Investigation… Aregbesola and the scam called Opon-Imo (1)
For the citizens of Osun, wearing the toga of a backward educational state has become a burden too shameful to carry. It is an open sore, a subject discussed in hush agonizing tones. Ripples Nigeria, in this two-part serial, digs in to find out why Osun, a centre of learning and Yoruba cultural heritage has slipped into 29th position out of 36 on the scale of educational performance in Nigeria.
Here is the big read:
Opon-Imo (Tablet of Knowledge), an e-learning device which was to solve ‘all’ educational needs of Senior Secondary School students of Osun State, introduced by Governor Rauf Aregbesola, may have become one of the biggest known scams in Osun’s educational history.
This is because, rather than solve the educational needs of the state and cut cost in the sector as promised by Aregbesola upon its inauguration, the project has rather compounded the educational problems of the state, leaving with it ugly situations that the state may have to battle with for a long time.
Billions of naira budgeted for the production and procurement of the tablets may very well have gone down the drain, or into private pockets.
On Tuesday June 4, 2013 Governor Aregbesola, in a speech entitled, ‘Opon-Imo Enters the Stage’ had told the people of Osun, “It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all and to be here myself for this epoch-making event in the annals of this state…Today in the State of Osun, we are taking another momentous leap forward in our unflinching and unstoppable effort to lay a solid foundation for the education of our children.
“The much-awaited Opon-Imo has finally arrived. The smart computer tablet has entered the education scene, to the glory of Almighty God, and to the victory of the public school students of Osun, but to the utter bewilderment of ill-meaning cynics, whose ardent wish is for the project to fail. Unfortunately for them, God has a different plan for Osun and for its good people.”
The government had also claimed on the state’s official website that 150,000 Opon-Imo e-learning tablets would be made available for senior secondary school students, adding that of the number, 100,000 of them would be produced in the state as a means of also providing jobs for the citizens of the state.
“This initiative, the first of its kind anywhere in the world, covers 17 core subjects with over five extra curricula subjects for senior secondary 1, 2 and 3 levels. The tablet contains over 56 textbooks, 900 minutes of virtual classroom lessons and 1000s (Thousands) of practice questions for WAEC and JAMB. In addition to aiding preparation for School Leaving Examinations, the introduction of the tool is expected to aid adoption of information communication technology (ICT) skills among students in the state,” the Osun government had claimed.
While the governor had at no known time disclosed the total amount of money that went into the Opon-Imo project, the Deputy Governor of the state, Mrs. Titilayo Laoye-Tomori, who is also the Commissioner for Education, while presenting the tablet to the media, in May 2013, in Lagos stated that the state government spent N200 million to procure e-textbooks for the tablets. The state chapter of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), however, claimed that the project gulped over N8.6 billion of Osun State’s scarce resources. This is yet unconfirmed.
However, worried by the abysmal state of education in Osun, which culminated in the state ranking 29th among the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in the 2016 results released by the West African Examination Council (WAEC), Ripples Nigeria took a trip to Osun to find out what could have led a state with an Opon-Imo, a gadget said to possess the magic wand to the education needs of the students at that level, to ignominiously come 29th, three years after the innovative tablet of knowledge was introduced.
In its investigative trip to Osun State, Ripples Nigeria found out that, regardless of all the promises about Opon-Imo, it may have become a sham and one of the modern ways of scamming and defrauding a state in the name of ICT.
Nowhere to be found
As at the time of this report, Opon-Imo is virtually unavailable in any Osun State secondary school: In all the secondary schools visited in Osogbo, the state capital and Olorunda local government areas, there were no signs of the Opon-Imo tablet. Some of the schools visited included St Marks High School, Olorunda LGA, Osogbo High Secondary School and Ataoja School of Science also in Osogbo.
None of the principals of any of these schools were forthcoming on information on the subject for fear of the government, but Ripples Nigeria gathered from a senior teacher who would neither want his name nor that of his school mentioned, that no school or student in Osun State is presently in possession of the tablet of knowledge, Opon-Imo.
He said “You cannot see the Opon-Imo in any school in Osun, whereas several hundred thousands of it were promised to be produced for our school children. It’s most unfortunate, a big fraud and charade”.
Ripples Nigeria further gathered from an impeccable government source that, indeed, there is no Opon-Imo at the moment in any school or in the possession of any student in Osun. According to the source, Opon-Imo is usually retrieved from the students and schools immediately after the students are through with their Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination (SSCE).
Contrary to expectations of providing it for SSI to SS3, only SS3 students and not all have had the opportunity of making use of the Opon-Imo. On the occasions it was shared in the state, it was only given to SS3 students and on those three occasions, not every student of SS3 got the tablet of knowledge.
“It was not all the students that had access to the gadget. It was given to those in SS3 and not all of them got it. Those in SS1 and SS2 were never given,” a teacher in one of the secondary schools in Osogbo, who also would not want his name mentioned told Ripples Nigeria.
In all high schools in the entire state, the tablet was shared to SS3 students twice; first during its launch in 2013, and again in November 2015. Even at that, it was never circulated in all the high schools and did not also get to all SS3 students.
