Comrade (Dr.) Walton Akpobloemi Liverpool is the Executive Secretary of the Bayelsa State Universal Basic Education Board. He is one man who has taken education from the doldrums to a higher level in Bayelsa state. This, according to the highly focused gentleman, is made possible with the support of Hon. Henry Seriake Dickson, the governor of Bayelsa State.
Dr. Liverpool was born in 1961 and had the opportunity to go through decent education. After the elementary and high school level, Walton attended the Rivers State College of Education, Port Harcourt and obtained the Nigeria Certificate of Education (NCE) in Fine and Applied Arts in History in 1985. Not satisfied with that, he proceeded to the Bendel State University, Ekpoma where he graduated in BA, Education in Fine and Applied Arts 1991.
From Ekpoma, he moved on to the University of Calabar for a Post Graduate Diploma and Master’s degree in Public Administration.
Walton Liverpool has held several positions. Among them are; Assistant Secretary, Nigeria Labour Congress, Sagbama Local Government, Bayelsa, Third Vice-Chairman and Chairman, Nigeria Union of Teachers, Sagbama Local Government, Bayelsa State.
He later became Deputy Chairman, Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) in the Old Rivers State in 1996 and pioneer chairman, NUT, Bayelsa State in 1996-1997. He was a member of the National Republican Convention (NRC) care taker committee.
Dr. Walton Liverpool was Head of Department of Administration, Southern Ijaw Local Government Council and also held the same position in Yenagoa Local Government Council.
He was the pioneer secretary, Universal Basic Education Board, from 2006 to 2008 and was also a member of the National Implementation Committee for the integration of Out-of-school children from South-East and South-South states into the basic education porgramme.
He was a fellow of the Institute of Corporate Administrators (FCAI), Fellow of the certified Institute of Management.
In this interview, conducted in Abuja by National WAVES publisher, Jimmy Enyeh, he talked about how he runs UBEB and how he has been able to surmount the challenges confronting the development of education in Bayelsa State.
Can you let us into your activities since the inception of your emergence as the Executive Secretary of the Bayelsa State Universal Basic Education Board (UBEB)?
Thank you very much. We came on board specifically on the 6th of August, 2012. That was when the board was inaugurated. I am the Executive Secretary of the board comprising seven other members with a chairman who on a part time. All together, we are eight; all the other members operate on part time basis, while I am the Chief Executive of the board. Within this period, we have been able to set a target and we are working assiduously to ensure our children go to school while we provide the necessary facilities. You will agree with me that prior to our emergence, the education system in Bayelsa state was in comatose. In fact, there was nothing on ground.
All the schools were dilapidated; headmasters had no offices to stay. Those of them who had a place to stay were living in thatched houses with leaking roofs. In fact, there was nothing on ground.
When we came on board we had little or no problem operating based on the fat that Governor Henry Seriake Dickson had declared a state of emergency in the education sector. Not only that, it was discovered that counterpart funding of the system had not been paid for two years. For that reasons, projects were not going on. The governor, after declaring a state of emergency in the education sector, also paid the counterpart funds amounting to N1.8billion
As a matter of fact, if a governor pays N1.8billion, you also expect another N1.8billion from the federal government. So, we are working with N3.6billion, we swung into action. We started by renovating over 100 primary schools. We also renovated over 100 headmasters’ quarters with teachers’ rooms attached to the headmasters’ quarters. We did not stop there, we also constructed six classrooms. We call those ones semi mega project. Before we came on board, there were about 25 mega structures, 12 classroom blocks, with about 23 toilets, a multi-purpose hall, about three of these halls in a primary school. That kind of modern school was designed by the previous administration. Some advance payments were paid to contractors but they abandoned the jobs. These contracts were awarded as far back as 2011. So when we came on board in August 2012, we completed all those jobs by bringing all the contractors to book. Those we could not get had their contract revoked. The ones we got, we forced them to complete the job.
As we speak, about 80% of the contract has been completed apart from a few of them that are still at different stages of completion.
Those mega projects have multipurpose halls, computer hall, staff room and internet facility.
All the teachers have access to computers. In the primary schools, the children have access to and the privilege to use the internet; those are the facilities we have in the mega structure that we have been able to complete across the state. The one in Ndoro has been completed and the one in Sagbama has been completed and Okugbure also completed. The one at Yenagoa main town almost completed. The structure in Opolo is also completed. Those are some of the mega projects that are fully completed. It is worthy to note that the furnitures have been installed.
We did not stop there; we discovered that the last time instructional materials were supplied was in 2006.
That was when I was the secretary of the board under the chairmanship of Hon. Benson Agadaga.
