For the millions of pupils in the public school system in Lagos State, this perhaps could be the best of times. This is because the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN) on Wednesday inaugurated the free textbooks scheme in fulfilment of his electoral promise to Lagosians. It started like a joke, and many, because of the deprivation and dashed hopes of the past, had thought the governor would not make good his promise. But Fashola did. He led top functionaries of his government including his deputy, Princess Sarah Adebisi-Sosan, to do the formal presentation of about six million textbooks to the pupils last Wednesday. The formal presentation was done simultaneously in all the six educational districts of the state. Amidst excitement by pupils and parents, Fashola and Sosan inaugurated the scheme at Government Technical College, Agidingbi and Osborne Schools‘ Complex, Ikoyi, respectively. The appreciative pupils were so happy that they danced, sang and poured encomiums on the state government for bailing them out of the problem of learning without books.
Some of the pupils who spoke with our correspondent at the Osborne Schools‘ Complex, Ikoyi where Sosan represented her boss to distribute the books, said government should be commended for the gesture. They, however, pleaded with the governor to make learning much easier for them by providing them with free school buses. They also pleaded with the governor to improve their teachers‘ welfare.
One of them, Rilwan Tukur, a pupil of Government Senior College, Ikoyi, said, ”I‘m very happy with what Governor Fashola is doing. We need the textbooks because most of us including myself do not have enough textbooks. In fact, some of my classmates in SS2 A don‘t even have notebooks. So, I thank him for giving us the textbooks. But I will like to beg the governor to give us free school buses so that we will not be coming late to the school again. ”
Tukur, who described himself as a Lagosian, had only five textbooks instead of about 20 he needed for the nine Arts subjects he is offering.
Another pupil who simply identified herself as Bunmi, a JSS 2 pupil of Ilado Community Junior High School, also in Ikoyi, said she had only one English Language textbook since she entered the secondary school.
”My father works as a security staff while my mother sells boli (roasted plantain) under the bridge, so there is not enough money to buy food. That is why I don‘t have textbooks. I‘m happy now that Governor Fashola is giving us books,” she said,
She promised to work harder and become a responsible citizen.
Like others who spoke before him, Harrison Halie, a SS2 pupil of Government Senior College, Ikoyi, said that the gesture would help him to concentrate more on his studies. ”As at today, I have only three textbooks in Commerce, Agricultural Science and Economics. Even the books are old. Most the topics there are not relevant to our syllabus but I don‘t have a choice because my parents could not afford to buy new books for me. ” Due to this, the Nigerian-born Ghanaian resident in Obalende said he always resorted to borrowing books from his classmates to read and to do his assignments. He expressed appreciation to the state government for rekindling his hope of becoming a great academic later in life.
The gesture, the 16-year-old who described himself as a ”Nigerian,” would enhance his academic performance.
”With these books in English Language, Mathematics, Integrated Science and others, I will have more to read and prepare for my final examination,” he said.
Other pupils including Rilwan Tukur, Sunday Nwaneri, Bola Adegoke and Kehinde Ajeigbe, pupils of Wahab Folawiyo Senior High School, Ikoyi and Government College, Maroko respectively expressed similar views. Nwaneri, 17, who lives on the Island, however added that the state government should dedicate some vehicles for the use of the pupils. This, the SS2 lad said, would further help them in getting to the school early and also reduce financial burden on their parents. ”Everyday, I spend about N80 to and from school on transport. It becomes difficult for me any day my parents could not raise the money, that is why I will appeal to Governor Fashola to give our school free BRT buses as school buses. ”
At the Osborne venue of the Lagos Island distribution centre, Sosan admonished the pupils and parents to take good care of the books by ensuring that they were not spoilt. She also appealed to them to face their studies, adding that the state government would spare no efforts at making public schools in the state schools of first choice.
She told the gathering, which included teachers, parents, educational administrators, officials of the Nigerian Union of Teachers from Epe, Ibeju Lekki and Eti-Osa Local Governments and politicians that the measure would boost efforts being made to ensure the success of the Education For All by 2015 set in 2000 by 180 countries.
”This step, a cardinal project of Governor Fashola, is aimed at ensuring that more children attend school once the burden of the purchase of textbooks is lifted off the shoulders of parents,” she said. She urged parents to join efforts with the state government in educating the pupils. This, she said, they could do by giving their children balanced diet.
Ajeigbe, who responded on behalf of the pupils, said they would ensure that investment made on them by the government would not be a waste.
In a chat with our correspondent, Ajekigbe, also implored the government to give teachers ”very big salary like workers in the banks collect. ”
Both the Chairman, NUT, Ibeju-Lekki Local Government, Mr. Wale Ayeola and Chairman, Parent-Teacher Association, for public schools in Victoria Island, Mr. Agbeni Folorunso, commended the state government for the gesture.
Ayeola, however, called on the state government to urgently implement the contentious Teachers Salary Scale
At the Agidingbi venue, Fashola pledged his determination to better the lot of pupils in the state. But he challenged them to face their studies and shun all anti-social acts.
”I have children of my own and I do not believe that they are entitled to anything better than you are entitled to. As long as I remain the governor of Lagos State, I will give you as much as I give my children. ”
As if responding to side talks of critics who alleged that the public school would have been better than it is if children of leaders were pupils therein, Fashola said, “What we are doing today is to demonstrate that even if all public officers do not send their children to public school, these children (public school pupils) are our responsibility and we should cater for them. ”
Highlight of the event was the formal distribution of 1,778,000 books to primary school pupils; 2,804,000 to those in the junior secondary schools; while 1,343,000 books were given out to all the pupils in the public senior secondary schools in the state.