Time and time again, Otunba Lai Oyeduntan has functioned prominently as prime change-agent in the political and socio-economic terrains of the State of Osun. For instance, he was Commissioner for Health to the glorious administration of Chief Bisi Akande, spanning from May 1999 to May 2003. Today, he is the anchor of the Osun Schools Infrastructure Development Project Committee popularly called O’SCHOOLS, the Project Management Office championing the cause of the massive revolution for revamping and reinvigorating the infrastructure of public schools in the State of Osun. In this recent interview with NIYI OLASINDE, the seasoned technocrat pungently conducts a lucid exposition of O’SCHOOLS project, what it sets out to do, what it is doing, what it has done so far and what its next levels of endeavour are. Excerpts:
Oyeduntan: I am Lai Oyeduntan, Chairman of the State of Osun Schools Infrastructure Development Project Committee.
OSDM: We fully appreciate the activities of O’SCHOOLS. But a segment of the people is still ignorant of the project. Kindly educate our readers about the activities and policy thrust of O’SCHOOLS.
Oyeduntan: Osun Schools Infrastructure Development Committee is the Project Management Office (PMO) of Schools Infrastructure Development Project for the State of Osun. The Schools Infrastructure Development Project is an intervention mechanism, one of the intervention mechanisms introduced by the government of Ogbeni Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola to revamp the education sector of the state. Our project is essentially to superintend the development of the most decayed and largely dilapidated structures in the schools for basic education in our state. I don’t know whether I will agree with you that the public does not know. If anything at all, we have had a lot of exposure in terms of what we stand for, what we do, how we do it and even the activities that we have been engaged in. The name, the coinage ‘’O’SCHOOLS’’ has been the name for the committee to the extent that many of us have had to answer to the name ‘’O’SCHOOLS’’. O’SCHOOLS is the alias of the committee.
OSDM: Now sir, people would be eager to know what constitutes the difference between the rot of the past and your intervention so far.
Oyeduntan: Firstly, there’s no difference. It is a development. It is an enhancement. It is an enhancement of the environment where our teaching and learning functions take place. Why I say there’s no difference? One, the setting on which we are doing our intervention is based on the existing schools. The schools are there, but they have deteriorated so badly that they had become dysfunctional. Yes, some people started that idea in the past, and it is time to improve on it, to modernize it, to bring it up to track with modern Twenty-First Century standards. So what we’ve been making is a transformational projection of what we have been doing and bringing it up to track with the best practices all over the world.
OSDM: There was a time, as a member of the media organ of this administration, that I came under serious, vehement criticism somewhere that the administration was just demolishing school structures, collapsing buildings and so on and so forth. Please, people would want to know the truth of this.
Oyeduntan: Well, the truth is that we have had to remove dangerously dilapidated structures from our schools. One, at the beginning of this committee’s assignment, we toured the schools and found structures that constituted immediate danger to the users of the premises and this made us to invite the heads of the schools; that is the headmasters and the principals to give us reports and file their returns and give us details of such structures in their premises that are considered to constitute immediate danger to students. We received their requests and we found out that four thousand and fifty five (4,055) structures were noted to be dangerously dilapidated. You must know, for emphasis, we only go to remove those structures that have been identified by the schools. So we only go to those schools on invitation by the heads of the schools to help remove dangerously dilapidated structures. What that means in essence, is that whatever structures we remove, would have no adverse effect on the capacity of the affected school to function the morning after; because we are only invited to come and remove structures that were not in use as at the date of removal. So it is not true that the intention was to put the schools and the users in hazard or difficulties; the intention was not haphazard. The structures were demolished based on the specification of the users. It was structured and it was mapped out.
OSDM: There was a time it was alleged that pupils at a certain location in the state were made to trek from Ipetu-Ijesa to Ijebu-Ijesa on account of demolition of their school structures. I for one didn’t believe the story but we need clarification for the sake of the public, especially those who heard it similarly but could not have the mind to censor it properly. Sir is it true?
