By Ochereome Nnanna
I HAVE not personally encountered Professor Ruqayat Rufai, the new Minister for Education. It does not matter. What matters is that I have seen evidence of her abilities, and I think the person who recommended her to Acting President Goodluck Jonathan for posting to Education is a patriot.
Politicians and political appointees in Nigeria have a way of making you sorry you said nice things about them. But I want to stick out my neck for this lady because I knew what the condition of the educational sector was in her native Jigawa State by early June 2007.
I had the privilege of going round the state with special interest in schools because the then Central Bank of Nigeria Governor, Professor Chukwuma Soludo, had described Jigawa State as the poorest even by Northern standards; with the educational system being the most backward. As a governorship candidate, Alhaji Sule Lamido had described that assessment as an embarrassment to any well-meaning indigene of the state, and vowed to attack the problem with a singleness of mind.
Schools all over Nigeria had depreciated to sub-human levels, but in Jigawa, even animals would be ashamed to attend what went in the name of schools. The situation was simply indescribable. Students wore rags, with flies for constant companionship.
Teachers spoke little or no English. Classrooms had no chairs and no roofs. When it rained, boarding students went outside to shelter under trees, even at night. Toads bred everywhere. How the students withstood their endless ear-splitting noises was evident of how low a standard the young teenagers had adjusted to. These were leaders of tomorrow. What manner of leaders would they evolve into?
I have had the opportunity of seeing schools in Jigawa two years after Governor Lamido and Professor Rufai went to work. The turn-around was dramatic. Current figures have it that a total of 1,861 primary schools, 361 JSS, 113 SS and five tertiary institutions had been completely rehabilitated, with all the basic facilities put in place. Jigawa is the only state where banks were fully involved in the task of restoring educational infrastructure.
The only other state that might have an edge over Jigawa in terms of facility upgrade of schools in the whole federation is, probably, Rivers. Lamido, with Professor Rufai as the able foot soldier, has taken Jigawa out of the zone of shame. Today, all students, especially girl children in Jigawa State, enjoy free and compulsory education up to university level. But sadly, this does not apply to non-indigenes! That, for me, is one Sule Lamido policy that has a â€œKâ€ leg.
The current situation of education at the federal level is no less shameful and chaotic than it was in Jigawa in 2007. The nation is still reeling from the mass failure of the National Examination Council (NECO) and other school leaving examinations that we have witnessed in recent times. The public educational sector is finished.
Nigerian universities are more a breeding ground for prostitutes and cultists than citadels of learning and academic excellence. We are among the worst even in Africa; let us not talk about the world at large. Our graduates are unemployable. The labour unions in our school system have only recently returned to work after years of ceaseless strikes.
And while that went on, former Education Minister, Dr Sam Egwu was looking for every small opportunity to party and celebrate his family â€œsuccessesâ€ with public funds, while millions of families are reeling in agony as a result of poor quality leadership.
Let us hope that the coming of Ruqayat Rufai (Professor of Education and former Dean of the Faculty of Education at the Bayero University, Kano) to Abuja is a mission to re-enact the Jigawa magic for the benefit of the entire nation. President Yarâ€™ Adua and Dr Sam Egwu were once lecturers. They failed to arrest the drift in our educational sector.
Let us hope that the new combination of ex-lecturers – Acting President Goodluck Jonathan and Professor Ruqayat Rufai – will make all the difference.
Nwobike enters the Inner Bar today
For members of the National Stadium Tennis Club (of which I am one), it is a day of pride and celebration as one of its members, Dr Joseph Nwobike is elevated to the enviable circle of the Inner Bar as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
The event takes place today, Monday April 12, 2010 at the Rockview Hotel Royale, Plot 194/196 Adetokunbo Ademola Crescent, Wuse 2, Abuja at 1.00PM.
May I congratulate Joseph Nwobike (SAN) for his achievements. Congrats also to all the senior lawyers who are similarly being honoured today. But remember, it is one thing to be a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and another to be a Senior Advocate of the Masses (SAM) of which the legendary Gani Fawehinmi is the only one so far.