Gov el-Rufai, Education and North


For some time now, Kaduna State has been in the news over a resolve by its controversial Governor, Malam Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai, to sack over 21,000 primary school teachers, who allegedly could not pass a primary four competency test. Despite entreaties, the Governor has continued to insist that he is not in any way kidding over the planned sack. And for those who know Malam; he hardly bows to intimidation whenever he has decided on a policy he is convinced is for the common good of all. Indeed, the more the public outcry without any justifiable reason, the more he feels encouraged to insist on his position. I am sure his political opponents will not hesitate to feast on this political incorrectness in view of 2019. Rather than crediting the debate with quality cheques of alternative ideas, they will prefer to remain with the mentally weak in service of their unbridled ambitions and the eternal bankruptcy of the education sector.

Whatever may be the case, there is no doubt that the apparent deplorable state of education in northern Nigeria is a source of serious worry. It is equally no exaggeration to say that northerners have become the laughing stock of the entire country for no other reason.

Not long ago, I had the cause to draw attention to this in a piece I did with the title, “Mohammed Haruna: Sunset at dawn”, when my elderly friend, mentor and benefactor, Malam Mohammed Haruna was appointed INEC national commissioner by president Muhammadu Buhari. In it, I narrated how in my educational sojourn somewhere in the South-south, I came face to face with the stereotyping of northerners as a naturally backward people in knowledge affairs. I summarized how the rest of country see us when I said:”… our so-called educational backwardness, the talk of which has almost become a cliche today, is by nature and that we are doomed by some unknown gods to remain so for ever.” But as I said: ” Meeting Malam Haruna, Bishop Kukah, Fr. Gotan, Adamu Adamu, Fr. Alexander Yayock, Dr. Hakeem Baba, Kabir Yusuf, Dr. Haroun Adamu, Dr. Chris Abashiya, Mahmud Jega, Prof. Andrew Nok, Hannatu Musawa, and thoughts of the likes of Dr. Bala Usman, M.D. Yusuf, Abubakar Gimba, Aminu Kano, Hajiya Bilkisu, among several other intellectuals of northern stock, has left me wondering why some chaps still believe northerners are doomed not to excel in academics. “

Today, more than ever before, the difference between the north and the rest of the country -education wise, is like the difference between night and day. And while some unsolicited pundits are daily singing songs of Awolowo’s free education policy to account for why the Yorubas are ahead of us, Mohammed Haruna took exception by asking them to change their hymnal, arguing that while the great premier of the West gave free education, in the North, they were paid to go to school in their hundreds of thousands, if not millions.

“The problem, I think,” he said, ” was that the next generation of the region’s politicians chose to pay lip service to investment in education without which invariably we could only send garbage into our tertiary schools. And as they say of computers: garbage in, garbage out.”

We must therefore thank the Governor and his enviable education commissioner, Prof. Andrew Nok- one of the finest scientists in the world, who, by taking this bold policy of reforming the education sector, have created a debate that could lead to the transformation and subsequent redemption of the whole of northern Nigeria owing to the abysmally embarrassing rot and collapse of knowledge economics in the region. As I said somewhere “…the north stands a great danger unless something is quickly done.”

And politicians, especially the governors, have to take the blame for politicizing and almost bastardizing the region’s educational investments. The sentimental take- over of missionary schools and the deliberate lack of investment in education and educationally related matters in order to be religiously and politically correct, quickly comes to mind. The result is the daily multiplication of the almajiri at every twist and turn plus the obvious over-dependence on politics by harnessing the region’s unqualitative population to lubricate their unbridled greed. While the same set of elite passed via these missionary schools with their shoulders up owing to the quality of the education and discipline they received, out of sentiment, they turned back to inflict leprosy on the fingers that not only fed but gave them a livelihood. Is it an accident today that many northern Governors spend more money in building places of worship and servicing charlatans guilty of impersonation for parading themselves as men of God than their allocation for investment in education? Little wonder, since the takeover of these schools, the region has become more divided than ever. Instead of the alumnihood that united us, which the politicians destroyed, we have now resorted into useless and very fruitless ethnic and religious unionisms that have brought the north to this hell. Is Boko Haram not the outcome of this shenanigan?

This bold reform by Governor el-Rufai should proceed depending on its sincerity. The education industry is not a football field where we should play games. It is the common wealth upon which our future lay. We may well be aware of this considering the massive refusal to take our children to public schools especially the elementary. But rather than face the challenge, we have resorted to alternatives. Why are our children for instance causing gridlock in Cyprus, Ghana, Malaysia, etc?

Only recently, Rev. Fr. Alexander Yayock sent me a stuff that read:”At the entrance gate of a university in South Africa, the following message was posted for contemplation: Destroying any nation does not require the use of long range missiles. It only requires lowering the quality of education and allowing cheating in examinations by the students. Patients die in the hands of such Doctors; Buildings collapse in the hands of such engineers; money is lost in the hands of such economists and accountants; humanity dies in the hands of such religious scholars; and justice is lost in the hands of such judges. The collapse of education is the collapse of the nation.” If this is true, then anybody intending to play politics with education will be playing politics with our future, hence, our enemy. And he who is not comfortable with the reforms’ modus operandi should forward how it should be done with relative cost. It is indeed painful that this mammoth number of teachers including my mother , friends, and relatives will have to go. But the cost of keeping them is more expensive unless there are alternatives.

But the state must first pose to salute the courage and sacrifices of this heroes who, in often very uncomfortable learning conditions, and sometime without pay, made their contributions in training future leaders some of whom, though cannot express themselves in English, are lawmakers in the National Assembly, State Houses of Assembly, Commissioners, Councilors, Imams, Bishops, etc. Some of them had to cross rivers every day to teach under trees for government’s inability to build classrooms. As a mark of respect, government should keep to its words that it will follow due process in sending them forth.

But for the aim of the reform not to be defeated, government should equally ensure that those to replace these alleged unqualified teachers are themselves qualified. Though the integrity of the education commissioner as a no-nonsense Professor is unquestionable, government must involve experts and stakeholders to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself. This matter goes beyond politics. And as Andreas Schleicher said: “Knowledge and skills have become the global currency of 21st – century economies, but there is no central bank that prints this currency. Everyone has to decide on their own how much they will print.”

Finally, while I join my friend Richard Dambo to advocate for a change in the mentality that Colleges of Education – the incubators that hatch teachers, are merely dumping grounds for those who with low marks in UTME could not make it to the Universities, the magnetic reform that is capable of attracting the best in the once noble profession is increase in salaries and other motivations that have a direct bearing on the welfare of the teachers. Otherwise, our desire to reform the sector will be tantamount to the proverbial search for a black cat in a dark room. The entire north should take up the challenge.

Francis Damina, a student of Religion and Politics, wrote from Holy Family Parish, Gidan Bako and can be reached via:

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