November 13, 2015 was the last time the tablet of knowledge was distributed and it was only given to Adventist High School in Ede, Ripples Nigeria gathered.
Our source revealed, “The last batch of it shared was last year and it was in Ede. It was only in Adventist High School, Ede that it was shared. As it appears, they have dumped Opon-Imo, it’s very unlikely they will share it again.”
A student, who is among those that recently passed the state promotional exam into SS3 in St Marks High School Olorunda LGA, told Ripples Nigeria, “In this school, the tablet was distributed twice, the first and the second time batch. The last distribution the school didn’t receive any. As it is now we are not waiting for anyone again”.
Another teacher revealed, “I’m from Ikirun in Ifelodun Local Government, it was only in one school that it was ever distributed and not all the students in the school got. One drop of Opon-Imo here and there and everybody was shouting Opon-Imo had come. It was one huge failure”.
Further probe also revealed, that less than 40, 000 Opon Imo has been produced in the last three years, as against 150,000 promised by Aregbesola’s government.
A reliable source within government circles said, “The distribution of Opon Imo started in 2013/2014 session, first we distributed almost 20,000. The following year we distributed over 30,000 tablets because we have acquired more gadgets and last year we distributed about 30,000. This year we are still looking at distributing other ones.”
The source added, “But we still retrieve them back from the students immediately after the Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination (SSCE).”
A simple calculation shows that if 20,000 were distributed the first time and later retrieved and about 30,000 distributed the second time, as claimed by the government source, there was just an addition of about 10,000 or little above that, meaning there was little or no addition.
This means that the government has only been able to produce and distribute in three years of introducing the tablet of knowledge, not more than 40,000 Opon Imo as against 150,000 it promised the state.
Checks revealed that there is no factory in the state where Opon Imo is produced, as claimed by the governor. Aregbesola, while introducing the Opon Imo project had promised that 100,000 of the 150,000 tablets will be produced in the state, as a means of also creating employment for the people.
However, Ripples Nigeria finding showed that there is no known factory, company or industry producing Opon-Imo in the entire state of Osun three years after its introduction.
A state government official who refused to be named because he was not authorised to speak on the issue claimed, “We have a factory where Opon-Imo tablets are being produced at Ilesha. It has been in place for about two years and they are still working but the situation of the country now has been affecting their production.”
He however failed to provide an address, name or the particular part of Ilesha where the factory is located, when quizzed.
Searches by Ripples Nigeria to ascertain where Opon-Imo is assembled led to an office located at Osogbo West Bypass, before the NNPC fuel station, coming from Agunbelewuo junction at Ilesha. The head of operations who only identified himself as Tope, would not grant an interview but asked our reporter to return the following day to meet the project director, Mr Bambo Bashorun.
According to Tope, Mr. Bashorun was the one who should know where the tablet is produced in Ilesha, and would be able to answer whatever inquiries related to the project.
The next day, however, Tope in response to phone calls on when our correspondent could meet with Bashorun said the project director will not speak with anyone without clearance from Governor Aregbesola’s spokesman, Mr Semiu Okanlawon. Several efforts to get across to Okanlawon were initially rebuffed. However, his reactions feature in the second part of this serial.
Refuting the claim of a factory located in Ilesha where the tablet of knowledge is produced, our source said, “There is no such place anywhere. Everything here is shrouded in secrecy. They know what they have done and will never talk to you.”
For Mr Bola Ajao, the state PDP secretary, the claim is “one of the monumental lies that we have been confronted with in the state. For about six years now, it is one lie or the other. That’s why people are no longer taken aback when they hear them. They lie about everything.
“There is nowhere Opon-Imo is being produced here and the ones that were produced wherever they were produced, have been taken off the shelf, taken from our students. The money has gone down the drain. It is unfortunate that they are big lies and they are known for lying and lying.
“If there’s a place where the tablet is produced in Ilesha it must be a secret haven and meant only for media consumption. In reality, there is nothing like that anywhere. If there is any such thing, let them open it up for public knowledge, let people know where the place is. Let us know how many Opon-Imo it has produced and let us also know how effective it has been with the curriculum of the school. It’s all shrouded in mystery, secrecy and politics.
The problems with Opon-Imo:
Governor Aregbesola had on inauguration of the tablet said, “Opon-Imo has numerous other advantages. It can be solar-powered; it can record audio lessons; saves students the stress of copying notes and spare them more time to learn; facilitates early exposure of students to ICT; it has up to six hours of battery life; and its touch screen makes for easy use.
“To crown it all, this little device will greatly facilitate our free education policy by saving the state a lot of money that would have had to go into procuring text books on an annual basis. Indeed, the saving is humongous. Were the state to engage in the physical purchase of hard-copies of textbooks for the 17 subjects taught in our public schools, hard-copies of 51 audio tutorials, hard-copies of JAMB and WAEC past questions and answers for all subjects for a period of 10 years, it would (conservatively speaking) cost a whopping sum of N50.25billion.
“In addition, we do not have to buy books as long as the tablets are in use. We also cannot quantify the cost of the virtual classroom which does not even exist anywhere, except in Opon-Imo.”
