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Killer midwives of Nigeria’s education

By Rotimi Fasan
THE persistent rot in Nigeria’s education sector is nowhere about to end. If anything, the country’s education is set for more bashing as the National Union of Teachers, the umbrella body of primary and secondary school teachers in the country, gave notice of a strike that began last week.

What this means is that after a couple of months at home on long vacation, Nigeria’s school children are about starting yet another holiday that was not on their educational calendar and which they certainly don’t need. Schools in a couple of these states barely managed to hurry through the year following long periods of strikes.

One might want to ask what Sam Egwu, the Minister of Education and his counterparts in the states were doing until the NUT resorted to the strike option which, despite criticisms of its persistent use in certain quarters, would continue to be an attractive option to union leaders for as long as they have none but deaf officials to speak with in government circle.

The NUT strike couldn’t have come at a worse time. But I presume the Federal Government wouldn’t mind this as it seems to be succeeding with its divide and conquer tactic of pitching the teachers’ unions in the states against one another with claims that ours is a federal country in which the Federal Government must respect the autonomy of the states.

This one-sided argument sounds persuasive on the surface, except that Abuja with her loud talk of ‘due process’ and ‘rule of law’ applies it in the selective manner that the federalists in government are given to. They support federalism when it suits them to do so.

But looking beyond all this, we might need to ask what has been the contribution of official minders of Nigeria’s education sector who are and have, invariably, been trained educationists or people with long experience working in the education sector and so should be aware of its peculiar needs. The performance sheet of this group of Nigerians is quite poor.

Most of them, often members of the various unions before their appointment, somehow manage to wreck the sector before leaving or are forced from office. President Umaru Yar’Adua was a lecturer before his entry into politics. For many years he taught science in a polytechnic and has often been praised by those who see it as a plus, that he is the first graduate to be Nigeria’s executive president.

Big deal you might say when you match this fact with this administration’s handling of the ongoing ASUU strike, to say nothing of his performance generally. Goodluck Jonathan, the Vice President, was also a lecturer before fate would thrust him from relative obscurity as Deputy Governor in the laidback South-South state of Bayelsa, into the number two position in the country.

I hesitate to call our present Vice President the second most powerful man in Nigeria. He is in government for sure but we might need to wait until the occasion arises to know if he is also in power. But as a member of the present administration, his professional training doesn’t appear to have been of much avail in effecting needed changes in the education sector.

If despite their educational and professional qualifications the President and the Vice President have done next to nothing to advance the cause of Nigeria’s education, they have been careful not to proclaim their incompetence on rooftop.

Not so the man with the immediate task of ministering to our educational needs. If only by his personal conduct, Dr. Sam Egwu is the least qualified Nigerian to man the Education Ministry.

At a time when our universities are laid prostrate and are on prolonged strike for lack of funding among other factors, Mr. Egwu took upon himself the obscene task of holding a lavish thirtieth wedding anniversary party alleged to have cost him hundreds of millions of Naira.

In this age when a typical marriage cannot make it beyond the first few years, a couple able to keep theirs for 30 years have every reason to celebrate. But not in the totally insensitive, in-your-face manner Egwu went about it at a time he was battling lecturers asking for better funding of the universities and a little salary increment.

Egwu sees nothing wrong with his conduct and has been trading accusations with ASUU many of whose members, he says rather exaggeratedly, have their children studying abroad. This was his response to ASUU’s claim that state officials are not bothered by the rot in the education sector because many of them have their children studying abroad.

In a different society Egwu would have had to account for the source of the money he spent on his wedding anniversary. But he can afford to ignore everyone because he must feel like a superstar if, in a country of over 140 million people, he could move straight from the governor’s lodge in Ebonyi to the Education Ministry in Abuja.

With these kinds of Nigerians, there is much work to do to make our education measure up to world standard.

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