Lanre Ogunyemi, the representative of Ojo Constituency 2 at the Lagos State House of Assembly, has been severally rated as one of the best hands produced for lawmaking business by the state. This may be one reason he has been made the chairman of the House Committee on Education. In this interview, he lists the problems affecting education in the state and tells of how he hopes to battle these challenges through cooperation with the executive arm of the state. EROMOSELE EBHOMELE was there
Let’s know how it has been in the eighth Assembly so far.
So far, it’s been so good. We started the eighth Assembly precisely on the 8th of June and the Assembly needed time to actually settle down. That’s why we were not able to constitute our committees until very recently; some of the reasons being that first, we needed to sort out the issue of the House leadership which we were able to do on the first day. After this, we needed to amend our House rules and I happen to have the privilege of being a member of the ad-hoc committee that amended the rules. And that took us some time. You also are not unaware of some of the reports in civil service in the executive committee that Governor Akinwunmi Ambode was trying to bring up and that also we needed to do with the government because we must be in tandem with the executive. Basically also, the government needed to put in place its executive council which is subject to the ratification of the House as provided for in the 1999 constitution. This also took a while because the governor needed to assemble its team that he knows would be able to deliver on his campaign promises. This took a while and the House waited, conducted interviews and ratified the list which culminated in what you see today as the executive council of the Lagos state government. By and large, we have been very, very busy. But of course, I will say that we really have not been able to do much on oversight, though the ministries have been there run by the civil servants prior to the appointment of the executive council. Now that they are on bored, the House of Assembly has constituted its committee almost immediately after the commissioners were sworn in. So, we are ready to go full blast. I think in the last three months of the eighth Assembly, it’s being trying to prepare the pedestal upon which we would be able to carry out our statutory responsibilities in the next three and half years. We have started the process of looking at outstanding bills trying to see where we stopped in the seventh Assembly alongside the executive so as to make sure that we come up with laws from there and see how we can also bring in some new laws in the eighth Assembly.
For emphasis sir, what is the relationship between the House and the executive? You talked about review of outstanding bills and the House recently had an issue with the state Attorney-General for asking the House to stop further action on the outstanding bills and this is fuelling speculations of a friction…
Well, let me say that those speculations cannot be rife to the extent that this executive council has just come on board, the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice is new and the House feels that he should have approached the matter in a much manner than he did. It was the Attorney-General who wrote to the House reminding us of certain pending bills which we are also not unmindful of. And we set machinery in motion to look at the bills only for him to write another letter to the House to stop legislative activities on the bills and we feel there is a better way to put it rather than ask us to stop legislative activities on those bills. And we feel that for every bill to become life, even though we have done stakeholders meeting on the bills, there can still be an executive briefing. My personal opinion is that they should not reduce our relationship to just writing of letters. They should build the bridge by approaching the leadership of the House. He must appear before the House and that is what is called executive briefing. As the Attorney-General, he should come and tell us areas where there should be addition or where they feel should be extracted. That’s the way to go. But that, even in itself, is not enough to cause a rift; we are just calling attention to the fact that things can be done in a much better manner and that the approach could be better.
What lessons did you learn from the recently organised town hall meeting by the House and what were the challenges in your constituency as relayed by your people?
Let me start by saying that for every public forum or interaction that has to do with the populace, there will always be a lot to learn about the disposition of people to your activities and those of the government, your representation. I think that relating with the people on a day-to-day or quarterly basis can never really be enough especially being that you are holding power in proxy. I think the lesson is majorly that you should never be far away from the people, no matter what. A lot of commendations were there for me in respect of the fact that my first tenure was basically successful because I was always there for the people. You know it is an easy thing for political office holders to alienate themselves from the people once they assume office. A big lesson to learn is that it could be centralised, institutionalised or become compulsory that every representative must relate with the people they represent. The town hall meeting was a big one, a very strong initiative from the Speaker for which we all are very grateful that once in a year, prior to the commencement of activities that lead to the annual budget, people must be consulted to ask for their input, feel their pulse, and know what they feel the state should be doing which it is not doing. The interaction was successful. And for the challenges, they are virtually same all over the state, except for certain peculiar areas; the issues of roads, deficit of infrastructure, electricity and sundry other issues and I think the people are not asking for too much. Much as I agree that government cannot always have enough finds, I think that it is an eye opener that we must be able to, specifically, in the face of paucity of funds, direct available funds to critical areas of needs of our people. To determine these critical areas, you must section with the people and jaw-jaw with them. That is what this interaction has done for us.
You are now the chairman, House Committee on Education of the House. What is your committee bringing to the table in respect of education in Lagos State?
