Lying adjacent to the University of Benin, Ekehuan Campus, is Garrick Memorial Secondary School, a privately owned institution, which consists of rows of classroom blocks facing a vast open field. Regularly, especially on weekends, the open field hosts loud parties complemented with shrilling music. From burial ceremonies to wedding receptions to birthday celebrations, the catalogue of activities it hosts is endless.
But on August 2, the Edo State Government released a press statement, signed by the Commissioner for Communication and Orientation, Hon. Paul Ohonbamu, announcing the immediate ban of the use of public school premises, roads and other public places for social events. The rationale for the ban, the government said, was that the act is detrimental to the advancement of learning and the overall development of children who are forced to cope with the adverse after effect of this practice.
“By our ancestry as Edo people, we have always shown the example of public order and decency which others have emulated over the years and this administration is determined to make Edo a model of magnificence and beauty once again,” the release said. “Henceforth, any violation of this decision of government will be dealt with in accordance with extant laws.”
So, although the GMSS parties will continue considering that the school and its property are privately owned, the same will not be the case for its contemporaries that are owned by government.
A ferocious backlash
In a report published by the Vanguard Newspaper 10 days after the ban was announced, it was alleged that a number of Edo State people are not happy with the decision, after some scheduled burial and wedding ceremonies had to be disrupted as a result of the ban. The thrust of the Vanguard article was that the policy was targeted against the poor masses, “who may be unable to afford to hold such ceremonies in event centres, hotels and other private places”.
The article quoted a press release by the Benin Youth Congress condemning the government’s decision. One Osadolor Okonzuwa, who issued a statement on behalf of BYC, said: “The decision came too sudden for those who have made elaborate plans for marriages and burials of loved ones. Partying in houses, schools are age-long customs.”
Okonzuwa claimed that the policy is anti-poor, and a gross disservice to the mass of electorates who favoured the governor’s candidature.
“The saddest part is that youths who survive by installation of canopies and chairs will be out of business since event centres have fixed chairs and tables,” he claimed.
However, it is rather unfortunate that the likes of Okonzuwa whose view on this issue seems precariously shallow was given the privilege of responding on behalf of the masses.
It is sad that Okonzuwa and his co-travellers who claim to be defending the interest of the poor and downtrodden in their response to Obaseki’s policy could not wrap their minds around the fact that preserving the sanctity of these public schools is in fact an action towards the protection of the future of these poor people and their children.
These half-baked activists need to wake up to the very elementary fact that the only sure path out of poverty for these ordinary people is a sound education which is clearly imperilled by the acts which Obaseki has now moved to terminate.
Okonzuwa and his friends must remember that only the children of the poor attend public schools these days, and if Governor Obaseki takes a step to prevent the continued vandalism of these schools by banning partying in their premises, then it is a step invariably targeted at the wellbeing of the less privileged and not the other way round.
Meanwhile, the Special Adviser to the Governor on Basic Education, Dr. Joan Osa Oviawe, explained that the ban by the Edo State Government on the use of premises of public schools for social activities would check vandalism of government infrastructure, create an effective line of communication and strengthen the harmonious relationship between schools and communities where they are located. “With such a measure in place, communities will take over ownership of the infrastructure as critical stakeholders and put the problem of vandalism behind them,” she said.
Law and order for socio-economic advancement
Obaseki’s ban is not a surprising move, judging from the kinds of decisions he has set in motion since becoming the state governor. When he decided to sanitise Benin-City’s busiest spot, Ring Road, he was confronted with lots of criticism. “He should have built a motor garage for us first,” a taxi driver lamented to me recently in the ancient metropolis.
But more than physical infrastructure, Obaseki believes that development starts from the mind, a function of mental gymnastics. If a people cannot think development, then no level of infrastructural progress can lift them out of the muddle of mediocrity.
“People from this side of the world have always believed in doing the wrong things. So, for me, he has done the right thing,” a Doctor of Communications at the University of Benin, Daniel Ekhareafor, noted. “It is the same with his decision to clear Ring Road. Do you know the level of crime in that place before now? What the man is trying to do is that we must have a saner society where people play according to the rules.”
Whether Obaseki’s “doing the right thing” will earn him favourable ratings is a political mystery, but there is no question about his commitment to the welfare of the state as he continues to clear out entrenched negative behaviours that inhibit development in societies.
For example, because a prominent person dies, some people will just decide to block major roads, pausing the flow of economic activity. This is what the Obaseki government is against. In a civilised society, there should be law and order. If you want to celebrate, rent a hall – there are actually cheap alternatives – or use a personal space, like a family compound. At least, be creative, so the wheels of Edo society can continue to function without unnecessary hiccups.
. Osagie is the Special Adviser to Governor Obaseki on Media and Communication Strategy.