By Owei Lamkem
AMINU Bello Masari, the Executive Governor of Katsina State is a good man. I reached that conclusion in 2007 when he visited the Nigeria Labour Congress where I used to work. He was every inch a gentleman and as the conversation wore on, I wondered what he was doing in the shark-infested waters of Nigerian politics. He had been Speaker of the House of Representatives. Given the discussions, I was not surprised he left the then ruling People’s Democratic Party, PDP, for the far smaller and lesser known Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, on whose platform he ran and lost the 2011 Katsina State gubernatorial elections. But in 2015, he won that election on the platform of the All Progressives Congress , APC.
I thought with Masari, a revolution was imminent in that state. He had to cut grass to pay his way through school, and I knew he would not want other children to go through the same path. For him, education is the foundation of any viable society, and he is to be judged not so much by the physical structures he builds as governor but by the successes he scores in education which was tottering when he came into office. He decried the fact that between 2011 and 2013, out of 250,000 students the state presented for WAEC and NECO examinations, only 58,000 made five credits, including English and Mathematics. He further clarified: ‘’When we removed students in private schools in Katsina State and our indigenes that sat for the external exams in other states, the number of students who got five credits, including English and Mathematics in public schools which government is running, is about 340 to 500 students.’’
He lamented that the indigenes of the state can only produce less than 5,000 candidates eligible for admission into tertiary institutions.
In order to get a good grasp of the situation, he set up a committee which found serious gaps between what was on ground and the figures in the register: ‘’What the Committee found in the register is that there are 1.2 million pupils in primary schools but when it conducted a head count, the Committee counted only 728,000. In secondary schools, it saw that 378,000 students were on the register but only 328,000 were actually on ground.”
Masari lamented: ‘’There is no position in Nigeria that a Katsina indigene has not occupied. We are the only state that has occupied the Presidency of Nigeria three times. This is a foundation that was built by our parents but before our own eyes, we have left it to deteriorate.’’
He pointed out that the rot in education was not just in the state but also in the entire North-West where he said a 2013 Federal Ministry of Education and UNICEF survey found that 80 per cent of school age children in all the states in the region, were out of school in contrast with the states in the South including Kogi which had 80 per cent enrolment. He cited another report, a UNICEF-DFID survey which interviewed and assessed primary school teachers in the North-West. It revealed that: ‘’Most of them couldn’t pass the exams of the primary four pupils that they were teaching.‘’
I have read that the Masari administration is carrying out a revolution in education. For instance, the Katsina APC Chairman, Shitu.S. Shitu claims that the government has renovated over 1,800 dilapidated primary schools across the state in order to revive the education sector.
I thought that was a great achievement so I was shocked when Governor Masari fired with immediate effect, the Education Commissioner, Professor Halimatu Sa’adiya Idris; how does a coach fire his deadliest striker and most prolific goal scorer? The content of the sack letter personally signed by the Governor was even more shocking. He praised her exemplary service and acknowledged that under her leadership of the ministry: “schools were rehabilitated and upgraded, new ones were constructed, teachers were trained and the atmosphere made more conducive for learning and teaching.” Despite these successes, he said the Commissioner had to go because she is not a partisan politician. He explained that with the 2019 elections approaching: “it has become necessary for the government to bring more active politicians on board so as to fasten activities of governance.”
Indeed, governance must be quite difficult if a governor has to sack performing officials because he needs to empower professional politicians who can help win the next elections. Those of us outside power may not appreciate what people in power go through; we always assume that 2 times 2 must be 4. But politics is not arithmetic.
The burden of governance must also be quite much. Take the case of Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom. When the killings in the state by alleged herdsmen was getting to frightening proportions, the people rose to demand a ban against open grazing. Listening to the voice of his people, a law against open grazing was passed. Shortly afterwards, 73 people including babies were massacred. It was claimed that the massacres were a reaction to the new law. Many politicians blamed him for listening to his people. Some even mocked him. Whereas the issue of herdsmen and farmers has become a national security matter that requires the declaration of a state of emergency in the country, some tried to reduce it to a Benue State problem. A bitter Ortom exploded: “Henceforth, I have withdrawn from any political activity for now, till peace returns to Benue State. No one should think of 2019 for now; the year will take care of itself. I was elected to lead the living, not the dead. I’m not afraid of death. I would rather die defending my people. This is beyond politics.”
Now, if it were in parliament, he would have been accused of using un-parliamentary language; how can a politician say he is withdrawing from political activity? To worsen matters, he said the next elections can wait. Which Nigerian politician is not thinking of the next elections?
Clearly, Ortom was veering off, he was like a lost sheep who had to be brought back to the fold. So seven of his brother APC governors drove to see him. The killings they proclaimed, are being politicised. On Thursday May 26, 2016 following a similar massacre, APC governors, then led by Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State had paid a similar condolence visit to Benue State. On that occasion, Ortom had lamented that women and children in his ancestral home had been massacred and the area occupied by herdsmen.
Today, Governor Ortom is torn between his immediate constituency and his larger national constituency. That is part of the burden of governance.