I have the privilege of having served as a member of the Education Committee of the last Assembly. And with the benefit of that experience and being an educationist myself, I know that there is a lot much more we can do in the education sector of our state. I think we need to look at critical areas of quality education which I strongly know can be enhanced. I know that the government cannot do it all. And therefore, we must address the decay in infrastructure in education. The government of the state is enormously investing in infrastructure in education in the area of building of schools, providing furniture, training of teachers to enhance teaching as well as providing the right environment. But I think there is still much to be done. Education is the bedrock of development-social, economic and others. And if you get it right in education, the future of our kids and nation would be adequately secured. That is why I think there must not be difference in standard, in quality of education anywhere in the state. The schools in the rural areas of the state must not be different in standard from the schools in the urban areas. We must encourage our teachers to want to work in any part of the state and detest situations where you have a drift of teachers from the rural to the urban area. There must be incentive for our teachers to work in the rural areas. Of course, we have the Education Endowment Fund. There is paucity of fun, no doubt, so what can we do with our endowment fund? We must look at that area and ensure that our schools wear a new look, the teachers are inspired, the children are happy to learn. And, of course, I also wish we would also have very good atmosphere in all our tertiary institutions including at the Lagos State University which is now regarded as crisis-filled. I think we can do a whole lot more to ensure enhanced co-existence between the authorities of LASU and the various unions. These are some things to make sure that our children graduate when they should and make sure that certificates are ready when they should be ready as well as ensure that issues of missing scripts are stopped. We would be doing all these in the course of our oversight functions. We would also look at all our laws setting up the various tertiary institutions and see where there is need for amendment, and of course, we won’t be doing this in isolation but in cooperation with the executive arm of government and institutions concerned. I hate to use the word ‘disabled’, but we must look at the area of people with special needs. Apart from the school for the blind, I am not sure that the government has consciously created a school for people with special needs. I think we should also be looking at that area since they are part of our society. We would look at the area of discipline, funding, infrastructure, and not fail to encourage the private sector to also invest in the education of our state. They say they have been overburdened with corporate social responsibility, but we still feel that they, and good-spirited people should still come up and assist. These are some of the things we are bringing in and we pray they lead to tremendous improvements.
This vision is sound, but how easily can this vision be accomplished?
Everybody must come on board. One of the major accomplishments is for all of us to come together. We must have a summit in the education sector where we would be able to bring everyone together. Do not forget that we are going to be regulating and monitoring the activities of those who provide private education in our state. All the stakeholders must come together; what is the state of our education today? Where do we want it to be? How can we get there? These are some of the things we would be looking at. And I think that is better accomplished through a synergy of collaboration of efforts by all and sundry. We would not politicise education or be sentimental about it.
What other major areas of interest are there to you in this committee?
There is the area of education in the riverine area of the state. Currently, my discovery is that we do not have enough teachers in the riverine areas and the rural areas of the state. And where you have teachers, they are not always on ground the whole week and that is creating some kind of disadvantage for children in those areas. I think we must be looking at the possibility of providing accommodations for teachers in those areas. Secondly, there used to be rural allowance for teachers. It is a special allowance granted to teachers to encourage them to stay in the rural areas. They can be there all through the week and during weekends, if they need to see their families, they would come upland. This area must be critically addressed because I feel that with the experience I have, we need to do more for education in our rural areas. The second thing I discovered is overpopulation in schools. We need to be creating more schools. For a long time now, the state government has not really created new secondary and primary schools. We are not talking of building of structures, but building new schools so as to depopulate our classrooms. There is the United Nations standard of about 35 to 40 children in a classroom congenial and spacious enough to learn. We should be addressing that. We must look at the possibility of building more schools because some children trek a lot of miles to get to school. The boat mishap that happened in my constituency sometime ago was because children from 36 villages attend a particular secondary school. They would have to come in the morning everyday, there are no hostels for them to live in; if there were hostels, they would have a place to stay and their parents could visit them when they please. So it is a whole bug gamut of needs that we must holistically look at. Education is expensive but we must invest in it because by so doing, we are protecting the future of our state through the production of very good people who would be able to hold the state when a lot of people there now are passing the baton. I’m passionate about this, maybe because I am representing a constituency which is about 40 percent upland and 60 percent riverine or rural.
Recently, the state governor proposed a single tenure of five years for the Vice Chancellor of LASU. Do you see this as part of the solution the crises in the institution?
Well, I do not want to be pre-emptive or categorical about that. It is before the House and we have done the first reading. Part of the proposed amendment to the law setting up LASU is the issue of five years single tenure for the vice chancellor. It is envisaged and expected by the proponents that it could stem the trend of crises in the institution, because, if you also go into history, you would see that the last three or four administrations in LASU have always been cries-ridden because when you have issues by the unions or students with the vice chancellor, the next thing you see is that: “okay, he will not have a second term.” And the VC is out there trying to wriggle through the crises to be able to get a second term. I think that the proponents think it is a way out because if the person is coming in, he knows he has a single tenure. I think if we are successful in passing the single tenure for the VC of LASU, I want to believe that it would enhance effectiveness in administration and reduce drastically the crises the university has bedevilled with over time. This is my personal opinion. There are those who would believe that five years is too short for the VC but I think that if you don’t do anything within five years, you may never be able to do anything meaningful.
The National Assembly recently asked the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board to give a timeline of three years for candidates who passed the examination and to stop transferring candidates to universities not their choices. What do you think of this?
I think JAMB needs to get it right. It needs to put in place an administrative machinery to be able to match the number of available space with the number of people it is churning out as having passed the examination. The marked difference between these numbers is what is creating the problem and you start to have overlap year in and out. I am in line with the thoughts of the National Assembly that you must clear the outstanding of those who have passed the exams and have not gained admission. But the way to go is not to totally obliterate their exams for three years. I think they can review the number of admissions that it makes in those three years to the barest minimum, maybe 40 to 50 percent so that it can close up the gap.