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RIGHT OF REPLY: Law Mefor’s Treachery To Truth

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A few hours ago, Mr. Law Mefor penned an opinion piece on the decision of the former Governor of Ogun State and erstwhile Director General of the Atiku Presidential Campaign Organization, Otunba Gbenga Daniel (OGD) to quit politics and in the process erroneously equate that decision to joining the All Progressive Congress, alongside other unchecked assertions that ended up eroding the safe delivery of whatever message that piece could have contained.

As a self acclaimed teacher nay lecturer, Mr. Law Mefor could have perhaps spent a few minutes on something called “Google” before blatantly embarking on a voyage of falsehood.

His first error was the insinuation that OGD was unhappy with the appointment of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki as the Director General of the PDP campaign organization. For reason of information, OGD gracefully supported the appointment of Dr. Saraki and was part of the several meetings that were held before the entire Campaign Council was formed. He maintains over a decade relationship with Dr. Bukola Saraki and the entire Saraki family in general. There was no reason whatsoever to have resentment over a position that was freely given out by him.

Another outright fabrication was the insinuation that Otunba Gbenga Daniel was against the emergence of Dr. Peter Obi (PO) as the Vice Presidential candidate when obvious facts show that OGD was the one who independently issued the statement announcing the candidacy of PO even when other members of the campaign organization were foot dragging; this he won over more enemies for.

For the avoidance of doubt and as a correctional statement, Otunba Gbenga Daniel delivered his polling units, ward, constituency and district to Alhaji Atiku Abuabakar. A bit of online research could have guided Mr. Law Mefor from making such error.

While one would have expected Mr. Law Mefor to stick more to analysis and informed dissection of the outcome of the election, his decision to embark on emotion laden rhetorics and wild conjunction is a betrayal of the intellectual community which Mr. Law Mefor parades to belong to.

After the presidential primary and the appointment of Dr. Bukola Saraki, Otunba Gbenga Daniel’s work was done and all decisions, strategy and plan for the election was done solely by the Campaign Council in required isolation. How then does one divulge an information one is not privy to?

At moments like this, emotion runs deep and many, including Otunba Gbenga Daniel who first believed in the Atiku Project before most Nigerians did and made great sacrifice to ensuing it comes to reality will feel a sense of sharp pain and disappointment. Perhaps, this is one of the reasons why he has lost interest in partisan politics and decide to hang his boot.

To create an impression of betrayal to a cause for a man who went round the country and did all within his power to land Atiku the presidential ticket yet still ensured that the Southwest vote counts greatly in spite of the region’s party challenges is in itself a betrayal of the cause the campaign stood for.

Otunba Gbenga Daniel has sacrificed greatly for the Peoples Democratic Party for the past 20 years and like every human, he is tired of the entire stress of partisan politics and even made commitment to support the ongoing legal battle in anyway required while still remaining dutifully loyal to Atiku Abubakar. Should we then deny him the right to private life?

I hope Mr. Law Mefor attend the next Contrition in Church. He has sinned before man and God. Otunba Gbenga Daniel has forgiven him, I am sure God will do the same should he ask truthfully. But will his conscience forgive him? That’s a burden he may have to carry for the rest of his life.

Ayo Giwa is the media aide to Otunba Gbenga Daniel.

BIG STORY

INTERVIEW: Why Lagos Govt. Is Establishing Two New Universities – Tokunbo Wahab

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In this interview with Mojeed Alabi of Premium Times, Barr. Tokunbo Wahab, the special adviser on education to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, speaks on why the state government is establishing two new universities

At a time when Nigerians are calling for improving existing public universities, the Lagos State government wants to establish two new ones. Is that a wise decision?

Basically, it’s about changing the landscape backed by available data and doing the needful for the state’s residents and Nigerians in general. Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s T.H.E.M.E.S Agenda is very clear and explicit. It stands for Traffic Management and Transportation, Health and Environment, Education and Technology, Making Lagos a 21ST Century Economy, Entertainment and Tourism, and Governance and Security. We have education and technology as the pillars.

When we came in, in 2019, we checked the key performance indicator (KPI) and the data showed that two of our tertiary institutions – Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education (AOCOED), Ijanikin, and Michael Otedola College of Primary Education (MOCPED), Epe, were not performing at the optimum. They both had a combined enrollment of just about 5,000 as of December 2021. Yet, they were receiving roughly N5.5 billion annually as subvention.

We found out that to train an NCE student per year costs about N600,000. But what is the worth of the NCE certificate itself? We have recruited teachers back to back within the last three years of this administration and I can tell you that our criteria even say you must have a bachelor’s of education (B.Ed) and not just NCE.

