Recently, I took a trip to Imo State on a performance assessment tour of the government of Rochas Okorocha. The idea was to see for myself how far activities, or lack of them, of the Okorocha administration, have affected residents of the state.
I began from a small community in Obowo Local Government where, under an apu tree, a pregnant woman in her late twenties sat watching sturdy young men play table tennis. About ten feet from the tennis table parked a few motorbikes whose owners simply sat or stood by, chatting away the afternoon boredom. Behind the woman, under a mud house plastered with cement, two other young men sat on a bench, a draughtboard on their laps, moving pieces of the game up and about the board. One of them, dark and bespectacled, is a fresh graduate of Imo State University preparing to go for the mandatory National Youth Service in June or July.
He refused to give his name for safety reasons, but agreed to talk to me candidly. His tuition in 2011, before governor Rochas Okorocha’s ‘Free Education’ at all levels of education got implemented, was N53,750. Then free education happened, and he was informed tuition had more than doubled to N120,000.
The next session, he was issued a crossed-cheque of N100,000 from the state government, as part of his tuition. He had to beckon on his parents for the remaining N20,000 which made up the fee. He paid the N20,000 – described by students of Imo-owned-tertiary institutions as ‘ancillary fee’ – every of the remaining three sessions he spent in the school before graduation. Now that he’s done with studies, he has paid N20,000 for the collection of his statement of result, N5000 for what the school termed ‘verification fee’ and another N5000 termed ‘accreditation levy’. He told me that before the era of the current administration, nobody paid a kobo to collect statement of result. He also said he didn’t understand what the other levies meant, but suspected the state government just conspired with the University authorities to impose such levies on students to offset the cost of the so-called free education.
Students of Imo State University who are not indigenous to the state pay the N120,000 in full without any subsidy from any quarters. I was told the N120,000 has recently been upwardly reviewed to N150,000 for certain courses, while departments like Medicine and Law pay tuition ranging from N170,000 to N190,000.
The story was corroborated by dozens of students of the tertiary institution, including others from Federal University of Technology Owerri (FUTO), who I talked to. Although students of FUTO are not part of the beneficiaries of the free education, some of them do have fair knowledge, for reason of proximity, of what goes on in IMSU.
In the State-owned Polytechnic in Umuagwo, indigenes pay ‘ancillary fee’ of N25,000, while non-indigenes pay the over N60,000 for new intakes and less for old ones. Many of the indigenes I spoke to in campus stated that they are on subsidized education, not ‘free’ education.
In the State-owned university, I noticed there were new, big buildings. But they were all TETFUND projects, funded by Nigeria’s Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND), formerly ETF. The buildings were massive, but scattered in a pattern that suggests the University compound lacked a plan.
A senior student in one of the Biological Sciences told me that lecturers ask students for money and/or sex for grades. I asked if she thinks the authorities are doing anything about it, to which she replied in the negative, insisting that students are victimized if they ever complain.
A male student and his girlfriend resting inside a garden at the centre of the school sounded like lecturers asking money and/or sex for grades was normal. He simply told me it’s what happens everywhere.
FREE HEALTHCARE FOR PREGNANT WOMEN AND NURSING MOTHERS?
The pregnant woman I saw in Obowo told me she doesn’t go to state-owned hospitals or health centres. I asked why. She said there were considerable delays in attending to people, who throng the place in large numbers under the illusion of free healthcare for pregnant women and nursing mothers as always announced in state-owned radio and TV stations. She said people end up spending more in government-owned hospitals than they spend in private hospitals. She said the government-owned hospitals build bills into various exercises that end up amounting to something higher than can even be called medical bill.
The woman spoke in fluent English and dismissed the claim by the state government that healthcare in Imo State was free for certain individuals.
‘Why haven’t you people complained to the state government?’, I asked her.
She acted surprised, and told me everybody knew the state government should not be taken seriously.
‘They just go on radio to say pregnant women don’t pay anything in government hospitals. But we know they are lying’.
I confirmed her claim from a few other pregnant women and nursing mothers in different parts of the State, including Okwelle, in Onuimo Local Government Area and Umuchima, in Okigwe Local Government. A nursing mother in Okwelle told me she was not delivered in government hospital because it was just about the same cost as using a privately owned one. She said the private hospitals were better because the personnel in them treated patients more respectfully.
Among those I spoke with in Okigwe was a trader who pointed at his wife sitting just beside him doing some paper work. He said she gave birth to their last child in the state-owned General Hospital where they were asked to pay for all manner of things, except ‘bill on child delivery’. The sum of all they paid exceeded by far what would ordinarily have been termed bill on child delivery.
I asked his wife to confirm the story, and she smiled, insisting that whatever we heard about free healthcare for pregnant women in Imo State was just ‘a lie’.
To be continued…
Gideon Attah lives in Enugu