“The future of Ogun West must be great. I will not rest until our youths are gainfully employed, our roads are fixed and our educational standards are improved. Our forefathers will never forgive us if we do not improve on what was left behind.”
— Senator Tolu Odebiyi
Both Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the leader of the Action Group and Chief Jonathan Odebiyi, another chieftain of the party, were elected into the Western House of Assembly in 1951, following the promulgation of the Macpherson Constitution. Chief JAO Odebiyi, father of the Senator representing Ogun West in the current ninth National Assembly, Chief Tolu Odebiyi, later emerged the Minister of Education in the year when the Western Region became self-governing under the able and forthright leadership of Chief Awolowo as premier.
A foremost educationist, Chief JAO Odebiyi became the pioneer principal of Egbado College, Ilaro in 1951. He facilitated the eventual establishment of the famous Comprehensive High School, Aiyetoro in the Egbado Division of Ogun State. Only a few compatriots may probably be aware that the teaching and learning of Social Studies in Nigeria began from this prestigious college.
Before Awo became the Leader of Government Business in 1952, the colonial government of Nigeria had never awarded up to 20 varsity scholarships in a year to its students. But by 1952, the government of the Western Region awarded 200 university scholarships to the students that hailed from the region, the very first of such in the country.
The Western Region blazed a trail when it launched the first ever Free Universal Primary Education in the country on January 17, 1955. The policy paper of the Action Group on the free education scheme was adopted at the first conference of the party in Owo, where Chief JAO Odebiyi and other prominent members of the AG were in attendance.
In his radio broadcast to the people of the West on the momentous occasion of the inauguration of free education, Chief Awolowo underscored the foresight of his administration: “The opportunity which the Government of this Region offers to all of us in the way of education of our children is far-reaching. I appeal to all of you to seize this opportunity in real earnest. I do not at all minimize the problems that are bound to confront us as we proceed with the execution of all our educational schemes. But if all of you will cooperate, in a spirit of willingness and loyalty with the government, the task of tackling and solving any problems that may arise will, God being our helper, be considerably lightened.”
The free education programme turned out to be a huge success. And the beneficiaries of the scheme are leaving no stone unturned in order expand access to education. Just recently, the governor of Ogun State, Prince Dapo Abiodun, abolished all forms of payment in all public primary and secondary schools as well as technical colleges across the length and breadth of the state. It reduced the cost of transfer form to public primary and secondary schools from twenty thousand naira to five thousand naira. The new administration also restored payment of running costs to the schools.
During the silver jubilee of the historic launch of the Free Universal Primary Education in January 1980, Chief Obafemi Awolowo addressed the Government and people of Ogun State at the Ogun State House of Assembly. He emphasized that “Education is a fundamental right, and it is the inalienable right of every Nigerian citizen to be educated free by the state. To treat education as a privilege, the opportunity to acquire which is limited to the children of the well-to-do and the rich, or which must be paid for from loan given to the student by the state, is a most misguided policy. For the avoidance of doubt, by free education we mean the abolition of not only of fees but also of all kinds of levies, by whatever name called that are still being imposed and collected in some parts of the country.”
Unfortunately, due to the misguided foray of the military into governance, which led to proliferation of states, take-over of schools (Voluntary Agencies, as they were then called) and other debilitating consequences, delivering free education at all levels in the contemporary Nigeria would be nearly impossible except there is a surgical restructuring of the nation. Therefore, we must praise those state governments that have accorded free elementary and secondary education with abolition of all fees a priority. And those individuals and public office holders who, through scholarships, offer free tertiary education to members of their own constituencies deserve all our praises.
Most often, the children of the poor in our society are disadvantaged. Shouldering the burden of tertiary education of their wards is difficult. Hence, cases of talented students dropping off from school or experiencing poor performance on account of lack of fund are not new in the Nigerian system.
Friday, October 11, remains a red letter day in the annals of Ogun West. It was the day Senator Odebiyi in one fell swoop gave university scholarships to 50 students who hail from Ogun West. These students, who “show promise – with minimum of Second Class Lower”, constitute the first batch of Ogun West indigenes to benefit from the scheme, which is from the second year till graduation. Expectedly, the joy of these students and their parents knew no bounds at such a unique ceremony filled with nostalgia of the golden days of the Western Region. A new lease of life has been provided for these children of the masses. Odebiyi’s latest kind gesture will surely reverberate and produce ripples among the community of Yewa/Awori youths. The passion to excel in order to get a free university education will now define the times of students of Ogun West extraction.
We applaud the giant strides of the governor of Ogun State, Prince Dapo Abiodun, in the education sector, especially his free education policy at the primary and secondary school levels with abolition of all fees. We laud the feats accomplished by Senator Tolu Odebiyi for complementing government’s efforts by giving university scholarships to members of his constituency.
By Soyombo Opeyemi,
The Nation Newspaper