Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa writes that for 16-year-old Cyril Okworu, a student of Bishop Demieri Grammar School, Ovom, Yenagoa in Bayelsa State, his emergence as a one-day Commissioner for Education in the state was inspiring
“A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself”-Oprah Winfrey.
For Cyril Okworu, a 16-year-old student of Bishop Demieri Grammar School (BDGS), Ovom, Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, the quote above encapsulated the whole gamut of events that led to his emergence as a one-day Commissioner for Education in the state last week.
His search for excellence and recognition far beyond his peers finally materialised after years of sleepless nights, despite the challenges, when he was picked to sit at the expansive office of the newly-inaugurated education house, to dish out orders to permanent secretaries, directors and other support staff of the ministry of education in the state, some of them older than his parents.
For Okworu, a Senior Secondary School student, the feat was not served on a platter. He was among over 40 candidates who sat for the state-organised yearly essay writing competition, where the overall winner gets to act as the commissioner for education for one day.
Now in its second year, the competition, which absorbs students from all the eight local governments in the state, it was learnt, is meant to primarily inspire and motivate school children to excel and to intimate them with the workings of government.
For the young Okworu, resplendently dressed in his traditional Ijaw attire with his proud parents walking behind him, it was time to exhale and indeed savour the reward of hard work, even if temporarily, at a desk he could before then, only sit in his dreams.
He had just won the hotly contested competition, emerging tops from the final eight shortlisted by the Mike Afenfia-led selection committee, which picked the top three after what appeared a gruelling process.
With a correspondingly apt topic: “Drug Abuse, addressing the challenge”, Okworu showed that the respect accorded BDGS, one of the first sets of secondary schools to be established in the state, was not a fluke.
“I am grateful for this opportunity. I appreciate our countryman governor and the Governor-General of the Ijaw nation as well as the giant strides he has achieved in education. I hope the next government will continue in this stead after the governor’s tenure” the youngster said in his opening remarks.
Like one who has mastered the act of public speaking, the slim, slightly laid-back, newly-inaugurated aide to the governor called on his peers to avoid actions that could destroy their lives.
“Anyone can be successful, but not everyone is granted success. It takes tenacity . I urge my colleagues to stay off drug abuse. I got to where I am today by taking my studies seriously, not by taking tramadol or other stimulants. Any drug can be abused. Drug abuse is rampant in our schools and I urge that the laws should be strengthened.
“Those who are already into it should be rehabilitated and everyone should live by example. That way, children can sit back and say, since my father did not do drugs, my mother did not and my uncle did not do drugs, even me will not do it”
He did not forget to mention that certain things needed improvement, despite what he called the giant strides of Governor Seriake Dickson in the education sector in Bayelsa. While acknowledging the place of God in the life man, the teenager called for the building of a school fence and provision of a school bus to ease movement.
In his comments, the substantive Education Commissioner, Jonathan Obuebite underscored the importance of the annual ritual, emphasising on the need to mentor and motivate the youngsters.
“He came first in the essay competition that we had and we have decided to do this so that it will be documented that this happened at a point in time. He’s from the Bishop Demiari Grammar School (BDGS). This is to motivate them. This is not an end in itself, but a means to an end.
“With this, he knows he’s already recognised all over the state, the challenge is to sustain this excellence. From here he knows he has to excel and have all As in his papers” said the ministry’s top man.
He added: “Today our children are competing all over the world and that’s because of the determination of the governor to change our narrative. We have a governor that has transformed the education sector. Our model is being adopted all over Nigeria.
“We have the education loan scheme, the Education Development Trust Fund, with that fund no one can say they can’t go to school because of lack of funds. Even if you build roads you need educated people, whether you build hospitals you need educated people to run them. All PhD holders now have automatic employment. From all over the Ijaw-speaking states.
“This boy will one day grow and tell people he was a one-day commissioner. We want to motivate and challenge their spirit so they know all eyes are now on them and they have to excel in everything they do and learn the ropes in the art of governance. They need to have that feel and know how government runs. Everything in the ministry is well defined.
“He is taking over and he deserves it because the process was very tough, in fact a lot tougher than last year’s. We want the best to sit here. We are not doing this for the fun of it. We are doing it so that when people hear, they will appreciate the process” he stressed.
According to him, the second person automatically becomes the permanent secretary and the third a director, while there’s also the parliament.
On the rampant drug abuse he said, “We have a problem in society, not just among our children, but among parents and guardians. It has become worrisome . That’s why the theme of the years children’s day, it was agreed nationally that it should be used to create awareness against the dangers of drug abuse.
“We felt that the best way to reach the children directly was to organise an essay whose topic will revolve around the menace of drug abuse. We wanted to give them a chance to proffer solutions since they are the ones involved.
“Today, we have a child commissioner. And it’s not just about narcotics. When you take drugs without prescription, you have abused it. We are taking the enlightenment to the victims themselves.
“And when children have these problems, the parents also suffer. Some parents buy alcohol and serve their children. That’s drug abuse. It’s wrong”
On whether the programme will be sustained by the next government, he said: “This government leaves February 14. But the next governor will be a Bayelsan and as a Bayelsan I also know that he will see the records. It is open to the next governor and his team to look at what we did, adopt the good things, improve on some and move it forward. This is just a stepping stone”.
The elated parents of the teenager lauded the initiative, maintaining that they were not surprised that the youngster was excelling, since he had always been hardworking.
Benjamin Okworu, father of the one-day commissioner posited: “My son doesn’t sleep when others are sleeping. He loves his books. I am not surprised.”
While handing over, winner of the state Essay Writing Competition for last year, Master Africanus Noel, who attends the Ijaw National Academy, Kaiama, lauded the governor for establishing free boarding secondary schools across the state.
He described education as the foundation for any meaningful development and linked lack of value orientation to cultism, prostitution and other social vices in the country.