So you juxtapose this with the situation where the best students always want to go to universities, while the rest struggle to choose between polytechnics and colleges of education. Yet, the poor ones who opt for NCEs would be handed the children of the best to train in future when they manage to become teachers.

Also, statistics from the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) revealed that in 2020, out of 574,782 candidates that applied to sit the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) from the six states in the South West, Lagos State alone accounted for almost half of the figure at 240,829. But Lagos State has a single state-owned university while Ondo has three and Ogun, two. Not until recently when Osun and Oyo states went their separate ways on the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), Ogbomoso, the two also had more than one state-owned university. The implication is that our students from Lagos continue to struggle to gain admission to universities because other states usually introduce classification based on indigeneship.

Meanwhile, our only hitherto state-owned university, Lagos State University (LASU), Ojo, couldn’t admit more than 5,000 at a go, yet the applications are very high in number. So, with this number, it is apparent that we have a ticking time bomb at hand which we felt we must address frontally.

Special adviser on education to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, TOKUNBO WAHAB
Special adviser on education to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, TOKUNBO WAHAB
We also have the issue of discrimination against HND holders, and as a state, there is little we could do because addressing such a policy issue lies almost entirely with the federal government. Except if you go for conversion, with a HND certificate you may not move beyond level 15 in the civil service.

So, sincerely yours, we need to call a spade a spade; NCE, OND and HND are simply no longer relevant. The discrimination against them in the labour market is too much. And if I should ask, why do you think the British, which bequeathed this system of education to us, scrapped its polytechnics more than 30 years ago? It is because they saw the future ahead of time. And it is even worse for NCE. We are recruiting people for our secondary schools in Lagos and we are asking them for Bachelor’s degrees in education. You must have a B.Ed or diploma in education. So it is unfortunate but that is the reality of our time. The 21st century has gone beyond NCE holders. In fact, there is a report that says by 2020, 20 per cent of the jobs that will be available will be for degree holders.

So, consequently, we had to draft the law, approach the House of Assembly, and thankfully, Mr Governor insisted that we must convince everyone and I am glad the Rt. Honourable Speaker agreed with us and bought into the vision. So we are happy that today, we have dotted all the “Is” and crossed all the “Ts”. We now have two additional universities in Lagos State.

So by phasing out the state’s polytechnic and colleges of education, what happens to the middle-level manpower that will be required in the new Lagos?

We are not oblivious of the fact that we would need skilled workers as middle-level manpower. But the reality is that we have found ourselves in a system that is too crazy about certificates. We cannot continue to keep schools that will eventually have no enrollment. So what we have done is to return to the past when we used to have strong technical colleges where the future of skilled workers can be prepared. We are currently ramping up our investment in technical colleges. In the first quarter, we are going to have about 50 comprehensive technical colleges.

In the past, if you had a flair for handwork, they would train and certify you. But these days, all our artisans are now foreigners. Today, if a child doesn’t have the capacity to go to the university, the parents will still force the child to sit UTME, they will bribe to write WASSCE and push them there, and they will begin to struggle from first year. But with the technical colleges, we are trying to find a way to bring the old culture back, which we think will reduce the pressure on the university system because they could set up their businesses from there.

Beyond physical infrastructure, there are other academic criteria to be met before institutions can be upgraded to the status of a university. Do these schools have the required number of PhD holders?

Our academic brief has the details on that. For instance, between AOCOED and MOCPED, we have about 53 PhD holders when we merge them together, while LASPOTECH has about 60 PhD holders with about 30 others still pursuing their PhD in various fields. That is why we said there would be a transition period. For those that are not qualified yet, we will give them a definite window period to complete their PhD programmes. Meanwhile, they will still be lecturing in the subsisting structure of OND and HND programmes until the last set of students on the programmes graduates.

The major stumbling blocks to similar upgrades of institutions in the past have usually been the fate of the workers. How much assurance of cooperation do you have with the workers?

For us, since we now have the recognition, the implementation now goes to the issue of recalibrating the workers, re-classifying them, which is key. We have been engaging them for a while now, and we have assured them that the bigger picture should be the most important to us all.

Some of them who are chief lecturers don’t even have students to challenge and task them. But since the position of chief lectureship doesn’t exist in a university structure, they will have to be reclassified and adjusted to suit a system that will accommodate them in a new nomenclature. That’s what we are trying to do.

Now, the engagement is still ongoing and I can assure you that everyone understands what it takes to adapt to life situations. Everybody just has fears – fears of what would happen to my job, can I survive in a new structure? And surprisingly, a chief lecturer earns more than a professor in a university. I found that out in the course of this transmutation exercise. So we have said to them that once they are reclassified, nobody will take their money but they must be ready to be adaptable to this wheel of progress.

