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EDUCATION

Interrogating Bayelsa’s Education Tax Law

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For many in Bayelsa, the support shown towards the newly introduced Education Tax law is unprecedented. OSA OKHOMINA examines the issues and benefits of the law and the scepticism by opposition in the state.

Unlike its predecessors, the Bayelsa State Governor, Hon Seriake Dickson has left no one in doubt of his readiness to ensure that every child in the state have access to every form of education despite the huge capital demand of such venture.

Already, the search for education excellence for the children of the state has led to a whooping N50 billion investment in infrastructure and provisions of resources in the primary, secondary and higher education sector of the economy.

Dickson, who is known to be infectious with his dreams and aspirations, have also convinced the people of the state, including the political class led by the State House of Assembly of his vigour to pursue the realisation of academic excellence for the children of the state.

In his quest, the governor signed two new bills into law, aimed at consolidating the achievements his administration has made in the education sector in the last five years.

At the signing ceremony, he said the two bills; The Bayelsa State Higher Education Student Loan Bill 2017 and the Bayelsa Education Development Trust Fund Bill 2017 are very critical in providing sustainable development for the state’s education.

According to him, the bills became necessary because of the urgent need to develop human capacity in the state, which he said, is a compelling need in order to secure the future of children and youths.

“Whereas ‎we have been making critical investment in the last five years in education but it is from today that we will be building on the foundation of sustainability. How all the schools we have built and are building will be sustained, how the legacy of investment in human capacity will be maintained in the years to come.”

While thanking members of the House of Assembly for considering the bills expedient, Dickson announced that his government has spent almost N50 billion in the development of educational infrastructure and decried the previous decay in the sector as a result of the long years of neglect.

He stressed that any serious government must take issues of security and education very serious for rapid development and called on all those who earn salaries in the state to avail themselves the opportunity of contributing to the Education Trust Fund which‎ is now compulsory by reason of the new law.

“By the provisions of this law, everyone who is working and earning salary, doing business or involved in contracts in the state is liable to pay the education development levy.”

The governor who announced the appointment of renowned educationist and former Minister of‎ Science and Technology, Prof. Turner Isoun to head the trust fund, pleaded with the organised labour in the state not to allow themselves to be used to unduly politicize the new law, as it affects in one way or the other, everyone desirous of quality education for their children or wards.

Governor Dickson added that with the new model schools, the ongoing constituency secondary schools and the delightful Ijaw National Academy as well as other educational interventions, Bayelsa State is blazing the trail in the nation’s education sector and poised to maintain a pole position.

He canvassed the support of the people of the state to enable his administration provide quality education, particularly, for the less privileged children, saying that the time has come for the state to take up the challenge of reversing the trend, where youths engage in unproductive activities that could truncate their future.

While highlighting his administration’s achievements in the sector, he noted that the recent educational development laws were a culmination of the substantial investments and legacies in education.

Providing some insight into the educational policies of his administration, the governor stated that the Educational Development Trust Fund is expected to receive between N100 and N250 million monthly, while that of the Higher Education Students Loan would be solely funded by the government.

He re-emphasized that it was mandatory for workers in the public service, government officials, including the private sector to contribute to the fund, as the beneficiaries are the children of the average Bayelsan.

“All the things we have laboured to do are only foundations for you people as future generations to build upon. You never can tell among you, those to become governors, deputy governors, senators and so on. So clearly the future of this state is in your hands”.

At another forum with students in the state, the Bayelsa Stae governor, said “Let me use this opportunity again to call on every Bayelsan to gear up for the new Bayelsa, the new Bayelsa of enlightenment, the new Bayelsa where we want to move away from crime, criminality, cultisim and other social vices, the new Bayelsa where we want to lead the way as far as educational opportunities and development are concerned in this country.”

He stated that with the massive investment the restoration government has made in the education sector in the last five years and the sincere commitment to sustain it, there is no doubt that Bayelsa now has a strong educational foundation that is a reference point across the country.

In his remarks, the president of National Union Bayelsa Students worldwide, Comrade Ozu Fredrick Important, had told the governor of their total support for the two education laws which were recently passed into law, especially the Education Trust Fund Law.

The NUBSS president, while drumming support for the laws, expressed optimism that it would take education to the next level in the state and called on all students and parents to support it just as he also appreciated the governor for his massive support to students in the state.

He said, “We want to use this medium to tell our parents, businessmen, corporate bodies and everyone that as students we are in support of the two bills that have been signed into law”.

Governor Dickson over the weekend, who justified the need for institutionalizing the two educational development laws, said they would assist in building a crop of highly skilled and educated Bayelsa youths, to meet the challenges of a competitive and industrialised world now and in the future.

In its show of solidarity and in answer to the clarion call of the state governor, the Bayelsa State House of Assembly declared it’s commitment to the enforcement and development of a Bayelsan child through compulsory education bill.

The leadership of the Bayelsa Assembly, at a one-day public hearing in Yenagoa, in collaboration with the state’s  Ministry of Education, International Federation of Female Lawyers (FIDA), and other corporate organisations, stated that the public hearing was important because it would mandate the traditional ruler, parents and guidance to avoid the use of their children for commercial purposes

The chairman, House Committee on Education, Hon Gentle Emelah, while declaring the public hearing open, said that, “Bayelsa State has been education, education, education. We are here to look at the bill that will affect our children’s lives, the future of Bayelsa and project the state in a better light.

“We believe that we should come together and look at the issues down the line. As we agree, we will be in a better position to drive the whole process. Education makes it easier to lead people. When people are educated, when you talk to them they will understand better. It takes a long time to convince an illiterate on what to do. The essence is to see how we can make the bill a better one, and collectively make Bayelsa a better state”.

But, a Niger Delta-based civil society organization, Patriotic Citizens of Nigeria (PACON) has demanded for the dissolution of the State Scholarship Board, citing incompetence and dereliction of duty resulting in the abandoning of scholarship students in foreign universities by the board, as reasons.

The petition, which was dated June 5, 2017, and signed by the conveners of PACON, Ebikebuna Aluzu and  Debekeme Powedei, was addressed to the chairman,  House Committee on Education and copies sent to the Speaker and the commissioner for Education.

It alleged that the scholarship board misappropriated over N300 million released by the state government in 2013 for payment of bursary allowances to students of Bayelsa State origin in higher institutions of learning.

The group stated that the board failed to discharge its responsibility after making thousands of students to undergo an excruciating process of registering online for the bursary payment.

Part of the statement read,“We write to intimate you of the perilous state of students of Bayelsa extraction on foreign scholarship who have been exposed to the insensitivity and incompetence of the Bayelsa State Scholarship Board”, PACON said.

It listed the plight of 11 students (seven of which are in their final year) at King’s University College, Aplaku Hills, Ghana, and another final year student at Knurst University College, who were barred from writing their second semester examinations in May due to the failure of the board to pay their outstanding fees, as some of the instances of the board’s incompetence.

The human rights group urged the House of Assembly to compel the scholarship board to provide a detailed account of monies it had received for scholarship and bursary payments, number of beneficiaries and those who have not been paid any stipends and other entitlements since 2013.

“It is unfair to expend tax payers money on incompetent employees; the attitude of the board is portraying the state in a bad light,” PACON stated.



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