By Amos Igbebe
Indications are rife that the free healthcare programme introduced into Delta by the immediate past administration of Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan and the free education policy being enjoyed in the state primary and secondary schools may soon give way for a compulsory contributory health insurance scheme and payment of school fees in the state primary and post primary education system.
Parents, pupils and students are already agitating following the widespread speculation that at the resumption of the 2015/2016 academic session, the administration of Senator Ifeanyi Okowa will introduce payment of school fees to primary and secondary schools in the state.
Investigations around Asaba, the Delta State capital, are laying credence to the hearsay as parents and students are giving significance confirmations to the truism in the speculation making the round.
A parent, who spoke to our correspondent, said it is getting obvious that the hearsay is true. He told 247ureports.com that he was reliably informed that primary school children would pay N4000 while secondary school students would pay N8000 at the resumption of the 2015/2016 academic session in the public schools in the state.
Also, a student of one of the public secondary schools in the state capital, also said her school principal had informed them that school fees of N8000 would be introduced into the state public secondary schools at the beginning of next academic session.
This could be interpreted to also mean that the scholarship programme which the past administration put in place whereby first class students of Delta origin and schooling in Nigerian universities are rewarded with N5m each on yearly basis with the payment of WAEC enrolment fees for secondary school students may also give way, leading to a regime of making parents pass through pains to educate their children in the state.
Not less than 400 Delta students benefited from the scholarship scheme in the past administration of Uduaghan. The first class students, many of them were sent outside the country to continue their education up to PhD levels by the erstwhile Uduaghan’s government.
Also, many parents had trained their children at least up to the secondary school level for the past years without paying school and WAEC enrolment fees for their children.
But the state Commissioner for Basic and Secondary Education, Chiedu Ebie and the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Charles Aniagwu, debunked the allegation, saying the state government under Senator Ifeanyi Okowa would never introduce payment of school feels to the state, whether now or at the beginning of next academic session.
The duo said the rumour being peddled in the state are products of people who do not have right information and should be jettisoned by all Deltans, even warning that anyone who is caught collecting money of any kind from anybody in the schools or hospital should be reported to the appropriate authorities.
The free health programme of the previous government had saved not a few lives of mothers and children in the state. Free under-five and free delivery for pregnant women had, to a great extent, saved so many women and children in the state, although not without its attendant disadvantages.
But the new government has sent a bill to the State House of Assembly for Contributory Health Insurance Scheme, where civil servants and all category of income earners would contribute to access health services in the state.
A source at the State Ministry of Health told 247ureports.com that as the contributory health scheme takes effect, the free health services provided by the previous government would give way as everyone would have to contribute into the health programme of the state.
And to get the views of the people of Delta State over the contributory health insurance scheme, the State House of Assembly organized a public hearing where medical practitioners were invited to make input into the bill before its passage into law.
In the public hearing, a section of medical practitioners foresaw failure of the scheme and hence, voiced their opinions against the importation of the scheme into the state.
Besides medical practitioners, labour leaders also expressed fears over the workability of the programme citing the varied challenges encountered in accessing the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) and other programmes which were conceived by governments both at the federal and state levels but failed to achieve their goals and left many Nigerians in despair.
In the public hearing, certain views expressed by the participants dampened the expectations of the House Committee on Health which was saddled with the responsibility of assessing the public views and incorporate same into the bill before passage into law.
Chairman of National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives, Delta State Chapter, Comrade Ejiro Egbedi, expressed fear over the success of the scheme, considering the massive failure of the Housing Scheme and the Contributory Pension Scheme which have remained a nightmare to both serving and retired civil servants in the country.
Represented at the public hearing by Comrade Alice Jegede, the nurses said the hospitals in the state lacked facilities to attend to the upsurge of patients, noting that the intention of the state government should be looked into before rushing the bill into law.
According to her, “as nurses, majority wins the vote, so if others say they want it, I think the nurses have to key in. But we still have our fears and reservations because we don’t want anything to be imposed on us. We want it to be optional or when it’s not working, we can be allowed to pull out as a body.
“You know sometimes when men are looking at certain things in one way, the women look at it carefully. That’s why our presentation was different from others. Because most of the things they put up do not work. But when everybody says they want it, there is nothing we can do about it.
“The hospitals are not prepared for the programme. That’s why we said the hospitals are not ready for it. The manpower is not there because when they put up this scheme, there will be influx of patients into the hospitals, we are the nurses that will care for those patients. We are not prepared at all. We are not ready at all for this programme”.
Also, Delta State Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade David Ofoeyeno, was also very pessimistic in his presentation, citing also the failure of the National Housing Scheme and other anomalies in government’s programmes.
Represented by Tony Toki, the labour leader said “my experience from the past was what informed may presentation inside the hall. Because when the law is passed, it becomes the law that will govern all of us and it may put us in a very tight corner.
“Once a law is passed, it becomes mandatory that we follow the law. And by the time you are not comfortable with the system, for you to come out, it becomes difficult because the law is binding. Till tomorrow, we are not enjoying the National Housing Fund. But for us to pull out of it is very difficult because of the law. So, it is better looked into critically before passing it to law”.
However, Ofoeyeno said the scheme would be beneficial to Deltans if it is implemented as conceived by the Governor who was Chairman of the Health Committee during his days as Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
But Chairman of the State House Committee on Health, Hon. Alphonsus Ojo, dismissed the fears expressed by Deltans, saying the Housing Scheme failed because it is long term arrangement, stressing that the Delta Insurance Health Scheme was a programme of immediate benefit, assuring that the state governor has good intention for all Deltans in the bill.
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