BY DAYO ADESULU & LAJU ARENYEKA
SIX months after the sack of Professor Ruqayyatu Rufai as Minister of Education, stakeholders in the sector anticipate the appointment of a new minister of education considering the recent cabinet reshuffle by President Goodluck Jonathan. Some of them, who spoke to Vanguard Learning, suggested the essential qualities that would be required in a Minister who can rescue the sector from its present` turmoil.
While some are clamouring for a minister with a wealth of experience in education, others believe that such a person’s background would not matter as much as his passion for change in the sector. It would be recalled that President Goodluck Jonathan while swearing in some new ministers last week, said: “Ministers are assigned to any responsibility not necessarily based on qualifications or what you know best, but is mainly administrative. If you are posted to an area that you are good in, then you’re lucky but wherever you’re posted, it is expected that you bring your experience to bear.”
What then are the responsibilities required of a minister of education? The minister is at the helm of affairs of the Federal Ministry of Education whose duties include: Formulating a national policy on education, collecting and collating data for purposes of educational planning and financing, maintaining uniform standards of education throughout the country, controlling the quality of education in the country through the supervisory role of the Inspectorate Services Department within the ministry, harmonizing educational policies and procedures of all the states of the federation through the instrumentality of the National Council on Education, effecting co-operation in educational matters on an international scale as well as developing curricula and syllabuses at the national level in conjunction with other bodies.
Currently acting in the capacity of the education minister is the Minister of State for Education, Barr. Nyesom Wike with a background in law, who until his appointment three years ago, had not been directly involved in teaching or school administration.
Could Wike be the right man for the job? Former National Secretary of the Nigerian Universities Commission, NUC, Prof. Munzali Jibril, who is also the President of the Nigeria Academy of Letters, NAL, in an interview with our reporter, said: “Government, in its wisdom could have confirmed Sen. Wike as the minister of education, but that has not been done yet.
And I believe Mr. President has his reasons. It helps if the person selected knows the sector, and I think that with three years of experience as minister of state for education, Senator Wike knows the sector well enough to handle it. If the person has spent time in the education sector, then the learning process will be easier and shorter for him, than for someone coming from outside the sector.
But even if one has been a vice-chancellor before, running the entire sector is a totally different ball game altogether. It involves the primary, secondary, tertiary subsectors and that is much more complex than handling one institution. I believe that the ideal candidate would be someone with experience in the education sector, but who is also quite exposed to the political environment. Whatever the case, politicians have a way of learning fast, so I believe that whoever is put there will find a way of learning the ropes.”
The Chairman, Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, Lagos State University chapter, Dr. Adekunle Idris, believes that the ministry of education will be in much better shape if there is an educationist at the helm of its affairs. “Someone who has experience in the sector would be the best for the position of the education minister,” he said, “perhaps a long time teacher, lecturer or an administrator in the sector would be much more ideal. I think it would be illogical to put someone who did not go through the ranks in the school system as minister of education.
I don’t think experience in politics has anything to do with it. Politics is not a field of calling; neither does it require special training. We have to define the issues properly. Education is a very sensitive area. This is why the Government must choose someone who knows his onions, who has a wealth of experience in the sector, and can properly advise those in power on the appropriate steps to take.”
The President of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, ASUP, Dr. Chibuzor Asomugha, is of a contrary view. He believes that even a professor who does not have the best interests of the sector at heart will fail if put in that capacity: “There is a widespread assumption that the minister has to come from within the sector; that someone who has an affinity with the sector would do a better job than someone from outside, but I do not believe that such an assumption is entirely accurate. What is most important is for whoever is put in that position to be passionate about education, and focused on building a future for the sector.”
With incessant strikes, the highest number of out-of- school children in the world, mass failures in qualifying exams, inadequate infrastructure and meager admission spaces, the future seems bleak for the sector, but whether the swearing in of an education minister as many anticipate would bring hope to Nigerian education, remains to be seen.
Matter of urgency
On his part, former National Union of Teachers chairman, Lagos State, Comrade Idowu Samson, charged the would-be Education Minister to as a matter of urgency solve the issues relating to ASUU, ASUP and Colleges of Education and seek for the educational development in Nigeria.
He said: “We are expecting that the minister should be able to solve some of the problems with university polytechnics and Colleges of Education lecturers so as to have stability in our education sector. We cannot continue in the same manner it has been since 30 years ago.
“We are expecting from the minister, a transformation agenda that will transform our universities to first class in the world. Nigeria has what it takes to transform this country if properly harnessed. This is possible if we have the political will and are focussed.” Also, the Minister’s agenda should be able to affect the grassroots education of our country.”