Okowa To SERAP: ‘I Can’t Be Blackmail With Ultimatum’

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Dr Ifeanyi Okowa, Delta state governor, has told Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) to stop ‘blackmailing’ him with ultimatum for information that they should source from the state website.

BIGPEN ONLINE learnt that SERAP had few days ago while reacting to the video of Success Adegor, a pupil of Okotie-Eboh Primary School 1, Sapele, Delta state who was driven from school for failure to pay her exam levy, issued Okowa seven days ultimatum to provide information on details of the budgetary allocations and actual spending on primary school education in the oil-rich state.

SERAP in its FOI request said, “the evidence of education deficit in the state is further buttressed by the case of Adegor, who was sent home because her parents could not pay the illegal school fee/levy of N900 and the insufficient and poor-quality education infrastructure of Okotie-Eboh Primary School 1, Sapele”.

According to them, “If we have not heard from you within seven days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter, the Registered Trustees of SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions to compel you to comply with our request.”  

SERAP said in the FOI request, dated April 5, 2019, and signed by Kolawole Oluwadare, its Deputy Director said: “Full development of human personality is essential objective of education. A strong Delta State in the future requires a strong education system today. A poor education system will severely cripple Delta State’s future growth, development and sustainability, both socially and economically. Providing the information as requested would show your commitment to ensuring access to quality education as a public good.

“Despite the huge resources available to your government and the massive budgetary allocations to primary education in your state, including from the UBEC funds, several of the around 1,124 primary schools across the State are in a shambles, and with very poor teaching facilities, thereby jeopardizing the futures of tens of thousands of Nigerian children in the State.”

Furthermore, the FOI request said: “SERAP notes that since assuming office, your government has received over N7.8 billion from Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC). Your government has also received funds from federal allocations to Delta State. Your government accessed over N3 billion of UBEC funds between 2015 and 2016, while also reportedly approved the release of N1.28 billion counterpart fund to enable it access UBEC funds for 2017.  Your government also received N213 billion from Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) in 2018, at an average of N17.8 billion monthly.

“We urge you to provide details of budgetary allocations and actual spending by your government between 2015 and 2019, including specific projects carried out to improve access to free and quality primary education in your state, the locations of such projects and the primary schools that have benefited from the projects.

But responding to SERAP’s demand, Okowa who spoke through his Chief Press Secretary, (CPS), Charles Aniagwu carpeted the Socio-Economic Rights group over such ultimatum, saying “There are 36 states of the federation. In these 36 states, the governors of these states and indeed the federal government budget for education of their different states and ministries of education. If SERAP want to know what anybody is spending with respect to education. Why are you going to move the story of Success to begin to make such demands? Why don’t you ask every state?

“Let people ask of things for the purpose of developing Nigeria and we will move with them. We encourage anybody who is interested in what we are doing here. We don’t have anything to hide. Senator Dr Ifeanyi Okowa runs a very transparent government and the businesses we do here is on the basis of the transparency and if SERAP wants to know how transparency exist in the system, let them come to Delta but giving ultimatum as if they are the owners of the government in Delta state is not something that we are going to fall into. Nobody is going to blackmail us for cheap popularity.

“Why didn’t they give ultimatum to many other states where people are learning under the trees? Why don’t they give ultimatum to other places where they are not able to pay their teachers? In Delta, we not only pay our workers we also assist local governments to ensure that the teachers are well paid as at when due. There are states in the federation where teachers are even paid half salaries. In some other states, they are owed more than six months. I expect SERAP to go there and begin to demand for ultimatum so that we know that in deed they are very much interested in the development of this country and not playing to the gallery.”

When asked if the state government will respond to SERAP demands, the governor’s spokesman responded angrily by asking “Respond to what? Our business is to govern our people in Delta state with the highest sense of accountability. I have not seen anywhere it is written in the oath of office that there must be one body who will come and harass us and make us abandon what we are doing. There is nothing we are hiding, our budget is very clear; we put it on the website. Let them go there they will see it we don’t have anything that we are hiding.

“We have a house of Assembly. Those are the ones that should be giving governor ultimatum in the first place because the house of Assembly represents the people but when somebody else comes from somewhere, we don’t even know those who constitute them. Have they spoken to anybody? Have they come here to talk to us? before you give ultimatum, you must first of all shown what effort you have made to say I went to this man he didn’t answer me. How do you just go to the media and give us ultimatum in the media? And you expect us to jump? We don’t even know who is giving the ultimatum.

Continuing, he queried: “Why are people not even looking at the intelligence of Success? How many children in Nigeria have that kind of intelligence? That is the stuff we are made of in Delta. Producing bright brains; Success is a very good example of the kind of children that we produce in Delta. So, they should come and first ask us how do we produce such intelligent children and not begin to look at the fact that her intelligence is able to expose one thing or the other. Do they have children in other states who can even afford to say they have problem in school? Are they not supposed to thank us that in Delta we produce very bright children? Just as we also do in sports?

“I can tell you that on the priority needs of our budgeting since 2015, when we had a supplementary budget after we have been able to have a review of the existing budget that we met in 2015, Senator Dr Ifeanyi Okowa has continue to give prime and priority attention to the education sector. I think usually, after our budget in the works sector where you have a lot of infrastructures and roads, education takes a very prime position. Do you know the first thing we did when we came in? we ensured that we paid our counterpart fund to UBEC so that our SUBEB is able to access the funds available and then give a new lease of life to our primary schools and of course a number of other institutions”, Aniagwu added.