Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State yesterday flagged off his free education programme in tertiary institution by distributing cheques to undergraduates of the state origin in three state owned institutions.
The institutions are Imo State University (IMSU) Owerri, Imo State Polytechnic Umuagwo and College of Health Science and Technology, Amaigbo.
A total of 19, 000 students are to benefit from the first phase of the programme.
Okorocha who was overwhelmed with excitement enthused: “Today, I feel fulfilled. Today, I feel I have exhausted all I have for Imo State. “today, I feel I have accomplished mu vision with the free education programme, so that the poorest of the poor can go to school”.
He recalled the opposition he faced during his election campaign and his determination to fight such negative factors as ignorance, injustice and poverty as the propelling force that aroused him to the oath he took before God to bless him that he may bless others.
The governor explained that he has taken the giant stride to correct some political statements as well as some misrepresentations that free education is not realisable”.
Enumerating all his developmental programmes for the state such as construction of network of roads, foundation stone laying of the Prince and Princess Hotels in Okigwe and Orlu respectively, construction of the Heroes Square, the Ikemba Ojukwu Centre, etc noted that he treasured the free education programme most amongst all.
He explained that the free education policy and other laudable programmes were possible because of the sacrifice he and members of his team, including the legislators have made by forfeiting over N4billion of their security votes, pointing out that his administration has never borrowed money from any where.
He therefore explained that the second phase of the programme would accommodate Imo children who are schooling in other states of the federation, stressing that the free education programme was for students whose parents are from Imo State.
Governor Okorocha warned traditional rulers in the state not to sign certificate of citizenship for persons who are not sons and daughters of Imo, pointing out that those who could enjoy the government largesse must have lived in the state for at least a period of 25 years or those who are orphans.
Pointing out that the Imo State House of Assembly is coming out with a bill to this effect, he directed all the students to go to their traditional rulers to collect their cheques and demanded that they refrain from all social vices.
Governor Okorocha also used the occasion to release the cheques of the sum of one billion naira to retired Imo civil servants from 1998 to 2007 whose gratuities are below N500, 000.
In an address, the Commissioner for Education, Prof. Adaobi Obasi said Governor Okorocha’s belief in education has made him to achieve what seemed impossible in the state, the entire South-East and Nigeria and had given hope and encouragement to students studying in three institutions especially the less privileged.
Also in their separate speeches, the Acting Vice Chancellor of Imo State University, Prof. Bartram Nwoke, the Rector of Imo State Polytechnic, Umuagwo, Rev Fr. Wence Madu and the Provost of the Imo State College of Health Science and Technology, Amaigbo, Elder A.O. Chiaka observed that this is the first time they were witnessing such a gesture as Governor Okorocha extends benefits of education to the higher institutions.
They noted that tax payers money were being used to execute the programme, thus putting it to proper use, explaining that what Okorocha has done would reflect on the future of the beneficiaries.
Explaining that it was exactly what Awolowo did for his people, they expressed their happiness with the gesture on behalf of the students and thanked God for giving Imo people such a visionary leader.
Also in her address, the new Head of Service, Lady Nkechi Onumajulu noted that the era of selective payment of gratuities in the state has gone courtesy of Governor Okorocha and thanked him for the gesture.
Highlights of the occasion was march past and cultural dances by the jubilant students and members of the Imo State Council of Arts and Culture (ISCAC) and issuing of cheques.