The late sage and former governor of Imo state, Sam Mbakwe (PhD), said that education was the largest industry in Imo state. Today, the industry has even grown larger with an array of tertiary institutions that emerged in the state since its creation in 1976. The state now prides itself as the brain box of the nation. Of course, tertiary education needs not be seen as just an avenue to a meal ticket for the acquirer, it is meant to enhance quicker adaptation to life’s vicissitudes. Besides, it is easy to govern a well-educated citizenry.
Affordability of tertiary education in an economy like Nigeria’s is determined by so many factors, among them – costs built into feeding, lodging, tuition and distance travelled by the student from home to the location of the institution. In many cases, cost of accommodation alone outstrips cost of tuition.
To avoid creating educationally disadvantaged areas in any state, Nigerian states have since been spreading the location of tertiary institutions in them evenly among their constituent units. Imagine a scenario where all the tertiary institutions in Nigeria are located in say, Lagos alone. In a matter of two decades, the southwest area must have become, by far, educationally advantaged more than the rest of Nigeria.
In Imo state, all the five federal and state tertiary education institutions in the state are located in the zone of the state capital alone. They are: Federal University of Technology, Owerri, Imo state University, Owerri; Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education (a degree awarding institution) Owerri; Federal Polytechnic, Owerri; Imo state Polytechnic, outside the state capital zone but a short distance from, and closest to Owerri than any other large population centre in the state.
As costs of food, transport and, above all, rent, are comparatively high in the zone of the state capital, and as people from that area can afford to attend tertiary institutions from their homes, in the last three and a half decades, Imo state has accentuated the phenomenon of educationally advantaged and educationally disadvantaged areas.
So far, it is believed that if 40% of a population sample from Owerri senatorial zone of nine local government areas has tertiary education certificates, less than 5% of their counterpart population from Orlu zone of twelve local government areas may have similar certificates. Okigwe comes in between. People from the six local government areas of Okigwe zone have some proximity advantage in having the Abia state University, Uturu, located not far from Okigwe.
ORLU: MOST EDUCATIONALLY DISADVANTAGED DISTRICT IN IMO STATE.
The resident population in the 12 LGAs of Imo West (Orlu) senatorial district is about 2.5 million. It is much more during the yuletide.
Orlu Urban LGA alone has a human population of about 400,000. By international standard regarding location of tertiary institutions needed to inculcate higher education in people in a given population, the absence of a multi-faculty university located amidst this huge population in the zone is absurd.
Before the arrival of Owelle Rochas Okorocha as governor of Imo state, Orlu people had variously petitioned the succeeding governments in the state to establish a multi-faculty university in their area.
Hardly had Rochas Okorocha got sworn into office as governor of Imo state when Orlu people marched straight to the seat of government in Owerri demanding that a tertiary institution be sited in Orlu area. For an immediate take-off of such an institution, they pointed to a multi-facility, but now underutilized Skills Acquisition Centre, (once a campus of Alvan Ikoku College of Education) Orlu, whose facilities are enough to house many faculties and departments of a tertiary institution.
Imo state Government latter decided it would permanently locate the Imo state University – since temporarily housed in make-shift structures in Owerri – in Ogboko in Ideato South LGA, and a short distance from the Orlu Skills Acquisition Centre. Ideato area constitutes of two well-populated LGAs that occupy a large portion of Imo state but has had no federal or state government development project worthy of mention located in it. The state government’s decision on the Ogboko location was welcomed by all, except a vocal few who claimed that Imo state University was originally meant by the Mbakwe-led government to be located in their Aboh-Mbaise/Ngor-Okpalla area, in Owerri senatorial zone. (Mbakwe-led administration also proposed a costly regional surface water supply scheme for Orlu, it was never built – it built similar water schemes for Owerri and Okigwe zones; the same government sited a campus of Alvan Ikoku College of Education in Orlu, despite the huge sum of money spent by that government and the World Bank to renovate and expand the campus, it was unceremoniously closed down immediately after the administration, with staff, students and property moved to the main campus in the state capital. For having the Imo State University Teaching Hospital in Orlu, there are on ground what seems to be some compensation to the zone of the state capital: the state government has since established a parallel and equally important Specialist Hospital in the state capital which also houses a multi-faceted Federal Medical Centre).
So when buildings started going up in the proposed permanent site of Imo state University in Ogboko, arguments from the vocal few against the location easily petered out. The arguments had to peter out because steps taken to remedy a glaring injustice against a group are usually not opposed by the majority in any good society. And Imo state is not a bad society.
But a confusing situation still persists as to whether or not the Ogboko site may still host the permanent site of the Imo State University.
MESSAGE TO IMO STATE GOVERNMENT
(1) Compared to a private university in Nigeria’s setting, a government-sponsored university provides a wider variety of educational opportunities to a larger population through its usually large number of academic faculties. Again, aside the difficulties in obtaining accreditation for some of its courses, a private university ceases operation any time the proprietor is unable to have it move forward.
(2) The Ogboko site for the permanent location of Imo state University is by no means less qualified than any other in the state. The state government took a just and appropriate step to establish some degree of fairness toward all through its decision to have one of the numerous tertiary institutions in the state located in that area.
The apex leadership of Imo state government cannot afford to endorse the existing phenomenon: “Orlu Senatorial Zone: The Most Educationally Disadvantaged Area in Imo State.” If it does by reneging on its earlier decision to permanently locate Imo state University in Ogboko, it risks eating up its political capital given it by the silent majority in the state on this issue, at the instance of a vocal few who, apparently, are the greatest beneficiaries of the unjust location of all tertiary institutions in the state in its close proximity.
(3) We are in a democracy; if for any reasons, government’s decision to permanently locate Imo state University in Ogboko can be subjected to a popularity test, let it be.