IT is good to be back on the column circuit after a three-week leave but I find it interesting that one issue that had troubled me, and that I had intended to write about before the break, still very much has its hold on me. Although so much has happened between the second week of September when I took the break and now, none of them, including the earth-shattering allegations by Minister of Petroleum, Dr Ibe Kachikwu, on the NNPC Group Managing Director’s “insubordination and abuse of due process in the award of contracts amount to N9 trillion,” which is well above the 2017 annual budget, has been able to fully seize my attention.
Why is this so? It is because such stories have virtually become a fact of daily living in the country. Humongous sums of money are stolen at will and nothing happens to those responsible for the theft. Even for all the billions of naira reportedly misappropriated under the immediate past Goodluck Jonathan regime, including the huge sums allegedly misappropriated by former petroleum minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, and the huge sums recovered in different places in the earlier days of this regime, nothing has come out of all the investigations and allegations and the looters of the funds are there enjoying their loot.
So, I do not count it an act of pessimism to believe that even the ongoing claim of contracts of about N9 trillion allegedly awarded virtually single-handed by the NNPC boss will eventually dissipate into oblivion.
Already, the NNPC has come out in defence of its GMD, saying there is no law that mandates him to let the board of the agency know when contracts for such huge sums are being awarded. With that explanation, and with President Muhammadu Buhari’s seeming readiness to treat the matter as a “family affair” of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as he has simply met with Kachikwu in Aso Rock and asked the NNPC to explain the transactions, which it has now done and effectively backed Baru in his sidelining of Kachikwu and “obtaining” approval from Buhari for the transactions, it appears quite apparent that anyone trying to look further into how a single person in the NNPC could award such humongous contracts without recourse or active participation of the Petroleum Minister of State would only be wasting his time. My wager is that even this allegation will pass away. It will be swept under the bridge of inexpedient politicking and wastefulness that has kept Nigeria in the comatose position that it has been for more than 50 years.
So, why not use this opportunity, instead, to draw attention to a serious problem that is at the root of one of the major problems plaguing the country today. This is the problem of the large number of children and other young Nigerians who are uneducated, unskilled and therefore provide a ready pool of recruits for the Boko Haram sect and other underworld groups that have worsened the security situation, especially in the northern part of the country today.
The existence of almajiris and the other uneducated masses in northern Nigeria has always been an intractable problem for the governors and other leaders in that part of the country, but for me, nothing brings the reason for that unfortunate situation home better that the revelation, early September, by the Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, that over a half of the teachers in Kaduna State penciled down for re-absorption into the state’s Civil Service failed Primary Four examinations.
Pray, what good performance can be expected from students in this state, and the other states with similar challenges, when teachers themselves cannot pass the examinations that they set for their students? How do you retain students in schools when even their teachers do not understand what they are teaching them and examining them on? It is no wonder then that, as El Rufai also disclosed, some students of the state who were sent abroad for studies are being withdrawn for poor performance. This problem is apparently not limited to Kaduna State, as the Kano Zonal Office of the Teachers Registration Council (TRC), also on Monday said that 26,154 teachers, representing 65.3 per cent of teachers in the state’s primary schools, are unqualified. Only 13,899, about 34.7 per cent of the 40,053 teachers in the state are registered and certified by the council. This low teacher population caters for 3,183,696 pupils in the state’s primary schools. Statistics from the State Universal Basic Education Board show that the teacher/pupil ratio is 1/79, while the ratio of qualified teachers to pupils is 1/229. The situation is no different in the secondary schools where 66.7 per cent of the 16,482 teachers are not qualified to teach.
Is it any surprise then, that the performance of students and pupils from many of the northern states is so poor that a pupil from some of the states only needs to score as low as ten marks in the examination into Unity Colleges, while some of his counterparts who scored well over 200 in the same examination in other parts of the country cannot be admitted possibly because the same number of students have to be admitted from each state of the federation?
The implication of the poor quality of teachers in some parts of the North is that the pupils will be forever bound to post poor performances, because the teachers, certainly, cannot teach what they do not know. And the students, also, cannot know what they are not taught.
The affected state governments in all parts of the country have to address this problem from the root. They need to focus on the quality of current and potential teaching personnel, train them and motivate them to do a good job of giving quality education to the pupils.
In discharging this assignment, it is important that all hands are on deck. It is heartening that the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar 111, last week enjoined Nigerians to embrace modern education to restore the dignity of man in the country. He argued that modern Education, which subsumes the Greek, Christian and Islamic traditions and our indigenous and Islamic educational traditions should be harnessed, as they all have a lot to offer, adding that the real enemy of the country was not tribe or religion, but ignorance, which shattered the dignity of man.
Poor teachers can only produce poor students. Poor-performing students cannot feel comfortable in schools and they soon drop out to join the army of those threatening the peace of the society.
I charge the authorities of the northern states and all other educationally under-performing states to take up the challenge of providing quality teachers in their schools. But for unhelpful ethnic and religious considerations, it is ironic that thousands of qualified teachers are roaming the streets with no jobs in different parts of the country while students in some parts of the country have no qualified teachers to teach them. Nigeria’s many problems will definitely not be solved until our leaders resolve to shelve unhelpful politicking and take actions that are in the best interest of ordinary Nigerians.