The governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai, has been trending. For him, being in the news and in the vortex of a controversy is not new. He thrives in such. Most iconoclasts do. El-Rufai is a non-conformist, not one to join any bandwagon. As a former minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), he was ruthlessly brutal against the rot and miasma that systemically turned the capital territory into one huge slum, distorting the masterplan and everything that was conceived to make the FCT a beautiful pride of Africa.
He used bulldozers to pull down houses of the untouchables. His party men, retired Generals and other members of Nigeria’s iron-cast club of bourgeoisie were not spared. Then, the fear of el-Rufai was the beginning of wisdom. He chased motorcycle riders out of the city centre, restricting them to the suburbs. He was unpopular with some of the rich and the poor. But he was unfazed. He stuck to his gun. Reformers are never popular with the people; yet there were many who hailed him for his audacity to dare the establishment in order to reclaim the Abuja masterplan. Today, thanks to him, Abuja still maintains a semblance of sanity and wears the garb befitting of a city in the 21st Century. Hail him, heckle him, the man continues to roll.
As Governor of Kaduna State, this man, often described as ‘crazy’ in a positive sense by some Nigerians is still on the roll. He had brushes with people of faith, insisting that worshippers of any religion must practise their faith within the province of law and order.
Now, he has turned to primary school teachers in his state. Perhaps, suspecting there was a fundamental flaw in the education foundation of the state, he administered a test on primary school teachers in Kaduna. The test was a simple one, the type you would tag ‘make-me-shine’ test. It was a test meant for primary four pupils that was given to teachers to write and the unexpected happened. About 21,780 out of 33,000 teachers failed the primary four test, meaning a good 66 percent (two-thirds) of the teachers flunked the simple test meant for pupils they were supposed to be teaching. Scandalous? Incredible? Anyhow you describe it, it simply beggars belief.
The governor says the state is shopping for 25,000 new qualified teachers to replace the unqualified ones as a strategy to restore the dignity and quality of education. And some people are calling for his head? The teachers’ union says it would go on indefinite strike if its members are not allowed to keep muddling and polluting the education sector.
Anybody who saw some of the scripts of the Kaduna teachers would feel a sense of both shame and anger. Teachers cannot spell words like rectangle, triangle, government, children, officials, school, fees, among others. Teachers with years of experience could not write a correct sentence, were incoherent and disjointed in their attempts to answer questions a smart primary three pupil would roll over in a matter of minutes. Yet, we insist that such teachers should be retained? They should not. They should be shooed out of the teaching profession and those who could function elsewhere not within the epicentre of knowledge-impartation should be allowed to function there. To continue to have such teachers within the system is to endanger our collective future.
And this is not peculiar to Kaduna State. There are many unqualified teachers all over the nation just as we have unqualified journalists, lawyers, engineers, doctors et al. Studies, including those conducted by Harvard, have shown that a nation is as developed and advanced as its human capital. Quality of human capital is the single most determinant factor for the progress of any nation. We live in the knowledge century when human capital, not natural resources, determines how well a people can live and how far they can go. Human capital in this context means the skills set, education, health indices, hands-on training and other variants of knowledge which a person(s) is exposed to. The core drivers of this human capital are the teachers at all levels including vocational institutions. They are not to be toyed with. I believe a nation is as developed as the quality of its teachers or those saddled with the responsibility of mentoring.
The Resource Curse syndrome has shown us that abundance of natural resources does not guarantee well-being for a people or nation. In this knowledge century, nations without natural resources namely Japan, South Korea, Singapore have sustained a steady growth of their respective economies and have been largely insulated from the seismic bursts that characterised commodity markets over the years. To keep their growth and development curves healthy, those with natural resources have had to rely on their well-trained human capital to maximally manage these resources. This points to one thing: no serious nation plays with its education sector.
I have always argued that teachers in Nigeria are poorly remunerated; that teaching has been abandoned for misfits and dregs. I still insist that Nigerian governments, at any level, should pay teachers very well. Their wages should be attractive enough to attract the best brains into the profession and keep them there. But I do not subscribe to managing teachers who cannot teach because they are bereft of knowledge; we must not tolerate teachers who cannot pass the test or exam meant for the pupils they were supposed to be mentoring. To continue to do so is to consciously mortgage our future and sustain the dynasty of poverty of leadership and followership which we have propagated over the years with our politicisation of issues of development. I stand by and with el-Rufai on this matter and I recommend such therapy to other governors.
Rather than censure el-Rufai, we should condemn the institutions that produced such teachers. It is an indictment on the National Teachers’ Institute and other teachers’ training institutions. How did these grossly unqualified teachers pass their exams? Who awarded them certificates including GCE and NECO? Managers of the nation’s examination bodies should pause and ponder the rot that a simple exercise in Kaduna has exposed.
El-Rufai should block his ears to the silly sentiments from some quarters. We cannot because of the sentiment of there are no jobs elsewhere keep someone on a job he or she was never qualified to do in the first place. I was not surprised that the governor got the support of President Muhammadu Buhari on this matter. Someone has got to stop this rot and if that someone happens to be el-Rufai, so be it!
The very fact that some people are condemning the governor speaks volume of the decay in our system. Some of these teachers are simply untrainable. Even when the option of retraining is adopted, they should not be allowed into the classrooms until after the retraining. In the meantime, someone, sound and competent, should stand in for them. But I wonder how you’ll train someone whose foundation is skewed and faulty. Some of them will have to return to primary school to kick-start the so-called retraining. Whatever option we choose, Kaduna needs new qualified teachers. Simplicita!