Oyeduntan: It is not true. It is not possible. It is not practical that we ever moved pupils/students from Ipetu-Ijesa to Ijebu-Ijesa or any of such locations. First of all, I’ve thrown a challenge to the public. Anybody who can identify a structure that was removed without the invitation of the affected schools should please let us know or contact us. I don’t want you to confuse an attempt by a committee in the Ministry of Education to implement the new schooling structures. That is a different thing entirely. That was a recent event and the government is on top of it to make sure that this is done properly. For us as O’SCHOOLS, our relics, purview, our mandate is to superintend the introduction of infrastructure in our schools, and nobody has suffered any deprivation as a result of our activities. The only wholesale demolition we witnessed so far are those school structures marked for demolition for the purpose of immediate redevelopment; and as of today, twenty-four (24) of such schools have been developed.
OSDM: Sir, for the optimists, hopes are very high about the future of the O’SCHOOLS project. Could you please highlight the plans of the project for now and the future?
Oyeduntan: Yes, the practical it is. I mean it’s not just the optimists; even the realist should have cause to be hopeful. Why? Our plan is a minimum delivery of at least 50 Elementary schools, 33 Middle schools and between 10 to 20 High schools, within the next 15 months. I said 15 months because the high schools is a much bigger project which are projects that will take a longer time to accomplish or complete. And we have started. Out of those numbers, twenty-four sites are already under construction and some of them would be delivered in a matter of weeks. It is possible and it is not exceedingly optimistic that people are expectant. Government of the State of Osun is committed and we are, on our part as committee, we share the passions of the governor; we share the vision of the government and we are committed to that delivery of quality service and programmes for which this government is renowned.
OSDM: With 900-seater capacity schools on ground, the general public becomes more highly apprehensive that those structures could necessitate merger of schools. Missionary schools both Christian and Muslim in particular, their initial owners are becoming agitated that the names and identities of their owners could be lost in the process of possible merger. What is your take on this?
Oyeduntan: I would have to clarify certain things. The policy of restructuring the schooling system, the policies of even the average size, optimum size of these schools are not arbitrary. They are not new and they are not even far-fetched. The results of that reorganization will justify the exercise. Right now, most of these schools are already of that same size. We have primary schools with the population in excess of one thousand (1,000) all over the state. We have secondary schools with population in excess of 2,000 plus all over the state. But what do you have? In one premises, you have three, four schools. In one premises, you have several schools. All we are doing is rationalization; which is optimizing the allocation, the application of resources. Part of the resources is the teachers, and they are on top of the chart. Why do you have schools with two teachers, three teachers; four teachers; five teachers; and they have two or more schools in that same premises? Why not aggregate them and reschedule them and make the time table and allocation of teachers a lot easier? Then comes the issue of maintaining the schools. The environment is very, very important for the development of the mind. That is even more so for the young mind, the young impressive mind. That is the budget and that is what we are aiming at – That the environment should be conducive; and be of support to a developing mind that is learning and maturing into wholesome personality.
OSDM: We realize that this is the era of ‘O’ programmes and schemes. The OYES programme for instance injects about N200 million into the economy of the State of Osun monthly. What exact impact does O’SCHOOLS, even at this implementation stage, have on the economy of the state?
Oyeduntan: Yes. I would like to approach your question in two parts. One, “O” concept which is essentially branded; and for students of Psychology and Marketing, we understand issues from the back. Really to anchor the subconscious of the citizens, to harness their talents to the political unit – and this is all over the world. Go to America. America the beautiful! The average child in America does not know anywhere else other than America. And it instills and imbibes in them to accord the loyalty and commitment to service and the selflessness to contribute their quota to that America the beautiful. What we have now – Osun the beautiful! O’SCHOOLS, O’YES – “O” projects! “O” programmes! O’ Commitment! O’ Loyalty! O‘ Governance! A governance concept that focuses on the physical; that enters with programmes and activities that are measured with success or failure or the benefits obtained from it by the people. For the “O” concepts, the branding works well and wroughts wonders. That is one aspect of our programmes. The second question is the economic impact of projects and programmes. As I’ve always said that we cannot be talking of the naira or monetary value of projects we are having without considering the overall contribution in non-monetary terms to the overall economic development of the state. Also, well, our philosophy in O’SCHOOLS for the completion, philosophy for the supervision and the strategy for the site work focuses on the local economy. Go to any of our sites, every resource being used are largely sourced locally. Local builders, local artisans, local tradesmen, local supplies of materials and to a large extent, it’s a leverage policy to put the money that we are spending into the pockets of the people and looking at the big share which the projected capitals committed to the school projects, we are looking at the overall benefit the people can derive or which can accrue to them, even at the implementation stage.