I came back in 2012 and was able to supply instruction materials to all the schools, both primary and junior secondary. We didn’t end there, we also gave textbooks. Then, through the Minister of Education, the governor was able to provide school uniforms and books for students.
As we speak, the governor is building a Teachers Training Institute at Polomari in Sagbama Local Government Area, where there will be training and retraining of secondary and primary school teachers. This institute will be managed by teachers from Canada. We are building hostels, cafeteria and will provide all the necessary amenities and the place will be fenced. Within the next two months that place will be ready to undergo training and retraining. Whether you are a professional or not you are expected to go for training. Right now as we speak, we have compiled 150 headmasters to be trained at the National Institute of Education Planning and Administration, Ondo State. Specifically on the 20th of October, we shall be sending them on management training to manage our schools. That has already been concluded.
We are also planning to train some primary school teachers through the grants from the federal government. We are also procuring chairs and desks. You know because of the flood that affected Bayelsa state, almost all our furniture got bad. As we speak, most of our students are sitting on the floor. It is very difficult to provide furniture to all the schools within a very short period. So, we are supplying them in phases, for now, we are starting with the mega projects. Those mega projects, we are putting in the furniture, like the chairs, desk, computers, and internet facility. As soon as we finish with that, we shall embark on other projects. As for now, the governor has approved the procurement of 25,000 chairs and desk to be supplied to schools. Once those ones arrive, no student will sit on the floor in Bayelsa state. The governor is aware that the flood affected our schools and he has approved the reconstruction of some schools and renovation of others.
We have over 200,000 classrooms to renovate; same number was also given to the Ministry of Education. As we are working, the Ministry of Education is also working. By the grace of God, between now and next year 2014, no school in Bayelsa state will be dilapidated. All the schools would have taken a new shape. For now, you hardly see a school that is totally bad, because we have worked on majority of them. We shall also be going into the creeks to build headmaster’s quarters for our grassroot and the bulk of the teachers that are there. So, as soon as that is done by 2014, we shall embark on building of principal quarters. All those are things that we are doing at UBEB. You will agree with me that we have achieved a lot within this short period.
I want to tell you that when we took over government at that time in our UBEC management meeting, our performance was accessed, I mean at UBEB, we came last, Bayelsa was the least performing state in the federation. But the good news is that just after a year, we are currently at the top, you cannot count 10 states in this country without including Bayelsa.
What was responsible for that?
The crux of the matter is that the previous government was not performing that was just the problem. The previous government neglected education. They were not renovating schools; they were not suppling desks, textbooks and chairs. They could not access federal government intervention fund. As we speak, we are at the verge of accessing the 2013 fund, which means we are up to date. No state is ahead of us as we speak. That is how we were able to move from the last to the top position. By the time we finish with the 2013 intervention fund, we should remain number one or two in Nigeria. So that is the situation we are now
The general belief is that most youths in Bayelsa State do not like to go to school. How have you been able to cajole or persuade them to go to school?
You are right to a large extent but we have not rested on our oars to ensure our youth go to school. If you are based in Bayelsa, you will know the effort we are making. Presently, we have produced jingles on television and radio that any child who does not go to school is committing an offence and it is the parents who will be arrested. The jingle is going on to educate parents on the need to send their children to school. It is compulsory to send your child to school because the governor has declared a state of emergency in education saying education is free and compulsory. We are forcing people to go to school in Bayelsa State. We have been going round the streets of Yenagoa with megaphones to tell our people to send their children to school. That is an effort to encourage the youth to go to school. Not only that, the jingles are being played on radio and television to encourage our youths to go to school. We set up a committee and I am a member of the National Implementation Committee on Out-of-School-Children from the South East and South South into the basic education programme. I am currently in Abuja to attend the workshop to plan the curriculum for the children. So, for that reason and the fact that I am a member of this committee, we are also using this opportunity to reach out to children and educate the public that those who are hawking pure water on the streets, we encourage them to go back to school. Education in Bayelsa State is free. Government is providing all the necessary items, uniforms desks, books and chairs. The only thing we have not done is school feeding and at the appropriate time, we shall introduce school feeding. I know my governor is up to the task and ready to do that. Government is also currently building boarding schools in all the state headquarters. In some local governments, we are having two or three of these schools with boarding facilities where you can send your children to study from SS1. It is also free. Government will take care of their uniforms, books and everything required. So, that is the plan of government and they are building those schools now. By that, those youths who do not want to go to school will be encouraged to go to school. You can see that some parents cannot send their children to school after buying the school uniform. They are concerned about what the children will eat when they return from school. So you go to school, when you close from school and come back to your house, you don’t have food to eat. The next day, the child will not like to go to school. So, that is why government is embarking on feeding of school children. I am sure before 2014, we will get to that level.