The tablet, like the governor promised would have been a veritable tool to aid education in the state if, according to our findings, it was made available to all SS1 to SS3 students.
A teacher, who also requested anonymity said, “one of the biggest problems with Opon-Imo was that it was not all the students that have access to the gadget. It was given to those in SS3 and not all of them got it.
“Learning, you should know is continuous, you start from the simple to the complex. You can’t just bring a gadget to me when I’m in SS3 without using a similar thing in SS1 and SS2 and you think something good will come out of it. Those in SS1 and SS2 were not given and those were the loopholes, the genesis of the problems.”
The tablet could have also provided some solutions to the state’s education needs as claimed by the governor if it had current senior secondary school curriculum. It was alleged that even the ones distributed did not have approved textbooks for secondary school curriculum.
A parent who once accessed Opon-Imo told Ripples Nigeria, “If you check Opon-Imo and look through the approved textbooks for secondary schools, you are not going to find them in the tablet.
“This was because the publishers of those books did not avail Aregbesola the e-books format of those books. And if those books are not in e-book format there is no way the government can put them in Opon-Imo. You only have books that are related to the approved ones on Opon-Imo”.
A teacher who collaborated the parent’s claim said, “Textbooks have editions, in the Opon-Imo gadget, literature texts for instance are always changed after few years. While one of the literature texts currently in the national curriculum is Othello, you still have Hamlet in Opon-Imo tablet. I received one of the tablets and I’m telling you the honest truth. You cannot also update it.”
Another source revealed that there were so many errors in the ones launched in 2013, adding that Governor Aregbesola sometime ago claimed the errors have been corrected in the newly distributed ones. He, however, said he was not sure of the claim “because the last ones distributed in Osogbo still have those errors”.
There was also the problem of inadequate training of teachers that will in turn teach the students on use of the tablet, as well as poor execution of the project.
An All Progressives Congress (APC) member in Osogbo, preferring not to be mentioned disclosed to Ripples Nigeria; “When you are talking about this kind of a project, you first of all train people that will make use of that project to train the students. How did he even distribute Opon-Imo? The number distributed to the secondary schools are limited and they are even withdrawing them.
“It’s not the distribution that even matters but who teaches them? Were the teachers informed, well-educated and well exposed to what is inside Opon-Imo? You see people carry the tablet around and say this is Opon-Imo, this is Opon Imo. It’s only what you know how to use that you can brag of making use of. It’s just like having a gun, if you don’t know how to use it, how would it be useful, it is even good that you don’t have anything.”
According to a teacher in St Marks High School Olorunda, “The introduction of Opon Imo is something that everybody welcomed, but the problem is the implementation. It was novel, the first time something of such was introduced in the state. One thing is that when you want to implement a policy you have to thoroughly study it. I think what they wanted to do was to introduce e-learning, but it’s not that you’ll get a gadget, give it to students and you call it e-learning”, he lamented.
While few teachers had access to the gadget (when they were last distributed) and were taught how to use it, one of those teachers said, “In teaching you have to start from the simple to the complex. Had it been those who are in SS1 were given, it will be continuous. When you use it in SS1, it will become part and parcel of you then, you’ll continue using it in SS2 before writing exam in SS3.
“The students received the gadget with great enthusiasm, but they needed somebody to put them through on the usage and importance of the gadget. Some of them after collecting the gadget were using it to download films including pornographic films.”
Opon-Imo, indeed, almost took books, libraries, laboratories and study materials off Osun schools just like Governor Aregbesola promised that there would be no need of students buying books and other study materials. The tablet of knowledge, indeed, served that purpose but rather in a devastating manner.
According to one of our sources, Osun students refused to buy books and other materials for studies in the hope that the government would distribute the tablet to them.
“With the introduction of Opon-Imo, it became difficult for any teacher to convince a student or a parent to buy textbooks. When you look at the performance of the students you may be forced to blame the teachers, but you have to look at the variables, you are teaching students, no laboratory and the students anytime you tell them to buy a textbook, they will tell you they will soon receive a gadget, how then do you expect such students to pass? Anytime you asked them to buy textbooks they will tell you they’ll soon receive Opon-Imo, which may not be given, and if given, it’ll be weeks before exam and out of date,” one teacher lamented.
She added, “If there is anyway this short-coming will be made public that’s what we want because we are not happy. If not for embezzlement, I think they have good intentions with the Opon-Imo, but it was wrongly executed.”
Opon-Imo turned into a gadget for porn, games, home and music videos
Ripples Nigeria gathered that the failure of the gadget to provide necessary study materials relevant in the students’ academic pursuit led many of them to turn the gadget into other uses which included downloading all manner of music videos and movies including pornographic films.
One of the notable schools where such acts became public was Ataoja School of Science, Osogbo. “The practice was made known when the principal of the school learnt that some students have been using it to download porn movies. Upon searching them, it was discovered that truly some of them were using it for that effect,” a parent stated.
The students it was learnt reconfigured the gadget to enable them download anything, despite the fact that the producers made sure such features were not in the gadget.
The next and final part of the serial unearths those behind the scam tagged Opon-Imo, and the plot, as well as what the government has to say about it.