Kwara politicising distribution of materials to schools - Saraki's aide
Mr Otukoko Ibrahim, Director of Projects and Environment of Mandate Constituency Office of the former President of the Senate, Dr Bukola Saraki, insists that the instructional materials produced for schools in Kwara State by Saraki were made to the standard of the state Universal Basic Education Commission and that the state Ministry of Education has no business in vetting the materials. He speaks to Tunde Oyekola
Kwara State Government has stopped the distribution of some instructional materials by Senator Bukola Saraki to basic schools in the state. Can you tell us the type of the materials?
The instructional materials are part of the constituency project of Dr Bukola Saraki, the former Senate President for the 2018 budgetary year. The materials consist of customised notebooks, textbooks, computer systems, generators, schoolbags, science laboratory equipment and mathematical kits for primary and basic schools in the four local government areas of Asa, Ilorin West, Ilorin East and Ilorin South, which Senator Saraki represented in the Senate. All these materials were produced according to the Universal Basic Education Commission standard.
Is this the first time that such materials are being distributed to schools in the state?
No, this is not the first time that such instructional materials are being distributed. We started this since Saraki became the President of the Senate in 2015. Though before then, we have been having projects with UBEC such as construction of classrooms, but we are now talking about instructional materials. Our programme with UBEC is in two phases. We have the infrastructural development programme that observes infrastructural deficiencies in schools, then, the teachers/students capacity building programme. These instructional materials fall under the latter program and we have been doing it since 2015. We did it in 2016, 2017 and the present one is for 2018 because the 2018 budget has currently being implemented. The 2019 budget is yet to be implemented.
How many schools are involved in the current programme?
We have distributed the items to 240 schools so far and we still have some items to be distributed to other schools before a directive came from the state Ministry of Education that we should stop the distribution.
Government alleged that you did not carry the Ministry of Education along in the production of the materials, is this true?
That allegation is not correct because we followed the normal process in the production of the materials. If you look at the process the budget implementation takes, you will know that UBEC was carried along. Before the materials were produced, we invited officials from the Local Government Education Authority, who are the supervisors for the basic school education. We sat together and did the NEEDS assessment for schools that were in need of these items. It was the result of the NEEDS assessment that was communicated to UBEC for the production of the materials. So, when these materials were produced by UBEC and they came back to us, we invited the LGEA to come along with the principals and headteachers of basic schools that were able to make the list. It was the LGEA officials that distributed the items to the headteachers and principals. The LGEA officials are part of government. While we work with the LGEA offices, which are the custodian of basic schools, we expect that they would communicate all these to the Ministry of Education through the state Universal Basic Education Board which is the representative of UBEC in the state. We believed that UBEC had communicated everything on the project to SUBEB and so the Ministry of Education cannot claim to be ignorant of the project. If the LGEA is aware and SUBEB is aware through UBEC, we donít know what we can do again to make the state government to be aware of the programme.
It was also alleged that the photographs of Saraki were inscribed on the books. Why is this so and is it the normal practice?
There were two allegations. The first was that we did not carry them along in the production of the materials because they thought that the materials should be vetted by the state Ministry of Education. That is capital no. We are saying that there is no need for that because the materials were produced by UBEC and not by us at the constituency office because it is the UBEC that has the statutory or constitutional authority to design curricula for basic schools in the country. So, there is no need for vetting of the materials by the state Ministry of Education.
Now, on the issue of the inscription of the picture of Saraki on the books, we didnít do that in our office. It is the standard by all Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government which they do for principal officers in both the executive and legislative arms. They do this for all Senators and all members of the House of Representatives across the 36 states in Nigeria. This practice is also applicable to the executive arm of government including President Muhammadu Buhari. For example, in the books produced for the SDGs, the picture of President Buhari is boldly emblazoned on them. So, there is no law that says that pictures of principal officers or political office holders cannot be inscribed on materials produced for distribution to the citizens of this country. There is no law that says that we cannot do it since it is the normal practice that the photographs of officers that facilitated projects in their zones should not be on such projects. Putting Sarakiís picture on the materials is not our own making at the constituency office and this should not be seen as a critical propaganda. We are surprised that the government is bringing politics into a simple project meant to equip the learning process of thousands of our children in the state.
If it is not meant for political achievement, why did you take the materials to the schools directly?
We didn't take the materials to the schools, the distribution of the materials was done by the officials assigned by the LGEA who brought the beneficiary headteachers and principals of the basic schools to come and collect the materials for their students. We did not take the materials to any of the schools.
The government directed you to take the materials to the Ministry of Education. Have you done it?
We wouldn't do anything like that because the condition given by the government is that the materials should be taken to the LGEA offices, which means that they have agreed that the materials got to the schools through the LGEA offices. They said that the materials should then be returned to us at the constituency office to remove the picture of Saraki and thereafter return them to the Ministry of Education for vetting. My explanation so far has justified that all points raised by the government are baseless and could not be substantiated by any logical argument. There is no need for vetting any material produced by the Federal Ministry of Education which is a superior ministry to that of the state. UBEC itself is a commission set up by the Federal Government to regulate the curricula for basic schools in Nigeria. If a book is produced by such body, there is no need for any other agency to vet it. Therefore, there is no need to return the materials to the ministry. I have earlier told you that inscribing or emblazoning picture of principal officers is a normal practice in Nigeria. We don't see any justifiable reason why that of Senator Saraki should be different. So, there is no need to remove the picture.
However, we believe that the instructional materials are meant for the constituents of Kwara Central Senatorial zone which Senator Saraki represented. What matters most is that the constituents get these materials and make use of them.
However, we are holding a management meeting to discuss how the materials would get to the students because the state government has taken a hard-line posture that the materials should not be distributed and we are not ready for that.
Where are the materials now?
The bulk of the materials have been distributed to the 240 beneficiary schools and they have not been returned to us at the constituency office. We are still waiting for the government to return the instructional materials though. We learnt that some of the materials have been returned to the LGEA offices, but we at the constituency office have yet to receive any of the materials.