By SIMON EBEGBULEM,
When the late Afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti sang his popular number, Teacher, Don’t Teach Me Nonsense, many thought it was just a song but the song had become a reality in time.
It was sometime in 2011, when Governor Adams Oshiomhole paid an unscheduled visit to a primary school in Edo North senatorial district of the state that he found out the rot which has pervaded the Universal Basic Education in the state.
For someone who has embarked on massive construction and rehabilitation of schools in the country of course, he must be concerned with the quality of teachers in these schools. Oshiomhole beckoned on a teacher in the school and asked him what are his workings hours. The teacher could not answer and said I don’t know and later murmured “7am to 4pm Sir”.
A visibly shocked Oshiomhole now called a pupil and asked, “where is your teacher? The teacher standing beside him replied on behalf of the pupil “na me”. That was when the governor knew that he has a serious problem in the educational sector.
A week after the incident, a group of Universal Basic Education teachers who were at the Government House in Benin to protest their non absorption into the state teaching service stormed the state government House, unknown to them the governor was waiting for such an opportunity to bare his mind on the rot in the system. While addressing the UBE teachers he asserted that employment into the state teaching service will no longer be automatic, adding that the applicant must show competence beyond paper qualification.
He said to them, “the governor does not have a guaranteed job, therefore nobody can have one. You must go through proper interview. The system must be convinced that you have what it takes to be a good teacher”. He stressed that the system must go through progressive change to ensure that education is restored to its pride of place, stressing there are teachers who cannot speak English. “Whatever they were doing before, we have to review it in the light of current experience. We have teachers who cannot speak English. I asked a teacher last week what the working hours were. He did not know, he said 7am to 4pm. And I asked a pupil, where is your teacher? The teacher said, ‘na me’. The governor disclosed that government was going to employ teachers to fill the existing vacancies, but it must be based on merit and not geographical area.
While noting that government will weed out unproductive teachers from the school system to restore the dignity of education, the Governor stressed that government cannot guarantee jobs for all UBE graduates simply because they have passed through teacher training. He however assured them that government would direct the Universal Basic Education Board to commerce the process of employment of teachers. “l appreciate that after going through teacher training, you expect that you would be employed, but it would not be automatic”. And following his resolve to clean up the mess in the system, the governor commenced the recruitment of teachers and saddled members of the State Universal Education Board (SUBEB) with the responsibility to recruit teachers. But the governor got another shock of his life, when petitions started flying around that the members were receiving bribe to recruit unqualified teachers. Saturday Vanguard was reliably informed that an official of the Board slept with a female whom he promised to give employment but at the end of the day refused to fulfill his promise even after sleeping with her. As a result, the governor in collaboration with the state House of Assembly dissolved the Board chaired by Hon. Joseph Emoabino and cancelled the recruitment exercise. While Mr Omorotiomwan was sworn-in as Commissioner. Worried by the mess in the educational sector, the state called for a town hall meeting with a view to find solution to the problems in that sector. But before the town hall meeting, there was an audit of primary school teachers in the state and it was revealed massive falsification of age of Primary School Teachers in the State Public Schools. But the teachers and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state saw the governor’s action differently. They alleged that it was because the teachers went on strike that the state government decided to punish them. They even alleged that it was because the Governor was accused of not having his primary school certificate by the PDP governorship candidate in the last governorship election, Gen.Charles Airhiavbere that informed the governor’s reform in the sector. Though they were reminded that the court had quashed those allegations, after it declared that Airhiavbere failed to prove any of the allegations against the governor.
However the town hall meeting held penultimate week and all the stakeholders were on hand to bare their minds. While declaring the meeting open, Oshiomhole who was the first to pull the trigger disclosed that from the audit carried out by the State’s Information and Communications Technology, 789 teachers out of 1,379 obtained their Primary School Leaving Certificates before the age of 8 or 9. He said “some of the records show there were a few who were particularly gifted and they finished primary school before they were born. We found that of all our primary school teachers, only 1,287 representing 9% out of 14,484 teachers have proper records in our system. 91% have various forms of discrepancies in their records. About 1,379 teachers representing 11.5% claim that they obtained their Primary School Certificates after they had been employed as teachers. In fact, some obtained their Primary School Certificates not more than two years ago, from the school in which they were employed as teachers. The question is whether they went to Teachers’ Training College or obtained National Certificate of Education (NCE) before they went to primary school. These are facts that have been well documented. It would not be helpful to the cause of education and our resolve to deliver quality education to our pupils if we do not deal with this issue decisively”.
