For three consecutive years, Imo State has topped the list of applicants for the Joint Administration and Matriculation Board (JAMB). This cheery development simply means that the number of the state’s indigenes seeking higher education is on a steady rise.
Worthy of note is the fact that over 80 per cent of this number choose the Imo State University annually as their university of first choice. From far and near, all Imo State indigenes seeking admission are headed to the state-owned university. Why? It is tuition-free for indigenes.
This also applies to other state-owned tertiary institutions including the Imo State Polytechnic Umuagwo, and the newly established State College of Education in Ihitte Uboma, among others.
The reason for this enhanced interest in education is not farfetched, the state government operates free education programme that covers from primary school to university, first of its kind in the country.
Seven years ago, the state governor Rochas Okorocha, on assumption of office, announced the free education programme, which was dismissed with a wave of the hand. But in spite of the initial setbacks and bureaucratic bottlenecks, the state government has sustained and improved on the free education programme in the last seven years with remarkable results.
According to available statistics, apart from the number of indigenes applying for admission into the state-owned university annually, the population of the state’s primary and secondary school pupils has skyrocketed from 276,000 in 2011 to more than one million in 2017.
Governor Okorocha attributed the unprecedented rise in enrolment of students and pupils in the state’s school system to the free education policy.
Apart from initiating the free education policy, the state government has also built hundreds of new schools and renovated existing but dilapidated school buildings and other infrastructure across the state.
The state governor once said, “Education is key and education is power. We must build this generation and the era of a new Imo and a new Nigeria starts with this generation. It appears to me that we can no longer get it right with our generation, but we can get it right with this generation. So, all emphasis must be made on how to better the lives of these young ones through education. Education remains the light, education remains the power, education remains the key and education put together is life”.
He stated further that, “I think that education is one commodity that every child must have and every child is entitled to, despite the economic situation we face in our nation. It is of a truth that we have placed so much emphasis on education and we have built several Schools.
Our School population has grown in such a geometric progression, but I’m not satisfied yet. I will only be satisfied when every child in Imo State has access to free and qualitative education”.
According to the Speaker of the Imo State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon Acho Ihim, the free, qualitative and compulsory education programme in Imo State was dismissed by all past governors as an impossible task, “but the reality of the programme today and its attending benefits for our people is a testimony that the Okorocha-led administration has done well”.
He assured that the House will continue to support the programme by making legislations to back it even after the expiration of the present administration, “the benefits of the free education programme cannot be wished away or turned into an object of politics. Our major industry in this state is education and the free education programme has given it a fillip”.
Also commending the programme, some of the benefitting students, noted that it is the best that has ever happened in the history of the state.
Miss Peace Emeruo, a graduate of Industrial Chemistry from the Imo State University, said, “I was living in Makurdi with my mother who is a widow when we learnt that Imo State University is tuition-free for indigenes. At first I did not believe, I thought it was one of those politics but my mother encouraged me to choose the school when I applied for JAMB. Today the rest is history as they say. I am a graduate and my immediate younger brother is in 200 level studying Mass Communication. This is at no cost to our poor mum”.