The first year of the ex-Governor Martin Elechi-led administration witnessed a lot of achievements, many of which were capacity-building platforms on which the long-term, people-oriented policies of the government would thrive. When his administration came on board with pilot boarding secondary schools initiative, the people perceived it as a new dawn in the state whose education sector needed urgent attention.
In line with expectations, within the second year of the administration, the policies began to pay up as several achievements were recorded by the government in the education sector. The government on pronouncement swung into action by erecting new structures in the areas across the zone chosen for the programme. The 27 pilot boarding schools constructed received perfection touch as they were completed and equipped to taste in addition to the construction of 3 technical colleges in each of the three senatorial zones of the state.
In order not to witness lapses, government ordered the principals of the pilot boarding secondary schools and technical colleges in the state to reside in their school compounds or get sacked. According to the Commissioner for Education, Chibueze Agbo, the move was aimed at ensuring proper management of the schools.
“You must comply with the executive directive and show commitment to raising high academic and moral standards in your schools or be sacked. The 27 pilot boarding schools are very special and designed to offer special academic programmes to our gifted children. We must do everything possible to make this initiative produce desired result”, the commissioner said.
The commissioner also added that the state government had built standard staff quarters in the schools and did not see the point in any principal living outside. All the principals were made to sign letters of commitment stating that they were ready to partner with the state governor in providing quality education.
It was to the chagrin of close observers and the entire Ebonyi people when the project began to flop with different odd stories emanating from the pilot schools, to say the least, the glory of the pilot schools was short-lived. If it is not staffers protesting, it is the students. Everything came to a state of disarray; structures and equipment became dilapidated thereby making parents to start withdrawing their children from the boarding schools.
For instance, in November 2011, some students in the pilot boarding schools staged a protest to register their displeasure with the way they were being fed and the lack of adequate basic amenities in their hostels.
The students, who were from Girls High School, Azuiyiokwu and Model Comprehensive Girls Secondary School, Ugwuachara, narrated their ordeal during an inspection tour of the model schools by the state Commissioner for Education, Prince Chibueze Agbo.
One of the protesters, Miss Chinyere Chukwu, lamented that the number of students resident in different hostels of her school was appalling as a dormitory that should ordinarily accommodate 100 students now accommodated over 200 students.
She said: “We are going through untold hardship in this school. The school is not conducive for learning like other model boarding schools in other states. Here instead of about 100 students in a dormitory, we have more than 200 people.”
At the end of ex-governor Elechi’s administration one month ago, the horror stories of how the pilot schools exist without fund for feeding of the students and maintenance, emerged again with threat upon threat from the students and staffers of the schools.
At a time, the principals of the pilot schools were said to have obtained loans from banks for feeding and maintenance; to be repaid through Secondary Education Board, SEB, according to instruction reportedly given to them by government but only for the same government to renege later from offsetting the debts. And to make matters worse, the government has been starving them of financial allocation.
Sources from the pilot schools told Friday Magazine that the principals had to get food stuff on credit to feed the students who were preparing for third term exam in anticipation that they would be reimbursed by the government to enable them settle their creditors but government later gave no dime to them. The inability of the management of the schools to settle their debts made it difficult for them to get more food to feed the students who are languishing in hunger and starvation.
The students who are uninformed accused their principals of sabotage and deliberately starving them. The controversy however, compelled the Principals to ask for immediate removal of SEB Chairman, Chief Mrs. Patient Oko and other Board members. The Principals further took their protest to the state Accountant General, Mr. Edwin Igbele who told them that the state government was financially trapped which made budgetary allocation for the up keep of the pilot schools impossible.
It could be recalled that when the pilot schools came on board, the state government asked parents to pay N5000 as part of the boarding fees while the state government pays the remaining N10, 000 per student, making it the sum of N15, 000. According to government’s arrangement, a student is to consume food worth N50.00 per meal which implies that a student is to consume food worth N150.00 a day. This arrangement, the principals who are in charge of the schools who spoke to our correspondent in confidence, described as inadequate because according to them, such arrangement would not take adequate care of the students. They explained that not less than N450.00 was being spent on feeding each student on daily basis.
The Principals noted further that the sacrifices they have been making in keeping the schools going were not being appreciated by the government. “This is the reason behind the rise in corruption in our country today. Patriotism suffers while fraud is exalted. Shame to this land,” one of the Principals retorted after a meeting with the Secretary to the State Government.
Former Governor Elechi who saw the near collapse of the schools had during a valedictory media chat with journalists confirmed that due to financial crunch, the state government could no longer finance the pilot schools, adding that his administration was frustrated by the state House of Assembly by stopping the bond which they had earlier approved.
Elechi said that single action by the House brought untold hardship to the people of the state, insisting that the House indirectly did much harm to the people thinking he was on the receiving end.
“We make provision for borrowing in the budget but today because of the decision of the House that I should not borrow again, Ebonyians are suffering for it. The investors were afraid of giving money to the state because of the uncertainties beclouding its leadership.
“Now Boarding schools and principals are crying, the Director of the National Youth Service Corps is in pain because they could not feed the Corps members properly because the state treasury is empty because of the paltry monthly allocation the state currently receives and we are not self-reliant in terms of internally generated revenue,” said former Governor Elechi.
Now that Governor Elechi’s tenure has winded up and the problems of the pilot schools are yet to be solved, coupled with the outcry by current administration that it inherited empty treasury, observers are saying that only time will tell the fate of these pilot schools.

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