Making Unity Schools Live Up to their Name

Yakubu Gowon

In spite of the recent spate of violence in the country, especially against students, which is posing a threat to the peaceful coexistence of the people, General Yakubu Gowon, whose administration established the federal government colleges and named them unity schools, has reiterated that the motive was to strengthen the country and its people, irrespective of geo-graphical region, ethnicity, creed or beliefs. Kuni Tyessi reports

Available statistics shows that 79,878 pupils sat for the National Common Entrance Examination into federal government colleges in 2018. In 2017, 78,378 sat for the exams and in 2015, 86,365 wrote the exams nationwide. Out of these figures, some were affected by performance, as they couldn’t reach the pass mark, some by catchment areas, and yet, some were affected by parental influence and choice, thereby drastically affecting the number when juxtaposed with the total number of pupils in primary five or six, that are all expected to sit for the exams.

The reasons might not be far-fetched which includes poor infrastructure in some of the schools, such as impoverished sanitary system, inadequate hostels and classrooms, which according to acceptable norms and standards, should accommodate not more than 30 students, bullying and sagging by senior students in the direction of junior students, all in the name of discipline, and poor quality of food being served the students among others. Most importantly, some of the schools have become soft targets for insurgents.

Despite the fact that notable Nigerians passed through the various institutions and have become beneficiaries of the motive behind the establishment of the schools, little impact is felt in all spheres of national life, as hate, distrust, suspicion and other negative attributes hold sway. This is also considering the fact that only the best brains were considered for admission into the schools which have grown from four, as of the time of their establishment to 104, with some states having up to four.

At this point, one begins to wonder why the voices of the beneficiaries have been drowned. Are they still members of the society, and what are the contributions they are making towards the Nigerian dream?

This is not forgetting that Gowon who spoke at the 15th plenary of the Unity Schools Old Students’ Association (USOSA), which held in Federal Government College (FGC), Jos, gave instances of when he visited FGC, Sokoto and saw how the students related in a cordial manner irrespective of their differences.

According to him, “students from all over Nigeria were studying and living together peacefully and without rancour. There was no rancour whatsoever even though students were from different states and ethnic groups.”

Also, General Muhammad Magoro in his remarks wondered why all levels of education in the country have special commissions to look after them while none exists for secondary schools, insisting that it will be apt to set up a national commission that will ensure and maintain standard in secondary schools just like the National Universities Commission (NUC) for universities and the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) for primary schools.

With the state of the nation, which has become everyone’s concern and with secondary schools often regarded as where people’s characters and perceptions to life are moulded, the association has called for a swift, decisive political will to return the schools to their past glory and make them the envy of all by setting the pace, and most importantly, by ensuring the safety of staff and students.

In a recently released communique, the Chairman, Caretaker Committee, Mr. Ayodele Jospeh and the Chairperson, Board of Trustees, Mrs. Aisha Oyebode condemned the spate of crisis in the country, ranging from conflict between farmers and pastoralists, to killings, cattle rustling and armed robbery, as well as kidnapping and the Boko Haram insurgency.

They said the federal and state governments must bring to a halt all crisis situations that have continued to bedevil the country, and to make matters worse, the education system, with respect to schools that have been affected.

‎While recalling the massacre at the FGC Buni Yadi in Yobe State in 2014, the association said members remain firm believers in the unity of the country and are however not blind to its fault lines.

The communique read in parts: “We demand that federal and state governments show swift, decisive political will before, during and after all crisis situations to enable the necessary machinery of government find and bring perpetrators to book. It is imperative that government avoids creating impressions or latitudes that can be explored to create mayhem and plant crises in the country.

“An urgent dialogue with all communities affected by the farmer and pastoralist crises is advocated. We urge the parties to come with open minds to such platforms knowing that no sane person benefits from conflict.

“We note that Nigeria’s coping strategy is under immense strain and that does not bode well for our existence as a happy, united entity. We therefore challenge ourselves and all critical stakeholders with a call to action.”

‎They also called on religious and faith-based groups to enlighten their followers on mutual respect and ensure that their words are of peace, while noting that ‎no one is safe or immune from the consequences of the decimation of peace and harmony which has consequently affected the admiration that unity schools once enjoyed.

No doubt, recent happenings have been troubling to all right thinking Nigerians regardless of ethnicity, political inclination, religious persuasion, age or gender; the spate of killings, destruction and displacements has affected life as well; known and even more worrisome is the accusation of a near genocide and the counter response. The consequences of these are plain to see; from the tensions in the land to utterances that questions national unity.

The communique added: “We, members of the USOSA are deeply concerned about this development. We have benefited from a Nigeria built upon mutual respect, tolerance and solidarity across the Niger. We went to federal government colleges in the four corners of this country, far from home, in communities whose ways of life we have come to know and imbibe. We are therefore deeply saddened to see this avoidable situation, where distrust of each other and threat to safety and security of lives and property have replaced the positive values we were exposed to.

“USOSA has been deeply affected by the insurgency. You will recall the infiltration and killing of innocent school boys in FGC Buni Yadi, Yobe State in 2014. It was a rude shock with devastating consequences from which USOSA and the nation is yet to recover. All leave a terrible trademark of death, destruction, loss and trauma, with many injured and millions displaced. This situation leaves our country and all of us vulnerable, whether we live in, near or far away from these states.

“We remain firm believers in the unity of this country. We are however not blind to its fault lines. We note that Nigeria’s coping strategy is under immense strain and that does not bode well for our existence as a happy, united entity. We therefore challenge ourselves and all critical stakeholders with a call to action.”

The association also stressed that it is imperative that government avoids creating impressions or latitudes that can be explored to create mayhem and plant crises in the country, thereby calling for an urgent dialogue with all communities affected by the crisis, which also serve as neighbouring communities where the unity schools are situated.

“We note and commend the effort of law enforcement agencies to stem the tide of killings. We further urge consistency of urgent action to deter conflict and protect lives. This is less costly than responding to crises that could be perceived as a pogrom.”

As a way forward towards building lost hope and confidence in the minds of parents and students who serve as the critical stakeholders, the association further emphasised on balanced reportage of events concerning unity schools, from entrance examination, admissions, catchment areas, quality of teaching, teachers and infrastructure and most importantly, security.

“We call on our media actors in the traditional and especially social media spaces to use speech responsibly. The social media has become more crucial with its ability to democratise access to and production of information. It has also become the source of untruths and disinformation, very dangerous for peace and democracy. We appeal to social media actors to self-regulate themselves and have truth and justice as their watch word.

“For the National Orientation Agency and related communications agencies in the states, there is no better time than now to spread the message of peace and discourage hate speech. As we draw closer to the 2019 elections, this becomes an urgent imperative.

“Religious and faith-based groups must enlighten their followers on mutual respect and ensure their words are of peace. We commend the effort of those leaders who are already doing so. We urge an inter-faith approach and face to the response from religious leaders as these matters are primarily those of political economy before they can be termed religious, if at all they are.

“No one is safe or immune from the consequences of the decimation of peace and harmony. No one benefits from anarchy and disruption. We all should be found on the right side of history, along with those who do not fan the embers of ethnic or religious hatred, but lend their voices to enabling an understanding of the root cause of the problems.”

If the dreams and aspirations of Gowon are anything to go by in the present unity schools and considering the current situation in the country, only time and the unfolding of events will prove such, however, the time to reinstate the lost glory is now.