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How bad politics killed our education

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By Pini Jason

LAST week, several national papers lamented the abysmal performance of Nigerian candidates who sat for the 2011 West African Secondary School Certificate Examination. According to reports, of the 1.5 million candidates who sat for the May/June examination, only 472,906, or a disappointing 31 percent, obtained five credits and above in the subjects, including English Language and Mathematics.

Over one million of them failed, while 80,247 candidates had their results withheld. And this result was said to be an improvement on last year’s result. In the last four years, the WAEC result has been consistently woeful.

The implication of this mass failure is not just that it is only 31 percent that can seek university admission this year. The truth is that rest who did not “make” it or those who would say, “WAEC gave me…” will still join the 31 percent in seeking admission, albeit with forged results, Oluwole certificates and all manner of bribery, if you know what I mean. That is how, in the first place, many of the teachers who produce this annual mass failure got into the universities and teachers’ colleges. If you doubt me, let the government order a screening of all teachers’ and lecturers’ certificates today, and see if it will not elicit stiff opposition, diversionary name-calling and threat of strike!

Every time we are confronted with this type of ugly reality, we moan and complain. Indeed many Nigerians, including a former Minister of Education, Prof Jubril Aminu, wailed about the result. The moaning will offer the usual excuses that do not touch on the real causes, and then we flip the page and move on.

Ask anybody why the dismal performance, the ready answer would be: “Government is not funding education well enough”! May be poor funding, but can we first audit the little that goes into the educational system to know how it is used? The real problem lies elsewhere, in a corner we hardly look!


Bad politics

There is a fundamental disease that is behind this national headache called falling standards in education. This disease is also behind our failures in almost all the departments of our national life. The problem is bad politics! Poor funding of education, non-implementation of annual budgets, corruption, name it, they are all products of bad politics. Bad politics is that which is obsessed placating personal and group aggrandizement to the detriment of public good. Richard Joseph called it prebendal politics.

The language of this type of politics goes like this: “Since independence, none of our sons has occupied the Ministry of Siddon Chop”, “Since this democratic dispensation our clan has not produced a Minister of Wackie and Quench”. What this type agitation does is to put unnecessary pressure and the wrong emphasis on the criteria for selection of public officers or induce a musical chair in what we call a “lucrative” ministry.

Eight years ago, a former Minister of Education told me something that was really instructive about our educational system. He said, from information he could glean from the ministry, that since Independence, no Minister of Education has attended the bi-annual Commonwealth Conference of Education Ministers twice!

This, if it is true, points to three critical implications. One is the high rate of turnover of Ministers in the ministry; two, the near absence of institutional memory and thirdly, we suffer policy reversal and uncertainty of implementation. Obviously, in such atmosphere of instability, supervision suffers, unqualified teachers are recruited, resources allocated to schools develop wings as corruption has a field day.

Education ministers

On September 30, 2010, The Nation newspaper published a list of Education Ministers, including Ministers of State, from 1958. This list as innocent as it looked confirmed what the former Education Minister told me. Please be patient and let us wade through this list: Mr. Aja Nwachukwu was Education Minister from 1958 to 1965 (8 years); Chief Richard Akinjide, 1965 to 1967 (2 years); Mr. Wenike Briggs, 1967 to 1970 (3 years); Chief A. Y Eke, 1970 to 1975 (5 years); Col Ahmadu A Alli, 1975 to 1978 (3 years);Dr G B Leton, 1978 to 1979 (1 year); Dr S Ugoh, 1979 to 1982 (3 years), Alhaji B Usman, 1979 to 1982 (3 years), Mrs. Elizabeth Iyase 1979 to 1982 (3years), Dr. I C Madubuike, 1982 to 1983 (1 year), Mr. L. A Bamigbaiye, 1982 to 1983 (1 year).

Other Ministers were: Chief Sunday Afolabi, September to December 1983 (3 months); Alhaji Y Abdullahi, 1984 to 1985 (1 year); Alhaji Ibrahim, 1985 (duration unstated); Prof Jubril Aminu, 1985 to 1989 (4 years); Prof Babs Fafunwa, 1990 to 1992 (2 years); Prof Ben Nwabueze, January 1993 to August 1993 (8 months); Prof I.A Imogie, January 1993 to November 1993 (11 months); Alhaji Dongodaji, January 1993 to January 1994 (1 year); Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, January 1994 to February 1995 (1 year); Alhaji Wada Nas, January 1995 to February 1995 (1 month); Dr. M. T. Liman, February 1995 to December 1997 (22 months); Mrs. Iyabo Anisulowo, February 1997 to December 1997 (10 months); Alhaji D Birmah, December 1997 to June 1998 (6 months) and Dr. A N Achunine, December 1997 to June 1998 (6 months).