In the course of this interview you said any child who refuses to go to school will have his or her parents prosecuted. Do you have any law backing up this?
Yes, the Universal Basic Law 2004 clearly states that failure to send your child to school is an offence publishable by either imprisonment or fine. The parents can be arrested and prosecuted. If you are found guilty, it can be one or two months imprisonment as the case may be or an option of fine. That is the law we want to enforce. We have been announcing it that parents should send their children to school. In the next two to three weeks, we shall start arresting defaulters. We shall arrest the child and the child will take us to his or her parents. We will the arrest the parents and prosecute them. That is the plan.
You have enumerated your achievements and other policies you intend to embark upon. What are the changes impeding your duties and how have you been able to surmount these challengers?
When we talk of challenges, they are enormous. Challenges on the part of parents. Most parents are not ready to send their children to school despite the fact that we have announced free and compulsory education. Some children are still on the streets selling groundnuts and sachet water. It is a challenge that because they are so poor, they cannot provide food after government has provided all the necessary things. For the parents provide the food is another problem. They will rather tell the child to sell sachet water. It is the profit that the child realises from the sachet water that they will use to eat. They will now stop their children from going to school. So, government is thinking of how we can provide free food in the schools. Poverty on the part of some parents is also a challenge that we are facing. Then, another challenge is funding. Though the governor has tried but we still have this problem of funding. Funding in the sense that government provides money for intervention but the money meant, for the running of the office is not enough. Prior to this time, in 2006 or thereabout, we were receiving a subvention of N18million but now what we are getting is only N2.5million. Even the N2.5million was increased by the governor when I complained and this is due to the interest he has in education. Yet, it is not enough because we have a lot of things to do in the office. Whatever we want to do, we have to go back to government to request for funds and if the fund is not released on time, it will affect the programme. But if we have a situation whereby enough funds is in our disposal without applying for money from government, it will be better and makes our job easier.
Whenever we need to provide instructional materials and when I apply, the governor approves it. As we speak, the governor has approved the one for this year. So in that aspect, we do not have problems. But the problem we have is that when we need funds to run the office, we have to apply and you know it takes some process. This will delay the process of doing certain things. That is the only problem we are having but every other thing is fine.
One other challenge is ignorance on the part of the parents on the need for basic education. Many people are ignorant of what we are doing. When you tell them to send their child to school, some people do not understand the policy of government. People forget that education is significant and everybody must be involved; the parents, the teachers, government, the public, voluntary organizations and so on. Everybody is supposed to put heads together. The mentality of our people is that they feel government should provide everything. They want government to provide everything and that is one of the challenges that we are having. It is not supposed to be so because education is capital intensive. If you wait for government to do everything, it will be difficult. Let me give you an example, of furniture. Because of the natural disaster that affected Bayelsa State, some schools were completely destroyed that you will not know that there was a school there before the flood. The ones that were not submerged, the villagers removed the wood used for the roof and used same as fire wood. Because of the flood, they say they cannot go to the bush to look for firewood. It is as bad as that. All those are problems that we are facing. Under normal circumstances, we should put hands together to ensure our children get the best of education. Now that government is yet to provide the desks, parents and the community should have come together to support the government by providing desks for their children so that government can also augment but rather, everybody is looking up to government to provide everything.
You talked about challenges but you did not state how you intend to surmount them?
We have our own plan. For instance, recently, we supplied generators to schools. Those mega projects cannot come to reality without light and they cannot use them. We have installed 75KVA sound proof generators in all those mega projects. We have also educated the villagers on the need to protect government property. Back to the generator, who will provide the fuel? Government cannot provide the fuel. That was why I said earlier that we should all join hands to ensure our children have the best of education. The schools are supposed to fuel the generator? Again, you begin to wonder where they will get money to fuel the generator. The small impress they get cannot be used to fuel the generator. For them to use the generator in a day, it will take 50 litres of diesel. This is another challenge. We are thinking of solar system, even though we have installed the generators, we want to supplement it with solar the solar system. If we run the solar system, we will be able to provide light without buying petrol or diesel. Secondly, the headmaster’s quarters have two bedrooms with other four rooms attached for teachers. All the rooms have toilet facilities but there is no water. This is a problem. So, we are planning to construct a bole hole. If there is no water, the children will mess it up.
By the time you complete your tenure, what would you want to be remembered for?
Thank you very much. That is why we are working. I want to be remembered as someone who laid a legacy in the education sector when he had the opportunity. People have started recognizing what I am doing. For instance, National WAVES has given me an award, the Public Service Award in Education. It is in recognition of the good work that I am doing. Before this one came, I received two awards between September and October. This is to say, people are watching. By the time I complete my tenure., people will remember me for my splendid job in the education sector in Bayelsa State.