OSDM: At the very inception of the incumbent administration, precisely in 2011. The first-ever Education Summit was held for the State of Osun. Is your committee a direct end-product of that summit; because some people are still criticizing the summit as purposeless and unnecessary?
Oyeduntan: Well, I’m sorry to say that I’m not aware that anybody has criticized that summit. I have not seen any fellow doing that! The summit was widely attended. It was widely graced from all over the world by people who are knowledgeable in education, policies, and even in intellectual aspect of it. I am going to answer that question simply because I was involved, both in planning and implementation; and the after-effects. How did we come about the summit? Long before Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola came into office, right from the moment he indicated interest and was given the ticket to contest, he had shown a lot of interest in education. As far back as 2004, he sponsored a remedial programme for Osun boys and girls preparing for external examinations. That time, 2,000 candidates were involved. Extra-mural classes were organized in Osogbo, in Iwo, in Ilesa – about 2,500 candidates I think. And Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola picked the bill to fund the classes, paid for their school certificate entry fee and paid them (the candidates) allowances. When the results came, it was disappointing! It was obvious that there was a lot more wrong with the education sector than trying all these cosmetic approaches for a solution. So between 2005 and 2011, there were so many committees he instituted focusing on education! That is why it was possible that within the first 100 days of his being sworn in, an education committee – a summit chaired by no less a personality than Professor Wole Soyinka took place; inviting resource people from all over the world; many of them, our own people, who had made marks in the United States, in Europe, in the Americas and other parts of the country and Africa. Okay, the summary of the findings at that summit identified that it takes more than the teacher, it takes more than the pupil, it takes more than all of these to have all the impact that it requires to increase the fortunes of the education sector. One of these is that the teacher who will teach must be made more efficient. The students must be well prepared, and of course, the environment must be made more friendly and befitting – more enabling! So, the environment must be properly taken care of and that led to the uniform concept introduced by the Government of the state to encourage and of course to motivate the pupils. Teachers are being recruited and being retrained via programmes of training, retraining and promotion courses. Now, we are talking of the environment – we have the O’MEAL programme, we have O’UNIFORM, even O’TEACHERS, so to say, all came as a result of experts identifying and pointing out the crucial steps to take, to set the sector back on track.
OSDM: Sir, your committee is working on massive reconstruction of public school structures. Are there proper and appropriate quality control strategies on ground to ensure effectiveness and efficiency?
Oyeduntan: O sure, yes! O yes! Look, the essence of having O’SCHOOLS as Project Management Office is to ensure that our office is to help the contractors deliver – not just being there to supervise, we help them to deliver high quality jobs. In all that we do, we are not compromising on quality at all. Our mechanisms for control and supervision, both before, during and after the construction exercises are superb. In fact, I am very proud to say that we have involved a lot of supervision professionals across construction industries. We have approached the Nigerian Institute of Architects, the Nigerian Institute of Engineers, the NIB – the Nigerian Institute of Builders, and Institution of Surveyors – Institutions that control professionals in the building industry to work with us in supervision. From their members, we have appointed people we call TSRs – Technical Site Representatives whose duties are likened to those of site engineers they are resident on the sites, they monitor the construction processes, and that is without prejudices! They hammer on standard professional requirements of supervising consultants as well as our own technical-in-house technical capacity to monitor and supervise work done; to supervise construction work on the site.
OSDM: Sir, the figures you gave for the units of each category of schools to be constructed- are they the maximum figure or they just comprise the first phase of the project?
Oyeduntan: there is no maximum figure, and governance is a continuum. That means until all schools are brought up to par with the set standards, government should not relent in this direction. So we designed and redesigned our schools and they have not changed within the funding capacity of the government. Since funding is limited, we can now only go for what the government can afford and that is why we are limiting our projections to the stated figures. Well, I have this to say that no school project is being left untouched, why? It is because the concept of dilapidation and reconstruction is precise. Every school taken into consideration will not be abandoned.
OSDM: Now, as a father and a prime-mover in turning Osun around, kindly prophesy into the life of the average school child of Osun.
Oyeduntan: I’m not a prophet. But I can tell you – the morning shows the day, you can see that only political stability can enable progress. As for the students, they are a part of the society just like you and I. We can only do our best by providing a conducive environment to enable them achieve their goals. Therefore, all must try hard to create that environment because that will reduce the rate of distraction in the surroundings.