It was reported in the news yesterday, that the Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology in Kaduna State had died, just days after returning from hospital where he had been treated for an undisclosed illness and was just about resuming to work after convalescing. Professor Jonathan Andrew Nok was a highly respected, widely acknowledged and decorated biochemist, at home and abroad, for which he was awarded Nigeria's National Merit Award just a few years back for one of his research works. This would've simply passed as just another news, had he not been the commissioner under whose purview the tests, failed by more than twenty thousand primary school teachers was conducted. Not a few Nigerians will be tempted to link the circumstances of his death with the present hullabaloo in the state, occasioned by the desire of the State Governor Nasir El Rufai to sack the so called unqualified teachers and have them replaced with their exact opposites. I wouldn't put it beyond some of these affected teachers and members of the teachers union to hope that this recent unfortunate incident might scare or compel the governor to acquiesce to their demand to reverse his intention of sacking so called "unqualified teachers". THE LATE PROFESSOR JONATHAN ANDREW NOK Till now, I have declined to post updates, comment, or blog about the imbroglio in Kaduna, despite prodding from friends who expected me to say something, or at least react even to their own view of the matter, either in favour of, or against their argument. The truth is that, I haven't been able to totally wrap my head around the situation, while trying really hard to understand the underlying intentions of the governor, who recent history has taught me to query his intentions, considering his unflattering antecedents. However, since it has come to me to write this now, I would simply state my observations, as I see them, and probably you'd also find within it my frustration, which makes it difficult for me to see how this knee-jerk reaction of the state governor is in any way a sustainable approach or way, to turn around the educational fortunes of Kaduna State in particular and northern Nigeria in general. There's no gainsaying the fact that education in Nigeria is on tenterhooks, if the situation in the south is bad, in the north using the word "worst" will be a gross understatement. Sadly, even in the so called better days of education in Nigeria, the north was still way behind the south. Northern leaders also did not help matters when they felt that the way to make up for the imbalance was to lower the bar for admission into schools for their people at all levels, while ensuring that these same products from such schools compete with their counterparts from the south, in education, government and careers especially in the civil service and in the private establishments in which they have influence (either because of location, ethno-religious or political exigence), with requirements skewed to their advantage. Part of the result is what is evident in the kind of teachers that is produced in the north, to teach the tabula rasa of the "leaders of tomorrow", from that region. Therefore the problem may not necessarily be the teachers themselves (viewed in isolation), but the kind of system that produced them in the first place, and then the system that found them worthy for recruitment as the shapers and framers of the hearts and minds of young ones in public primary and secondary schools in the north especially. The dirty linen that Governor El-Rufai deemed fit to wash in public wouldn't have been, if standards in the so called EDUCATIONALLY LESS DEVELOPED STATES in the north were not lowered, not only for the students but even for the teachers in contrast to what is obtainable in the EDUCATIONALLY MORE DEVELOPED STATES in the south. Another issue is that of priority. It is true that there's no state in Nigeria, talk more the federal, where the budgetary allocation to education is the UNICEF's minimum of 26%. Many of them barely make it to 10% and even that is further whittled down by corruption and other challenges that contribute to low implementation of items in the budget in Nigeria. In the south however, education is a tool of and for political propaganda, and each succeeding government strives to outdo the other in showing off investments in education (Chief Obafemi Awolowo, became a demi-god in the southwest because of his free education policy when he was premier there, while he lived, though present situation in the southwest will cause him to turn in his grave), though largely ignoring the human capital aspect of it for infrastructure mainly (as evident in Osun State where Governor Rauf Aregbesola is building model schools allover the state, while owing teachers, as well as other civil servants, backlog in salary arrears), but even that goes some way in impacting positively even if minimally, to the education of children there. In the north, the converse is true, as religion is the tool of propaganda, from building of mosques (in some towns and villages, the mosque may be the most magnificent building therein), to sponsoring pilgrimages to Mecca, amongst others, while education receives far lesser attention, that it should ordinarily and necessarily deserve. This is why this move by Governor El-Rufai is commendable, but only to some extent. For starters, what he's done isn't novel as same was attempted by former Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, who eventually had to capitulate and compromise his stand, with labour unions in the state after grandstanding and threatening to sack unqualified teachers. Interestingly, even some of the questions thrown to the teachers to answer, were themselves wrong, though some of those papers shared on twitter by the governor exposed some of the teachers as not exactly brilliant. Another source of concern to be noted, is the fact that even as a layman I could tell that some of those questions didn't follow any particular pattern, that may suggest that some standard or standardized text was employed in coming by the tests. Because everything in Nigeria is political, even this hasn't escaped political scrutiny, especially by those wary of El-Rufai's shenanigans, such that prominent persons from southern Kaduna now claim that most of those penciled down for sacking are from that part of the state. The teachers union is challenging the power of the chief executive of the state to fire teachers by fiat, while the political opponents of the governor are milking the chaos in the education sector of the state for all that it's worth. The state government on the other hand have put out a paid advertisement in the media, beckoning on qualified teachers regardless of tribe, state of origin, and the likes of all that is usually considered in Nigeria as favourable and unfavorable to job applications and applicants in Nigeria, to apply for vacant primary or basic teacher positions in the state. In my view, restoring education, public education for that matter, in Nigeria should be more holistic, over just the "hire and fire" kneejerk reaction policies of Governor El-Rufai, and Kayode Fayemi (which cost him his reelection in Ekiti State), as well as Adams Oshiomhole in Edo State before him. All states, including the federal government must raise funding for education to as close as the UNICEF recommended 26% of budgetary allocation. They must then go beyond building physical structures and infrastructure of schools to developing the human capital that is the teachers, and other essential staffs of basic educational institutions in Nigeria. The lowering of standards so that more northerners can go to school, is the wrong way of looking at education, because even if these manage to get to high positions like Judges, Justices of the federation and the likes (for instance), or government jobs like prosecutors, they easily get floored in court by savvy and educationally more developed southerners who end up as defense councils (because they couldn't easily get government jobs), even of the most notorious in the society, and go further to help get them off the hook many times using legalese and technicalities that the not so savvy, government employed prosecutors would easily overlook to their dismay and chagrin (as we have often seen with the now wobbly war against corruption being waged by President Muhammadu Buhari's government presently). People who have had the academic or education bar lowered for them all of their lives, including recruitment qualifications, cannot all of a sudden be better than those who toiled for every opportunity with sweat and blood in the main. No man was created lesser in ability to learn and assimilate, than others, and if Nigeria's northerners think the converse is true, then it should also apply in terms of available positions for employment. Have we not seen how the private sector employs more southerners than northerners? How have government and civil service positions, dominated by northerners truly fared in comparison to the private sector? Only and until, the north begins to tell itself the truth, nothing will change. Governor El Rufai can change these teachers now, but what will happen tomorrow? Will the recruitment process be able to screen out undesirables? Will we not be back to square one, even if he succeeds now, but leaves government tomorrow? That is why this must be holistic, and the root cause of educational backwardness in the north of Nigeria, and by extension Nigeria addressed systematically and institutionally, with the view to reversing this ugly trend. Anything short of this, can and will only throw that sector into more jeopardy than it is in presently. I rest my case. 'kovich PICTURE CREDIT: -

Published by m'khail madukovich