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Oshiomhole, Madam Odewingie and the lessons

Like a thief in the night, he walked in quietly and caught everybody napping .Such unscheduled visits are usually devoid of sirens.

But for the  horde of aides and security personnel, his presence would not have been noticed . Of course, the diminutive frame is his asset as he could easily sneak  into  anywhere unnoticed.

That was the scenario that  played  out on August 13, 2013 when Edo State Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole visited the state staff training centre, venue of the verification exercise for school teachers. It was an exercise embarked upon by the state government to ascertain the quality and quantity of teachers on its pay roll.

It was against the backdrop of the constancy of the number of teachers and their wage bill in the face of regularity of retirements in the state.

As a responsible government with zero tolerance for corruption, the EdoState government was worried that the wage bill of pensioners kept on rising while that of the teachers in active service remained constant, yet, there have been no fresh recruitment .

Given this scenario, one does not really need to consult an oracle to know that something was wrong somewhere. It was against this background that the state chapters of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC and the Nigeria Union of Teachers, NUT, gave their full backing to the exercise.

Revelations from the exercise have proved that, indeed, something fundamental was wrong with the education system in the state, especially at the level of recruitment of teachers. Even those who condemned the exercise as a ploy by government to rationalise teaching staff could not help but to applaud it.

Barely a week into the exercise, the state governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and critical stakeholders got the first shocker as a primary school teacher with many years teaching experience, Mrs  Augusta Odewingie, could not read the content of an affidavit she purportedly deposed to at a law court.

A bewildered Oshiomhole who was apparently enraged at the level of decay in the state education system could not but asked Mrs Odewingie: “If you cannot read, what do you teach pupils? What do you write on the board?” Chairman of the state NUT, Comrade Patrick Ikosimo, who was present as the drama played out was struggling to express himself as he was short of words . He however managed to mutter: “This is an embarrassment and a show of shame”.

It is worthy of note  here that there  have been an avalanche of media write-ups and commentaries on Madam Odewingie’s gaffe . Unfortunately, some   print  media that ventured to  editorialise on it glossed over the fundamental issues.

To do proper  justice to this, one must get to the root of the problem rather than scratching the surface. In doing this, we must  go beyond Madam Odewingie and address the substance. No doubt,  Madam Odewingie is a reflection of the rot in our public schools and this  goes beyond EdoState.   It is a general malaise in our public school system. It is a popular maxim that you cannot give what you do not have. So, to impact knowledge one has to be sufficiently knowledgeable. Madam Odewingie did not employ herself into the state teaching service.

The panel saddled with that exercise should use Madam Odewingie as a case study to get to the root of the problems in our public schools system.  The panel should, among others, dig into how she got her certificate, if at all there is  any in her file .

It  should investigate how she found herself into the state teaching service. How has she been able to pull through all these years to remain in service in the face of the series of certificate verifications and rationalisation exercises carried out by previous governments?

This exercise could not have been the first in the 21 years history of EdoState. If the panel could painstakingly beam its searchlight into these areas, it would have ended up doing a yeoman’s job.

Officials responsible for the recruitment, promotion and discipline of teachers in the state must be persons of impeccable character who will not look  the other way and allow all manner of job seekers to sneak into the  teaching service. It could  be excused in other sectors but not teaching, because education  is the bedrock of any society. Any society   that fails to get it right at that level is doomed.

One is therefore not surprised when the EdoState governor vowed to get to the root of the decay in the public school system having invested heavily in education in the last four and a half years. A quantum of the state’s budget  goes to education every year and this has reflected in what is generally referred to in the state today as the red roof revolution .

Red roof revolution     is  a  conscious effort by the  government to make all public schools across the state as good as the best private schools, if not better. These schools roofed with aluminium sheets are complete with floor tiles, ceiling fans, flush windows and steel doors .

In fact,  teachers in the state earn more than their counterparts in other sectors of  the public  service, especially with the recent approval by government for the payment of their special  salary package. The reason behind this, according to the Governor, is to attract the best brains into the teaching profession.

In this instance, it is either Madam Odewingie deposed to the affidavit by proxy or the document itself was forged. Because no court registrar with  integrity  will stick out the neck for one who cannot read an affidavit, especially one who  claims to be a school teacher .

Though this may be out of its terms of reference, there is need for the committee to seek the corporation of the relevant body in the state judiciary to fish out the official who may have   helped Madam Odewingie to procure the controversial affidavit.

This must be done in the overall interest of the state . These are the issues that must be addressed if lessons had actually  been learnt from the Madam Odewingie saga.

Mr EBOMHIANA MUSA , a public affairs analyst, wrote from Auchi, Edo State.


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