BY D. F. EFFIONG
The Governor of Cross River State, Prof. Ben. Ayade,
The Deputy Governor, Prof. E. Esu,
Members of the House of Representatives,
The Commissioner of Education,
Honourable Counselors and Chairmen,
Ladies and Gentlemen.
“At the desk where I sit, I have learned one great truth. The answer for all our national problems – the answer for all the problems of the world – comes in a single word. That word is education” (Lyndon B. Johnson). It is my intention, as you shall come to realize in this write-up, to bring to your awareness once again the history we have not yet considered paying attention to namely; our education, our heritage. I shall therefore speak as one who had spent the first sixteen years of his life in the ancient city of Calabar – that city that once carried its pride before both foreigners and colonial masters. The city that once birthed Mary Slessor, Revd. Hope Waddell, as well as the Obongs, chiefs, actors, actresses, writers, journalists and senators of high repute and moral standing. Your Excellency sir, and all respectable leaders, may I at this point bore you with a story set in Calabar during the time I wrote my NABTEB examinations.
It was a bright morning that very Tuesday in May when we all waited for the arrival of the invigilator. The entire school was quiet that even the silence was respected by the unusual breeze and the ‘inuens’ who took pleasure previously in singing on our classroom roof tops. It was at about 11:00 am, two hours after the examination was to commence that a fair skinned woman arrived. She, we came to know, was the invigilator. Her presence seemed to have been a relief to most male students who equaled strictness to a male invigilator. This was not to be the case on the second day of her invigilating the physics exams. The importance of this exam cannot be overemphasized if you had the intentions of studying the sciences in a higher institution. Physics was refreshingly my best subject. I was also a student physics teacher who paid and attended extra classes even on Sundays. It was hard work and hence, I was ready for this examination.
Unfortunately, we had discovered that during the exams, there were two halls filled with different groups of students, those who paid to be helped and those who did not see the need to. I was deeply surprised too that more than half of my class refused to pay, including myself. This singular act was enough to infuriate our fair skinned and beautiful invigilator. She had no option but to collect our papers 45 minutes before the time because of non-compliance. This story shall end, as you shall not expect, with my visit to her office after the examination. However, because of uncertainty, the decision to narrate to her our own dis-satisfaction dwindled when I approached the door of her office. I became the unsung hero who was haunted for the rest of the exams and called by a new name, “time keeper.” This memory would be a permanent imprint on my mind as I evaluate what the situation is today for students writing their final examinations in secondary schools.
Today, we have grown to be known, not just for hospitality but for tourism and peace. We have moved deeply and rustfully into the era of ‘god-fatherism’ in our politics. We have celebrated our mediocrities and enthroned laziness in the minds of our youths. This is quite evident in the numbers of entrepreneurs compared to the number of thieves and irresponsible men and women who sleep in police cells every day. We have refused to encourage and announce scholarships for secondary school students the same way we announce pleasure centers. It is the case that we have long enjoyed the glories of the past and refused to build on the future of our educational institutions. Today majority of our youths celebrate cowardice over hard work. Is the latest WAEC ranking of Cross River State not yet a worry? Shall we continue to sit on our armchairs like leaders and watch the future of our children suffer from educational infantilization? Shall we do something to discourage the fertilization of lies among students?
When Irvin Feld was put in who’s who in America and was asked for a quotation to go with his biographical sketch, he wrote, “I have found that if you give the public more than their money’s worth while maintaining a high standard of quality, they will regard fully with their support. I have always insisted on giving the paying public more than they expect.” Hence, the underlying question today would be; is education in Cross River State enjoying its high quality? Do the kids in government schools get more than their pay? Do young school leavers pride themselves as writing their own examinations without external help? Today, we boast of having the biggest street party in West Africa – the Calabar Carnival. But placed side-by-side with going to school, may I ask finally, do you think our students would prefer attending classes than amusement parks, carnival, etc.? Your Excellency sir, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, when we set education as our highest priorities in the State, we are only informing our kids that their education is supreme!