The Governor who reeled out statistics on the teachers-student ratio in all the Local Governments in the State said the average of 30 students per teacher in the State is much lower than the UNESCO recommendation on student-teacher ratio saying this might mean that there are more teachers in the State primary schools than needed. While noting that there were positives from the audit, the Governor said there are more female teachers than male teachers in the State and that “in some cases, we have more female pupils in schools than male and that is very encouraging, because in some States, they are still battling with how to get their female children to school, but that is not the case in Edo.” He also noted that “as a result of the steps we have taken to restore confidence and integrity to our Public Schools, there has been a steady increase in enrolment in Public Junior Secondary Schools in the State. The Governor who said the town hall meeting on education was called to find a solution to the problems said the Government was open to suggestions on the way forward.Some of the stakeholders at the town hall meeting including the State Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Teachers, Comrade Patrick Ikosimi, the Aidenojie of South Ibie, H.R.H Kelvin Danesi, the Ojirrua of Irrua, H.R.H William Momodu, Comrade Jude Obasanmi, Chairman, Conference of Non Governmental Organizations in Edo State, Rev. Asibor, Mr. Efe John, Mrs. Rosemary Abode and others urged the Governor to take a tough decision to properly sanitize the education sector.
Determined, to sanitize the system despite the criticism from the PDP and some teachers, the State Government invited 1,300 Primary School teachers who have irregularities in their education certificates and age records to appear before a verification committee to defend themselves. This was made known at a meeting Govenor Oshiomhole held with the leadership of the state Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) led by Comrade Emmanuel Ademokun and the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) led by Comrade Patrick Ikosimi. The Governor said that the exercise is not to witch-hunt anybody however insisted that it would not be business as usual and that those who have become too old to teach will have to give way. Oshiomhole said “it is not my wish to preside over dismissals, first it is not cheap. Secondly, I have a responsibility to keep Edo going and ensure that our children are in good hands of teachers who are senile and also still strong to stand and competent to teach. If the facts reveal that there are teachers in the classroom who do not have the requisite qualification, you cannot insist that they remain in the system.
The good news is that those who are not too old, who are capable of training, if we find that they are deficient and it is possible for them to benefit from training, we will give them training, what is not acceptable is to say it is business as usual. We can mismanage everything in our country, if you mismanage education, you are killing our tomorrow, our collective future. The roads we are building, we won’t have brains to look over them. In the absence of brains, we won’t have growth and development. I have asked the Ministry of Education to invite those category of teachers whose number is about one thousand three hundred who from the records appear to have started their Primary School before they were born to come and speak to the fact because we are not assuming that those documents are iron-cast.” The Governor said the Primary School teachers will be paid their monthly salary which was withheld while they embarked on strike.
And on the day of the verification exercise, it was drama at Asologun Primary School, Ikpoba Okha Local Government Area, Benin City, Mrs Augusta Odemwinge could not read a sworn affidavit she tendered as part of her credentials. Governor Adams Oshiomhole who paid an unscheduled visit to the State Staff Training Centre venue of the exercise was appalled that a teacher could not read, saying “if you can’t read, what do you teach the pupils, what do you write on the board?” Chairman of the state Nigeria Union of Teachers, Comrade Patrick Ikosimi who was also at the screening to monitor the exercise said the woman’s failure was “an embarrassment”. On arrival at the centre, the governor took time to peruse some of the teacher’s credentials and documents presented. When Mrs. Odenwingie took her turn for the exercise, the Governor who listened to her defence asked her to read the affidavit she presented, however, she was stuttering and read the affidavit as if a kindergarten were learning to read, to the consternation of everybody around. Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Teachers NUT, Comrade Ikosimi who described Mrs Odemwingie failure as an embarrassment said the union was in tune with the state government on the need to sanitize the school system. He said: “We are committed to partnering with the government to reposition Education in the state. What this teacher has just displayed is a show of shame, it shows the decadence in the education sector. As the chairman of NUT, I have written to the governor that we are in total support of what he is doing. He should properly involve the NUT so that together we can fish out the culprits who are not viable as far as the system is concerned,” he said.
Reacting to the situation, the state Commissioner of Higher Education, Mr Washington Osifo, said: “We represent the trust of the people. We will do what the people want us to do. But I think we are not far from the people, the people want quality service delivery, we will not also shy away from that. We will not have those who are not qualified manning such sector. You cannot invest tax payers money to develop any sector particularly the educational sector. Because it is very critical, it is a recruiting ground for other sectors of the economy. We are teaching leaders of tomorrow so we must ensure we give them the best. If a teacher cannot put words together then he cannot be in the class room. There is no sentiment about it. The only thing she was able to pronounce that day was her name, and it is very embarrassing to the state government. I have not been able to recover from that shock. Yes it was bad but it is not incurably bad. All the teachers are not bad, our teachers are sound but we want it better and that is why we embarked on the reform. The Governor wants the best for our children and we are working towards that direction”.