El-Rufai’s Teachers And Shehu Sani’s Labor Unions By ‘Fisayo Soyombo

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For as long as one is the Governor of Kaduna State and the other is obsessed with unseating him, Nasir el-Rufai and Shehu Sani will never see a coin from the same side. No, scratch that. So long el-Rufai sees a coin form a certain side, Sani can never see it from the same.

Ordinarily, this is not our problem — the masses, I mean. For those of us who hail not from Kaduna and are not interested in the politics of the north-western state, el-Rufai and Sani can continue feuding for as long as they desire. After all, political disagreements are often not about the people but about the selfish interests of who gets what. But no longer can we ignore the El-Rufai-Sani feud. Their problem has become our problem.

As everyone probably knows already, el-Rufai is trying to sack 21,700 primary school teachers who failed a test that should have been passed by the average Primary 4 pupil. Think of ‘sack’ here as a ‘Future Definite Tense’ — because if you know a thing or two about el-Rufai, from his days at the Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE) and the FCT ministry, these teachers are as good as gone. Even his son Bello confirms this, saying recently: “Let me do what I have no power to do, which is speak for my father. He will not relent or change his mind on this action no matter what.”

El-Rufai is like that; he operates like a soldier: there’s nothing like ‘come’ after ‘go’.

This is neither a strength nor a weakness in itself; it’s always a question of context. It can be a weakness when he is wrong — such as when, out of blind loyalty to President Muhammadu Buhari, he talks about ongoing efforts by a group of Buharists (whatever that means!) to ensure that Buhari (as though he has earned it) runs in 2019 when his current tenure has been blighted by long absences from work and a litany of unfulfilled electoral promises. But when he is right, such as is the case with his current effort to reposition primary education in Kaduna, then el-Rufai’s stubbornness is more than a strength; it is a refreshing dose of rarely-seen political will in Nigeria’s public space where political correctness, not competence, is the pre-eminent primer of job-related decision-making

Tackling a problem from its roots

The Nigerian education system is a mess. Very few people would disagree, but employers of labor are the best placed to narrate the shocking details. There will always be a few shinning lights — self-motivated people who defy the system to rise beyond the standards of their formal education. But, generally, job tests and interviews are the spots where the obituary of the Nigerian education system is constantly being rewritten.

Many times when we talk about the “falling standard of education”, we focus on tertiary institutions of learning, forgetting that if the primary and secondary levels are weak, no magic can happen at the tertiary level. El-Rufai has done well to deviate from the norm and hit the problem at its roots. When a teacher cannot spell “malaria”, misspells “typhoid” as “typhart”, misspells “cough” as ‘cought” or defines ICT as “Introduction to Communication Technology”, we all have to be worried about the caliber of “tomorrow’s leaders” we’re raising. And when such teachers hit the streets in protest, hoisting banners such as one that reads ‘Examination is not the true test of knowledge’ despite themselves overseeing exams roughly once every four months, we all should be hiding our heads away in shame. But some people cannot be bothered, one being Shehu Sani, the senator representing Kaduna Central at the National Assembly.

Sani, NUT, NLC

In all these, Sani is “standing firmly” with the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) “100 percent” on their protests last week in an attempt to force the hands of the state government. Despite stiff opposition from the majority of his social-media followers, Sani has been defiant. His arguments, in his exact words, are basically three: Any examination conducted for teachers, not by Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria is invalid; making public 10 answer scripts out of over 21,000 answer scripts makes no sense to any reasonable and rational mind; while people outside of Kaduna are made to believe that it’s about ‘quality education’ or ‘next generation’, the people of Kaduna know better about the truth behind the façade.

The last two reasons do not at all merit a discussion, but there is some truth in the regulatory responsibilities of the TRCN. However, even that argument spotlights TRCN’s complicity in the rot. Beyond organizing and collecting money for its professional qualifying examinations, TRCN has been anonymous in any painstaking effort to sanitize the education system since its establishment more than two decades ago. Given the TRCN’s slumber, nothing precludes the state government from its own intervention.

Sani, NUT and NLC are not the only ones in the opposition camp. Also in it are those who do not want 22,000 people to lose their jobs overnight. How would these teachers and their families survive without a job? Valid concern but an invalid conclusion. Any normal human being should be saddened by the prospect of such huge job loss but the lives of millions of pupils will be ruined if left at the mercy of such misfiring teachers. Rather than indulge in pity party, the about-to-be-sacked teachers should take up the option of reapplying for their job. They have a few weeks, probably months, to rehabilitate themselves ahead of the oncoming recruitment examination — retraining teachers with such huge elementary deficiencies can’t be the state government’s headache.

El-Rufai dreams of recruiting 25,000 ‘qualified’ teachers. Seriously?

El-Rufai deserves ovation, not opprobrium, for his bold move even if, by law, he cannot mass-sack the teachers in question. Respected lawyer Jiti Ogunye has already explained how the teachers can be disengaged from service without breaching the law.

But there is an important question no one seems to be asking: from where does el-Rufai hope to harvest 25,000 “qualified” teachers? Apparently not Kaduna State. To expect quality teachers of that number is to underestimate the rot he is trying to tackle or to neglect its causes. He is well on course to eliminate the cronyism, nepotism and ‘man-know-man-ism’ that helped the endangered teachers to a job they did not merit. But still in place are the mediocrity-rewarding quota system and catchment area guidelines for admission into tertiary institutions, which gift education opportunities to not necessarily the best students and the federal character principle that sometimes hands teaching and lecturing jobs to the least qualified candidates. Therefore, prospective Kaduna teachers who accessed education not because they were qualified to, or who were taught by lecturers that weren’t the most qualified to, cannot be as “qualified” as el-Rufai might be expecting.

This still doesn’t invalidate the governor’s efforts. He is treading where others failed. Adams Oshiomhole attempted it in Edo State without success. He was forced to reverse the sack of 936 teachers, while the planned sack of several thousands more ended up a mere bluff. But Oshiomhole did that in his second term, when, by political calculations, he could risk the people’s uprising.

Nasir el-Rufai is attempting it in his first term; and given the enormous voting power wielded by teachers, to whom the larger civil service workforce is sympathetic, el-Rufai is toying with his reelection prospects in 2019. One thing is clear: Nigeria would be a better place with more leaders of his ilk — governors, and presidents who act out their convictions even at the expense of their political capital.

We will also do well to limit the leadership opportunities available to the likes of Shehu Sani — people to whom political warfare supersede societal advancement, people who wouldn’t hire Kaduna’s “typhart” and “coughting” teachers to train their own kids but can side with the NLC and NUT if it depletes the armoury of their political opponents.

 

Soyombo, Editor of the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), tweets @fisayosoyombo

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