So for us, we have said no one will be jobless, except it is expedient that there is nothing we can do about it. And that may happen when we have to merge the two colleges- AOCOED and MOCPED, and we eventually have excess faculty, then others should agree to go somewhere else. But we want to make it as seamless as possible, and as painless as possible.

What happens to the students currently running the ND, HND and NCE programmes?

Now, for the students, if you come in for a university degree, they will give you lectures under the university platform. For the hitherto existing programmes, they will continue to run until they finish. And for the NCE in particular, the two affected institutions were already running degree programmes in partnership with various universities including University of Ibadan, Ekiti State University, among others. So they already have the structures in place. What is left is just for them to own the programmes instead of running them in affiliation with other universities. So what we have done is that rather than cutting corners, they are now empowered to stand straight and acquire the required human resources and relevant tools.

You just mentioned acquiring tools and human resources, where will the huge resources needed come from?

I am very glad and proud to say that to avoid any itch, the government insisted on a reasonable take-off grant and there is a budgetary allocation for them in the 2022 budget. The take-off grant is very substantial but I would not be specific here.

Let me also say confidently that this governor in the past two years has ramped up the infrastructure deficit and tried to bridge the gap even in LASU. You can go and find out. Contractors have been mobilised to sites to give all these institutions a befitting world-class look.

In LASU for instance, the faculty of education is one of the biggest of the faculties, and so the new faculty of education being built will be one of the best in the country. And then, at the end of 2021, contractors were also mobilised to build a world-class tech hub there. It will be multifaceted and multi-disciplinary so that you can have space there.

When the governor came in 2019, he increased the tertiary institutions’ subventions across the board and even gave them bailouts. One or two of them, with due respect, are owing pension funds. So we need to know who diverted the funds. You can’t ask for a bailout without telling us who touched the funds. We can’t do things the same way and expect a different result.

But we can confirm to you that students are still cramped together in certain classes in LASU, especially with the introduction of stream one and two sets. How do you now justify the creation of additional universities?

Now, realistically, when you have infrastructure deficits, you don’t bridge it overnight. We have a very deliberate attempt to bridge it. We have done and are still doing that for LASU. So many structures are currently and simultaneously being put up, including those that had been abandoned for more than 13 years, such as the library building, among others. Because we understand that the government is a continuum, we have taken it upon ourselves not to leave any project abandoned. The three universities and other tertiary institutions are currently enjoying massive investments in infrastructure but we agree that we cannot do everything at once. And for your information, doing all these has in no way affected the sub-sectors of education, be it primary, secondary or other levels of tertiary education, such as the school of nursing and school of health technology. The governor has even taken up some responsibilities that ordinarily should be handled by the state’s universal basic education board (SUBEB).

What the governor has just done is to be deliberate in his approach. Yes, we agree there is a deficit but within two and a half years of this administration, more than 1,000 schools have been uplifted and he is not even stopping at that. But the result will not come overnight, realistically. And I will tell you why. We have over 18,000 private schools in Lagos State, why are they thriving? Because they have seen a gap, a niche, a market and that market is because most of us, elite, with due respect, through the years, deliberately killed public schools. I am a product of a public school, you are a product of public school. Go to your hall of residence in OAU, compare it to when you were in school. Even then, it was not as good, but today it is just totally bad. I went to UNIBEN and when we got to its law faculty where we were trained, people were weeping. What happened? Government took its eye off the ball. What happened to the federal government colleges? Go back there today, you will be shocked.

Now if you would agree that the existing universities are in bad shape, why should we continue to build new ones instead of fixing the old ones? Do you agree with ASUU’s request that new state-owned tertiary institutions should not benefit from TETFund grants in their first 10 years of existence?

For me, if I had my way, I would say don’t just start giving them grants in their first years of establishment. Maybe 10 years may be too wide for the window, maybe for the first two and a half years to be sure that they can even sustain such institutions. Take, for instance, we are setting up two universities as a state, and I can give you the details and our sustainability plan. We know the enrolment number, the existing schools’ internally generated revenues, how much we give them as subvention. So I believe it is in order to stop new public universities from accessing TETFund grants until we are sure of their sound footing.

Meanwhile, I am of the opinion that the existing policy that only professors should be vice-chancellors should be tinkered with. I believe professors should face academics and they can come in to function as deputy vice-chancellors in charge of academic matters. This is what we see in other parts of the world.

How affordable will the new universities be for the children of the common man on the streets of Lagos?

I can assure you that the fees will be as affordable as possible. And I am saying this because I know that, all over the world, university education is not cheap. But we are subsidising because we understand that the economy is poor and the social structure is really not there to help the people. For instance, LASU charges N57,000 for freshers. So, before the first set of students will come in, the schools will do the numbers to determine it.

