Politics of Competence: Oshiomhole’s difficult options

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As a labour leader, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole led popular actions against different governments. Now, the teachers’ union in Edo State is up in arms against a plan by the state administration to verify their competence for the job they do.

BY GABRIEL ENOGHOLASE

Governor Adams Oshiomhole had at different fora expressed his determination to lift the level of education in the state. It even became more pressing on him after he visited a primary school and met a teacher who could not read well. So the need of verifying the competence of the teachers in the school system became a pressing matter for the state administration.

Governor Oshiomhole was backed by some strategic stakeholders in his pursuit. Speakers at a stakeholders’ meeting which took place at Imaguero College Hall gave the governor the go ahead to organize the test for the teachers, and this was what gave birth to the Prof. Dennis Agbonlahor Committee that was saddled with the task of organizing the Competency test.

Oshiomhole and one of the state's  teacher

Oshiomhole and one of the state’s teachers

The test was, however, strongly opposed by some other stakeholders, mostly the teachers who were involved.
A meeting between some civil society groups and the leadership of the state chapter of the Nigeria Union of Teachers [NUT] to find a common ground over the objection of the teachers to the competency test ended in deadlock on Wednesday.

Concerned members of the civil society in the state also met privately with Governor Oshiomhole towards reaching a common ground between the administration and the warring teachers.

But after all the negotiations last week, the teachers stuck to their guns. Speaking with newsmen soon after one of the meetings held at the famous Teachers House, State Chairman of the NUT, Comrade Mike Ununmwangho said the teachers would not write the competency test as he described the exercise as vindictive adding that the teachers do not trust the State Government.

The state administration, however, rejected the claims.
“The test is not to sack or witch-hunt any teacher but to ascertain those who might need assistance and level of training or retraining required as part of the determination of the Adams Oshiomhole administration to deliver an all-round quality education for the Edo child”, the Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mr. Loius Odion said while denying the receipt of a court order restraining the government from going ahead with the test.

However, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Edo State on its part while opposing the competency test berated the state government for “using every means possible, including the proposed conduct of competency test for teachers in the state to generate revenue.”

The party stated that the state government was using “the competency test, along with some other policies including repressive tax policies to shore up the state’s depleted vault.”

State chairman of the party, Chief Dan Orbih, who in a statement before the exercise said, “using competency test as a yardstick for retrenchment means using teachers as scapegoat for the dire financial crisis the state governments has plunged the state into.”

”We condemn in very strong term the decision to conduct the competency test. It is discriminatory and unacceptable. For it to be justified, the state government should first of all subject everyone to competency test, starting from the Government House. We sympathize with teachers at this time because we know they are being made the sacrificial lamb.

“As we have repeatedly stated, the proper thing is to organize in-house training for teachers as done by the administration of the late Ambrose Alli. Teachers who were found lacking then were not discarded as being planned but trained to become useful for themselves and their families. We say Governor Oshiomhole should not turn people who are bread winners in their families to bread seekers.

The PDP’s assertion was tackled by the All Progressives Congress, APC which threw its weight behind the test.
The APC state organizing secretary, Mr. Thomas Okosun in his own reaction said:

“I want to state clearly that I am in total support of the competency test organised for teachers. You cannot be a teacher when you don’t know what to teach neither do you entrust the future of your children into such people’s hands. You have ASCON in Lagos where civil servants undergo training and test in order to get promotion, so also in states and federal ministries.”

“The party is in support, I am in total support because this is the best that can happen to our educational system.”

On the eve of the competency test last Saturday, another dimension emerged following the call on teachers by the National Coordinator of the Academic Staff Union of Secondary Schools (ASUSS), Mr. Charles Faluyi to shun the test on the ground that the National Industrial Court of Nigeria sitting in Abuja had restrained the government and the Committee it set up to conduct the test from doing so pending the hearing and determination of suit brought before it by the teachers.

He therefore directed all secondary schools teachers in the state to disregard whatever threat by government aimed at coercing them to writing the test, just as he expressed disappointment over alleged recruitment of touts, paid agents to pose as teachers, technical school teachers and principals in the examination centres in order to deceive the teachers and the public that the competency test was taking place.

Earlier, the National Industrial Court, presided over by Justice B. A. Adejumo, had granted an interim injunction restraining the government from going ahead with the test.
The state PDP chairman, Chief Orbih was quick to welcome the judgment even as he called on Comrade Oshiomhole to heed the injunction.

“This public-spirited courage is in tune with democratic principles and has the propensity of ensuring that members of the teachers’ union are not mistreated, oppressed and persecuted under any guise.”
Mr. Odion, the commissioner for information, however, denied knowledge of any such injunction.

“We have received media enquiries over rumour of an injunction purportedly granted by a court restraining Edo State Government from going ahead with the teachers’ assessment exercise scheduled to hold today, Saturday, March 22″

“Therefore, this is to reassure teachers of primary and secondary schools and the general public that the assessment exercise scheduled for today, Saturday, March 22 will still hold.”
“Anyone who fails to write the test will be deemed as constituting a clog in the wheel of our progress and, consequently, will have his or her name deleted from the payroll”.

The state commissioner for Basic Education, Washington Osifo who accompanied the chairman of the assessment test committee, Prof. Agbonlahor to the accreditation hall, said the state government was not aware of any court injunction stopping the state government from conducting the test.

“Government is set to conduct the assessment test. Nobody will force anybody to do what is right. The test is in the interest of the teachers and Edo children. We are not aware of any restraining order stopping the test. An attempt to get an order does not in itself translates to an order stopping the conduct of the test,” Osifo said.

Remarkably, turnout at the three centres earmarked for the test was paltry as only about 73 teachers out of the thousands of teachers in the public school system turned out.
Meanwhile, counsel to the teachers, Afolabi Olayiwola has indicated that the state government will sued for contempt of court for going ahead to conduct the test.

The state government on its part has declared the exercise as very successful saying that it was waiting for the Report of the Prof. Agbonlahor Committee before knowing want to do next.
For a comrade who ascended to office on the wings of populism, the options ahead of the comrade governor are indeed no easy choices.

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