By Adewale Kupoluyi
One common thing that is associated with the Kaduna State Governor, MallamNasir El-Rufai is controversy. Over the years, El-Rufai has had to contend with one crisis or the other. For instance, Nigerians would not forget so easily, his activities as the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory that had to do with the litany of demolition of buildings in Abuja, some few years back.
Furthermore, was the demolition of structures built on government lands, which attracted criticisms from those affected. Also, was his directive for the evacuation of beggars from the streets. Controversial was also his school feeding programme that saw enrolment shooting up at the beginning only for some children to come to feed and go without actually remaining in school. Another issue was the bill he sent to the state assembly for enactment into law to curb religious preaching, which some perceived as a violation of their human right. There are other cases that could further be mentioned.
This time around, the Nigeria Labour Congress had raised an alarm over plans to embark on the mass sack of workers. The NLC President, Comrade AyubaWabba, said that the recent sack of teachers was an indication of the eventual planned mass sack of workers. According to him, the planned sack was allegedly targeted at about 5,000 local government workers and 8,000 in the various state’s Ministries, Departments and Agencies.
To buttress the point, the Kaduna State government made public some of the scripts of teachers that allegedly failed the competency test conducted for all public school teachers in the state. Some 33,000 public school teachers took the examination last month, out of which 21,700 were said to have failed. The gross failure by the teachers prompted the governor to sack those who allegedly failed. The government then announced a massive recruitment in the state for 25,000 new teachers to occupy the vacant positions of the reportedly sacked teachers. A breakdown shows that two-thirds of the primary school teachers in the state failed to score up to 75 per cent when asked to write examinations while most of the questions contained in the examination where those of primary four students.
Scripts of some of the teachers released by the state government revealed that they had difficulty answering questions like the full name of the governor. Despite opposition to the sack of the ‘unfit’ teachers, the governor has said there was no going back, as the state government had started receiving applications for the 25,000 teachers to be employed.
Ordinarily, a good leader would want the best for his/her organisation. He/she would want high flyers, achievers, productive and reliable workforce at all times that can justify their pay. It is then natural for the Kaduna State Governor to desire to employ the best crop of personnel that would give the best value for their pay. Not only that, when school children are badly taught, they become serious burden for the society. A half-baked teacher is as bad as a poorly trained worker. Observers have argued that the only body that is competent to test teachers’ competence is the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria and not the state government, as it had done. No wonder that there was a protest by the Nigeria Union of Teachers, Nigeria Labour Congress and the National Union of Local Government Employees to cry against the action of the government, because they felt it was illegal. President MuhammaduBuhari had declared support for the school reform being undertaken by the Kaduna State governor. President Buhari had expressed his position at a special retreat of the Federal Executive Council in Abuja.
For me, the decision of the Kaduna State Government to send over 21,000 people into the labour market in one swoop is not only untimely, it is not the best solution to the problems at hand, coupled with the fact that the law makes it clear that the TRC remained the only statutory body that can administer tests to teachers. Another area that makes the examination questionable has to do with the structure of the papers that could simply be described as embarrassing such that many of the teachers could not eventually pass the examinations. I continue to ask the relevance of these questions: ‘who is the Commissioner of Police in Bayelsa State?’ ‘Who is the Bayelsa State Chairman of SUBEB?’ These unanswered questions bother on the objectivity and relevance of the examinations in the first place!
On the way forward, sacking the teachers en masse could be counter-productive. The governor should rethink about his decision and review his actions. He should put in place, a committee or panel comprising technocrats and experienced educators, to look into the problems and proffer solution on possible alternatives. For instance, those that are unqualified could be placed under suspension for failing to meet up with the demands of their work but should still be given the room for appeal. Those with identifiable deficiencies should be further developed to become more productive. El-Rufai should look into how he can develop those teachers even if they truly have challenges. He should also be prepared to answer these questions: Have they provided the teachers with the conducive environment to work? Are they well motivated? Are the classrooms adequate? When last were they trained, how often do they go for retraining? Are they paying teachers’ salaries regularly? Again, has he explored the room for training and retraining?
Just a few days to the end of the deadline given by the Kaduna state chapter of the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), issued to Governor El-Rufai, to reappraise his decision to sack the teachers. There are things that should be considered before the sacking can be justified, if there is any need for it at all. Even as at the time of giving them the test, there is the need to ascertain the psychological makeup of the teachers. Certainly, there are more questions that need to be answered. El-Rufai should take a pause and review his decision. He should never throw away the baby with the bathwater.