The oversight function we perform is not a witch-hunt. We don’t go all out to say we are looking for corrupt officials, what we do is to ensure that each institution spends the money it gets for the purpose it is meant for.
For instance, we were forced to intervene in the University of Abuja crisis when it became obvious that students could bear the brunt of mistakes or errors that they did not make. We called on the Minister of Education, Prof. Ruqquayyat Rufa’i, the NUC and the university that they should do everything within their powers to ensure that no student suffers due to non-accreditation of their programmes. It is not the duty of a candidate seeking for admission to a university to know whether a programme is accredited or not.
No committee of the National Assembly can save any corrupt chief executive of a government agency, vice-chancellor, rector or provost of any institution because there are other measures including the Public Accounts Committee and other anti-corruption agencies to deal with such. However, I’m not saying that administrators of our tertiary institutions are totally free of corrupt practices.
Don’t you think it is morally wrong for members of your committee to receive any form of support including accommodation and logistic support from administrators of institutions they visit for oversight function?
I don’t see anything wrong in that but there should be a limit. I don’t think it is wrong if you come to my house and I offer you water, food or a place to lay your head if you cannot finish your assignment in a day.
Do you think the planned scrapping of NECO and the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination will receive the blessing of the House of Representatives?
The executive arm of government has not informed us of any plan to scrap NECO or UTME. At least, it has not come to our committee but we have also been reading it on the pages of the newspapers. However, I believe that the new policy if brought to the House will fall flat because decisions like that cannot be made by a few individuals. You must have to call all the stakeholders, throw it into the public domain and let Nigerians debate on it. Sound reasons must be advanced and the people must be convinced on the need for it.
The problem we have in Nigeria is that some people just wake up and say since a policy is working well in Ghana or Britain, then we should use it in Nigeria. They wake up and say because this is what they do in America, we should also do it without looking at the peculiar nature of the country. They won’t do any feasibility study; they won’t seek opinions of experts and
Why did we set up NECO and UTME in the first instance? Are we saying these organisations are not delivering on their mandate? For me, nothing on ground has suggested that they are not performing. Offices have been built across the country, workers have been employed and they are doing their jobs, so, I know that it cannot sail through if brought before The National Assembly.
But what gives you that confidence?
We hold regular discussions on topical issues and I can say that I’m speaking the minds of the majority of the members.
Most state governments have the free education policy and they pay the public examination fees of candidates when facilities in most public schools are non-existent. What is your take on this?
I believe in free education. But I will not answer this question like a typical politician because I know that there is no government in Nigeria including the Federal Government that can actually provide free, qualitative and quantitative education. Education is a costly venture and except we are deceiving ourselves, I repeat it that no government can give holistic free education to its citizens. And one of the problems we have in the country is that we have politicised education, we tell our people that they don’t need to contribute towards the educational development of their children while deep within us, we know that this is impossible because of paucity of funds and ever bloating population in our schools.
Unfortunately, that is what our people want to hear. That is why in some states, poor pupils are given automatic promotion in order to create rooms for those who are coming behind them without recourse to merit. And because we are not investing in vocational and technical education, the purpose of the 6-3-3-4 system of education, which provides that pupils that are not academically-inclined should go to technical colleges after the completion of the first three years of secondary school education, is being defeated.
Also, how many specialised technology-based tertiary institutions do we have? To make matters worse, funding for education is too meagre; facilities in our public schools are inadequate; no libraries, no laboratories and the teachers have no offices. In some states, children still sit on the floor to learn. And when people blame the universities for the production of low quality graduates, I say no, the school system should take the blame and by extension, the government at all levels.
Despite these problems, some state governments still pay WAEC and NECO fees of pupils that are intellectually deficient. How do we tackle this?
I’m aware of this. Some of them argue that it is still part of the free education policy they promised the people and they must fulfill their promise while others say they are doing it because the people are poor. But for me payment of WAEC and NECO fees for pupils is part of the politicisation that I just talked about. If you say you are doing it because people are poor, then scholarships, bursary and grant departments should be established to take care of brilliant pupils who come from poor home. For me, paying WAEC and NECO fees of pupils who are not well groomed for examination, is like kitting an untrained army for war. They will lose the battle.
What other things do you think must be done to improve on the system and what effort are you making to lift education in your constituency?
As a nation, we should equip our public schools, enhance teachers’ welfare and wages to attract the best hands, create more specialised technology-based institutions, establish more vocational centres and motivate even our children to do well in their studies.
There is a constituency allowance for all lawmakers but a lot of people erroneously believe the money goes into the lawmakers’ bank accounts. In my constituency, I have embarked on human and communal development efforts. We are empowering our youths through vocational development in barbing, tailoring, soap making, hairdressing and healthcare delivery.
Over 400 candidates of our human development efforts will graduate in May and they will all be given equipment needed to make them economically independent and self-sufficient. I’m doing this because I believe that vocational education and training have the potential to reduce youth unemployment and crime in our country.
Source: The Punch