Governor Gboyega Oyetola of Osun State has concluded plans to reverse the controversial single school uniform introduced in the state in 2013 in the first term of his predecessor, Rauf Aregbesola.
Reclassification of the public school system and abolition of single-sex schools across the state are also part of the 26 issues to be reviewed by the Oyetola administration.
Other issues to be reviewed include the introduction of ‘opon imo,’ otherwise referred to as tablet of knowledge, issuance of primary school leaving certificates, change of schools’ identities, ownership of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), operations of Osun State University, merger of basic and high schools across many communities, among others.
The new development, according to insiders, is a response to the clamour for the policy reviews by stakeholders, including educationists, school administrators, missionaries and school owners.
On October 5, 2013, Mr. Aregbesola and his erstwhile deputy, Titi Laoye-Tomori, decked in school uniforms, appeared at the inauguration of a remodelled Salvation Army Primary School, Osogbo.
The state had just introduced unified school uniforms across the state, and in what the administration described as leadership by example, the governor and his deputy appeared in public dressed in samples of the uniforms.
Rauf Aregbesola in school uniform
However, the action did not convince the critics of the policy who described it as ill-conceived. They argued that the state’s partnership with a private company, Sam and Sera Garments Limited, to purchase, sew and distribute the uniforms to students and pupils was a deliberate attempt at killing small scale businesses.
But Mr Aregbesola went ahead with the new policy, which was tagged, “O-Uniform,” otherwise known as, Osun school uniform project. The state established Omoluabi Garment Factory, which he noted would sew 750,000 sets of uniforms to be distributed free to pupils and students across the state.
The project, the administration noted, would cost the state about N900 million at the rate of about N1,200 per set, adding that tailors would be trained at the factory while uniform sellers across the state would subsequently be supplied the uniforms to be resold by them.
But apart from the economic crisis cited by the critics, many stakeholders including teachers, parents and alumni of different schools, said the government’s decision would not only create identity problems but may also obliterate the history of schools.
School merger, reclassification
Also, Mr Aregbesola’s administration introduced the school reclassification policy, leading to the merger of schools, and abolition of gender and religious-based sentiments.
The policy replaced the 6-3-3-4 and 9-3-4 systems operated by Nigerian government with what was described as a 4-5-3-4 system, leading to the restructuring of primary and secondary schools into elementary, middle and high schools.
The elementary schools comprise pupils between the ages of six and nine, grouped into Grades one to four, as against the old designation of primary one to four while the middle schools comprises pupils and students between the ages of 10 and 14, grouped into grades five to nine, as against the old designation of primary 5 and 6, and JSS 1 to 3.
The high schools, comprising students within the age bracket of 15 to 17 years, were regrouped into grades 10 to 12 as against SSS 1 to 3.
The decision, the former governor had consistently noted, were products of comprehensive appraisal of the state’s education sector at an education summit chaired by Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, in 2011, shortly after he assumed power.
The new reclassification system also led to merger of schools in various communities as the administration said rather than building classrooms across the many schools in the state, it decided to build gigantic structures in various communities to accommodate a large number of different age groups in various communities.
As a result, almost all the schools changed their identities and in some instances, different faith-based schools were merged, leading to conflicts between the adherents of Islam and Christianity in the state.
Following the implementation of these policies and others, including the tablet of knowledge, some stakeholders said they noticed dangerous consequences, including gangsterism, cultism, truancy, and installation of pornographic items on the tablets by the students.
At various times, the state’s chapter of All Nigeria Confederation of Principals of Secondary Schools (ANCOPSS), Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) and parents complained to the authorities on how they were finding it difficult to identify their students.
In fact, ANCOPSS, in a release shared with the state government noted that the same uniform introduced by the state had led to influx of notorious gangs to popular schools such as Saint Charles School in Osogbo, the state capital, where they claimed teachers and pupils were constantly attacked.
The release, a copy of which was made available to PREMIUM TIMES, stated in part; “The policy of same uniforms had led to total insecurity in the schools. It has been discovered that hoodlums, school dropouts, and even artisans sometimes do dress as students to join in the riots in schools.
“As a result of this, teachers and principals divert attention to the security of lives and properties of the school than the actual teaching and learning that ought to be their priority.”
There were also instances where students of Baptist School in Iwo, in Osun west senatorial district went to schools in church garments to protest the use of hijab by Muslim students in schools originally founded by Christian missionaries.
New governor, renewed agitation
The incumbent governor, Mr. Oyetola, was the chief of staff to Mr. Aregbesola throughout his two-term in office. But stakeholders brushed that fact aside, and renewed the agitation for review of the controversial policies of his predecessor, especially uniform, school merger, among other policies.
