ALMOST all the post-mortem analyses conducted after the woeful defeat of Governor Kayode Fayemi of EKiti State at the governorship election of June 21, 2014, agreed in common that teachers in the State contributed majorly to the outcome.
Fayemi had not been a friend of Ekiti teachers since he became Governor. Not only did he fail to implement the payment of 27.5 percent of the Teachers’ Salary Structure (TSS), introduced in 2009 by then Acting Governor, Rt. Hon. Olatunji Odeyemi, he also harassed the teachers with the threat of introducing a competency test. By the time Governor Fayemi reversed these unpopular policies for electoral gains, it was too late for him.
Governor Aliyu Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State is not entitled to re-election when his current tenure expires in November 2016. But he has every reason to learn a lesson from Fayemi. Like Fayemi, he, too, has been unfriendly with teachers. Since becoming Governor, he has had a history of antagonising teachers and working against their interests at the slightest opportunity. In August 2013, for instance, the Governor paid what he called an unscheduled visit to Asologun Primary School, Ikpoba in Ikpoba-Okha Local Government Area of Edo State. He confronted one Mrs. Augusta Odenwinge, a teacher in the school, on live television, asking the panic-stricken woman to read aloud a sworn affidavit she had tendered as part of her credentials. Of course, the woman was so frightened that she stuttered in her reading of the document.
Governor Oshiomole publicly scolded the woman who had been in the service of Edo State for over 20 years. “If you can’t read, what do you teach the pupils, what do you write on the board?” the Governor was quoted to have asked the woman in anger. That public humiliation of Mrs. Odenwinge gained as much sensation, in both the print and electronic media.That as Edo people know very well, has been the pattern of the Governor.
Early this year, Governor Oshiomhole decided that all teachers in Edo State must undergo a verification exercise and take a competency test. He said that the exercise was part of his administration’s determination to sanitise the school system and reposition education in the State. According to the Governor, “a lot of teachers in Edo State have forged certificates and falsified birth declarations; many are unqualified for their positions or simply incompetent.”
Not only did the teachers object to Oshiomhole’s proposed competency test, they went to court to challenge his policy and obtained a ruling in their favour. Of course, the Governor, in his usual characteristic manner, refused to obey the court order and insisted on going ahead with his verification exercise and competency test. Consequently, he deleted the names of 936 teachers from the teachers’ payroll for what he called “certificate discrepancies and age falsification.”
The reason the Edo teachers objected to Oshiomhole’s action was because they felt that the policy was not only punitive and draconian, but also intended mainly to embarrass their members rather than promote the cause of education in the State. They criticised the psychological torture inflicted on some teachers, including Mrs. Odenwinge, by Governor Oshiomhole and the humiliation of others who were being coerced to take the competency test. The teachers could not understand why Oshiomhole should take pleasure in humiliating those from whom he did not have the privilege of learning.
If the policy and actions of the Oshiomhole administration were genuine and sincere, they would be a step in the right direction. A good government must be committed to the development of a sound education system; it must do everything possible to promote a conducive environment for teaching and learning, and it must ensure that all teachers in such a system are not only qualified but also competent and committed. To that extent, therefore, Governor Oshiomhole’s decision to conduct a screening exercise, aimed at purging the system of incompetent teachers or those with forged certificate, was in order, if only his intentions were genuine.
Alas, the duplicity of Governor Oshiomhole came out, soon after the defeat of Governor Fayemi and the revelation that teachers in Ekiti State contributed robustly to his (Fayemi’s) massive defeat. It must have dawned on Oshiomhole that, even though he is not entitled to re-election in 2016, he may have to answer in other ways for his transgressions against the teachers. The Governor may even be thinking that Edo teachers are behind his own recent political misfortunes and deluge of defections from the APC in the State to the PDP, or that Edo teachers were the brains behind the recent speculated plans to impeach him.
So, Oshiomhole decided to learn fast from the Fayemi experience. Soon after the announcement of the Ekiti governorship election results, the Government reversed the suspension of the 936 teachers whom he had accused of forging certificates or falsifying age declarations. Now, he has asked all the teachers to return to their duty posts, with the promise that their full benefits would be paid to them. Just like that!
Governor Oshiomhole’s reversal of the teachers’ suspension is the greatest embarrassment that a politician can ever inflict on himself. There should be integrity, even in politics. Is Governor Oshiomhole now saying that teachers with forged certificates or falsified age declarations can continue to work in the public service of Edo State? Does the Governor understand the gravity of what he has done to public morality and the future of the education system in Edo State?
Having publicly announced to pupils and students in the State, that their teachers were fraudulent, unqualified and incompetent, what explanation would Governor Oshiomhole give for their recall? Would that not be a message to the youths of Edo State that they could indulge in acts of forgery or falsification, and there would be an Oshiomhole to forgive them.
The more important question to ask is: what was the reversal of the action against the teachers intended to achieve? Forgiveness from the Edo teachers? Governor Oshiomhole would be politically naive to think that such a thing would happen.
The teachers know very well that the Governor has not recalled their members out of love for them; they know that he has done so to escape the noose already hanging round his neck. It is simply too little, too late. Governor Oshiomhole may not realize it now, but the truth is that he has committed political suicide, not by taking the initial action, but by reversing it. What a tragedy!
Mr. Johnson Momodu , a public affairs analyst, wrote from Benin City, Edo State.