Let me also give you an insight; do you know how much these schools currently charge for their sandwich degree programmes which are run in affiliation with other institutions? Their students pay up to N350,000. But we can’t charge up to that because we want education to be accessible, yet we want to give quality to our citizens as Lagosians. That is the ultimate wish of the governor, for Lagosians to have the best.

Credit: Premium Times

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BIG STORY

Don’t Allow Our Country To Die – Governor Diri Begs Nigerians In U.S

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Bayelsa State Governor, Douye Diri, has appealed to Nigerians in the diaspora to continue to support their homeland despite security challenges.

“Don’t allow your country to die,” Mr. Diri said to his audience.

Mr. Diri made the appeal at a dinner in his honour, organised by the Consulate General of Nigeria in New York at Nigeria House on Wednesday night. The insecurity in the country had been exaggerated, he said.

The governor said Nigeria would grow from strength to strength if its citizens, at home and abroad, would do their part by contributing to its development.

He, however, acknowledged that Nigeria had been going through some political and security challenges. Some states in the country were still safe, he said.

“Bayelsa is one of the safest states in Nigeria and that is why we are here in the U.S to attract foreign investments and to showcase our rich cultural heritage.

“As you know, Bayelsa has been known as a state of oil and gas; as the world is moving to cleaner energy, the state is also positioned for diversity because it has more gas than oil.

“We have abundant gas resources. In fact, we have more gas reserves than crude oil. So, investment opportunities abound in the state,” the governor said.

Beyond oil and gas, Mr. Diri said the government had mobilised its citizens to go into farming, saying that rice can be planted in the state three times in a year.

He said the government had mobilised the people to go into agriculture as a way of moving from oil to the non-oil sector. He called on Nigerians in the diaspora to come and invest in the state.

Lot Egopija, the consul-general of Nigeria in New York, said the state is endowed with enormous natural resources, urging the governor to use his visit to explore investment opportunities in various sectors.

‘Nigeria second-largest U.S export destination in Sub-Saharan Africa’
Mr. Egopija said the consulate would continue to serve as the springboard for trade missions to and from Nigeria and liaise with individuals, corporate bodies, and organisations seeking to invest in Nigeria.

“Nigeria is the second-largest U.S export destination in Sub-Saharan Africa. The U.S and Nigeria have a bilateral commercial investment dialogue and Nigeria is eligible for preferential trade benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

“Similarly, the trade in goods between the two countries totals over 10 billion dollars annually. With these indices, the potential for continued Nigeria-United States economic partnership is huge.

“The Nigerian Missions in the U.S are committed to building lasting partnerships that would stimulate, sustain and deepen Nigerian-American relations,” he said.

Also speaking, the Nigeria Permanent Representative to the UN, Tijani Bande, appreciated the governor for the initiative of embarking on a cultural and trade mission to the U.S.

The President of Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation (NIDO), New York chapter, Bobby Digi, in his goodwill message, thanked the leadership of the consulate for providing the platform to collaborate.

The dinner was attended by some leaders of Nigerian associations in the U.S. and friends of Nigerians, including Yinka Dansalami, chairman, Board of the Organisation for the Advancement of Nigerians, and Bolade Sobola, president of UN Staff Recreation Club Nigeria, among others.

Credit: NAN

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BIG STORY

Senator Peter Nwaoboshi Bags 7 Years Jail Term Over Money Laundering

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Peter Nwaoboshi, senator representing Delta north district, has been sentenced to seven years imprisonment for money laundering.

The senator was convicted by the Lagos division of the appeal court on Friday.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had arraigned Nwaoboshi and his two firms, Golden Touch Construction Project Ltd and Suiming Electrical Ltd in 2018 before Mohammed Idris.

They were then re-arraigned before Chukwujekwu Aneke on October 5, 2018.

In the two-count charge marked FHC/L/117C/18, the EFCC alleged that the defendants laundered N322 million between May and June 2014.

However, in a judgment delivered in June 2021, Aneke held that the agency failed to prove the elements of the offenses for which it charged the senator.

The judge also held that the prosecution’s case collapsed because “bank officials were not called to testify”.

Aneke also discharged the companies on the same grounds.

Not satisfied with the judgment, the anti-graft agency filed an appeal.

Delivering judgment on Friday, the appellate court overturned the lower court’s judgment and convicted the senator.

According to a statement by the EFCC, the court of appeal held that the trial judge erred in dismissing the charges against the respondents.

“It said the prosecution had proved the ingredients of the offense and consequently found the defendants guilty as charged,” the statement reads.

The court of appeal also ordered that the two companies be wound up.

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