On January 24, 2019, the leadership of ANCOPSS in the state, led by the immediate past chairman, Biodun Abiosun, met with the state’s head of service, Olowogboyega Oyebade, and other government functionaries to reiterate their call for review of the education policies.
Based on the renewed agitation, the governor tasked his education commissioner, Folorunsho Bamisayemi, and his special adviser on education, Jamiu Olawunmi, to collate areas requiring attention in the state’s education sector.
This led to the development of what the government described as executive council memorandum on education.
According to separate statements issued by both the state’s commissioner for information and civic engagement, Funke Egbemode, and the governor’s chief press secretary, Ismail Omipidan, at the inauguration of a two-day roundtable summit on the review of the policies, the governor noted that out of 26 issues raised in the memorandum, 14 issues were unanimously endorsed for review by the cabinet while 12 others were referred to the committee.
“It is important to let you know that in the interest of the generality of our people and in the spirit of democracy, I directed that all the 26 issues raised in the Executive Council Memorandum be discussed extensively and dispassionately with a view to arriving at informed decisions on every issue,” Mr Oyetola, who was represented by his deputy, Benedict Alabi, stated at the opening of the two-day roundtable summit by the committee in Osogbo on Thursday.
The governor added; “While some of the issues were unanimously agreed upon, twelve (12) other issues were referred to this Consultative Forum dedicated to addressing and making recommendations on the issues.”
PREMIUM TIMES can confirm that the policies on the school merger and the unified school uniforms are part of the 14 policies already agreed by the cabinet to reverse.
Grumbling over committee’s composition
According to the statement by the information commissioner, the committee, which is chaired by a former registrar of National Business and Technical Examinations Board, NABTEB, Olu Aina, also has the former vice-chancellors of the University of Lagos and Tai Solarin University of Education (TASUED), Ibidapo Obe and Oluwayemisi Obilade, respectively.
Other members are former chairman of the board of WAEC, Pai Obanya; retired chief of army staff, Alani Akinrinade; immediate past registrar of WAEC, Uyi Uwadiae; Akinropo Emmanuel, Aluko-Olokun, Wakeel Ayinde, Folorunso Alao and another member identified simply as Adeyemi.
But some Islamic faith adherents in the state have kicked against the composition of the membership of the committee, saying only one Muslim was selected.
Speaking with PREMIUM TIMES, one of the conveners of the state’s chapter of Islamic Youth Council of Nigeria, Dahood Ajetunmobi, a lawyer, said the composition has depicted Muslims in the state as irrelevant in discussions concerning the education of their children.
“Apart from the NUT chairman in the state, Mr. Wakeel Ayinde, there is no other Muslim among the committee members. Does it mean we don’t have Muslims as educationists, or as professors? This is unacceptable,” Mr Ajetunmobi stated.
Speaking in the same vein, the council’s co-convener, Galadima Adeoye, said Muslims are in the majority in the state, and their “deliberate neglect” should not be taken as an oversight.
They said a statement on the matter will soon be jointly released by their organisation and the Sharia Council of Islamic Affairs in the state.
Government defends action
While both the governor’s spokesperson and the information commissioner could not be reached as at the time of filing this report, two cabinet members in the state, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told PREMIUM TIMES, that since the governor who would take the final decision on the issues is a Muslim, there should be no reason for fear of bias.
“This complaint is really unnecessary because I can see that the governor is a Muslim and even the special adviser on education. The selection was simply random and the sincerity behind the decision is what dominated the cabinet’s thinking. Please, we are reassuring everyone that every issue will take into consideration the rights of everyone.”
Meanwhile, the state’s commissioner for works and transport, Oluremi Omowaiye, has warned those he said were describing the review of the policies as a rejection of Mr Aregbesola by his successor to stop the insinuation.
In a post on his Facebook wall and titled; “We are Aregbesola’s legacy,” Mr Omowaiye wrote, listing many members of the current cabinet who were also part of Aregbesola’s decisions while in power.
He wrote: “I am shocked that some now termed the initiative as an effort to rubbish the legacy of the former Governor of the state, our own Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola. Well, I see this allegation as mere mawkishness because no one has the capacity to rubbish Ogbeni’s legacies; he remains the architect of the new Osun and we are his legacy!”
Also speaking with PREMIUM TIMES, the incumbent chairman of ANCOPSS in the state, who identified himself simply as E.A Ijaodola, said there is no decision or policy that is not worth review.
Mr Ijaodola, who is a member of the committee, said; “The former governor did his best while in office and his successor has picked it up from where he stopped. Review is important in life, and if not important, why do we review national laws, including our Constitution?”