We also had Mrs. Olaiya Oni, August 1998 to May 1999 (9 months); Alhaji S Saadu, August 1998 to May 1999 (9 months); Prof Tunde Adeniran, June 1999 to January 2001 (19 months); Alhaji Lawam Batagarawa, June 1999 to 2001 (2 years); Prof Babalola Borishade, February 2001 to June 2003, (3 years); Alhaji Bello Usman, February 2001 to June 2003 (3 years); Prof FNC Osuji, July 2003 to February 2005 (2 years); Hajia Bintu Musa July 2003 to June 2005 (2 years); Mrs. Chinwe Obaji, June 2005 to June 2006 (1 year); Halima Tayo Alao, June 2005 to 2006 (1 year); Dr Grace Ogwuche, February 2006 to June 2006 (5 months); Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, June 2006 to April 2007, (9 months); Dr Sayadi Abba Ruma, June 2006 to April 2007 (9 months); Dr. Adewunmi Abitoye, June 2006 to May 2007 (11 months); Dr. Igwe Aja Nwachukwu, June 2007 to December 2008, (18 months); Dr. Jerry Agada, June 2007 to December 2008 (18 months); Hajia Aishatu Jibril Dukku, June 2007 (duration unstated); Dr. Sam Egwu, December 2008 to March 2010, (2 years); and Prof Ruqqayat Rufai, April 2010 to date.

The longest serving Minister of Education in the history of this country was Aja Nwachukwu who, who in the “brief shining moments” of Nigeria, spent eight years in the Ministry. He was followed by Chief A.Y Eke, five years and Prof Jubril Aminu, four years. If you look at the years of political crises, such as 1983, when Shagari’s regime was terminated, and the years following June 12 crisis of 1993 to 1999, they coincide with shortest tenures in the Ministry, showing how political crisis affects us. Things began to look up again from June 1999, the return of democracy, when some Ministers spent between two to three years. Then there was a relapse between 2003 and 2007, the era of third term scam and the crisis it generated.


Grim statistics

From the above grim statistics we can also see why ASUU was constantly going on strike. When a new minister comes, he begins to study the files, including ASUU file. But if he puts in just six months you can agree that he would hardly be in any position to understand the details and essence of any agreement before he is trundled out of the Ministry. During these periods of short tenures, civil servants would dump on the Minister new education policies he would hardly have time to digest or he starts one addle- headed policy that creates its own problem and like a bad cold, runs its course six months or 10 months after the Minister is shown the door. For example, Mrs. Ezekwesili spent just nine months in the Ministry. But in that short time she raised a storm of her own with her proposal to privatise (or was it to concession) the Unity Schools!

While this musical chair is going on in the Ministry, the supervision of the principals, rectors and Vice Chancellors is relegated to the background. All manner of things happen undetected. A university with admission quota of 2000 students begins to sell admissions (they call it supplementary admission) to those who failed WAEC examinations and JAMB. It is lack of effective supervision occasioned by high turnover of ministers that has killed our education. It is not just poor funding. The little that goes into the schools can be better managed for better results!

In fairness to the ministers, many of them have the competence and the ability to deliver. And if you followed the screening of the ministers, you would agree that they are not lacking in ideas. But they often hardly have the time to put their ideas into practice. Take the case of Prof Rufai for example. I was told that she did a great job in Jigawa State and that was why she was brought to the centre. But the truth is that if President Jonathan did not reappoint her to the ministry, she would have lasted just one year and would not have had time to deliver on the expectation that brought her to the Federal level. There would have been no basis to judge her performance.

Other ministries

This crisis is not limited to Ministry of Education alone. The sad story is replicated in all the other ministries. That is why all the Federal Roads have become national embarrassment. You wonder how a nation can go to sleep and allow all her roads become death traps. The simple answer is that the ministers are constantly engaged in a dizzying going and coming. You wonder how a nation can watch all her hospitals break down.

The Minister, who assumed duty just three months ago, is probably busy preparing his handover notes! Every sector you see decay is just a victim of our bad politics. Were people and sponsored groups not lobbying for President Jonathan to drop some Ministers, not because they are incompetent but so as to abort some policies they initiated in their various ministries?

For us to turn things round, especially as we dream about 20: 2020, we should identify our national priorities in key ministries and allow ministers, who know what they are doing, to last long enough in such ministries to make impact.


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