By Nabilah Hassan Umar
“Under no circumstance would we subjugate the future of the two million pupils in public primary schools, and those coming after them, to the interests of unqualified teachers”- El-Rufai (December, 2017)
Leadership is about foresight, focus and taking tough decisions and in the last five years or so, Governor Nasir El-Rufai has demonstrated these attributes in Kaduna state. For example, his decision to reform public schools brought all three traits to the fore and it pitched him against entrenched interests and hypocrites. The saga began in 2017, when the El-Rufai administration conducted a competency test for primary school teachers, to weed out unqualified ones. What prompted this decision?
In May 2015, after winning the elections, the government received briefings from the Education Sector Support Programme in Nigeria (ESSPIN), a DFID programme which had carried out a survey on teacher and pupil competence levels. The survey indicated that 83 percent of the teachers scored less than 25 percent in Mathematics and Literacy exams. To, Governor El-Rufai, this was unacceptable.
To address the issue, the government took steps to bridge this gap, by arranging training and retraining programmes for the teachers, during the 2016/2017 session. Through SUBEB, 11,315 classroom teachers were trained in literacy and numeracy while another 3,733 were trained in Reading Skills through the Global Partnership for Education. Similarly, another 5,945 were trained by UBEC in Pedagogy, Lesson Plans and Use of Teachers’ Guide.
Afterwards, the Kaduna State Government conducted a competency test for primary school teachers. A primary four test was administered to all of them and 75% was set aside as pass mark and only 11, 591 teachers, representing 33.9 percent, scored the required grade. As a result, those who failed were disengaged and 25,000 new competent teachers were recruited after passing a qualifying examination.
In 2012, the then administration of Late Patrick Yakowa had dismissed 4000 teachers who, after screening, were found to be unqualified for either their positions or were using fake credentials. Subsequently, the government gave a five-year window for under-qualified teachers to acquire the requisite Nigeria Certificate in Education (NCE) qualification. The grace period ended in 2017 and it coincided with when the El-Rufai administration conducted the competency test and subsequent disengagement of unqualified teachers.
For members of the opposition, the disengagement of the 21,780 unqualified teachers was seen as ‘political suicide’ for Governor El-Rufai. Likewise, the Kaduna State chapter of the NUT threatened strike action in order to force government to reverse its decision. In November 2017, the NLC joined the fray, by staging a protest march in solidarity with NUT but the government remained unmoved.
In a State Broadcast, in December 2017, the governor said “some of our critics have threatened us with electoral consequences because we are taking tough, but necessary decisions, in favour of ordinary people. Our oath of office and our personal principles prevent us from refusing to do what is right because of political calculations. We take decisions because they are right, not because they offer us any political advantage. We denounce the hypocrisy of critics who send their own children to private schools but argue for the retention in public schools of bad teachers. We wish to remind such persons that the children of the poor also have the right to decent education!” Indeed, the strike action did not only fail but El-Rufai won his re-election in 2019.
However, the NUT continued it’s “war” against El-Rufai in court. The teacher’s body, led by it’s Chairman, Comrade Audu T. Amba, dragged the Governor to the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, seeking to nullify the termination of the teachers who failed the competency test. The claimants challenged the powers of the defendant to terminate and dismiss from service, any teacher in the public primary school in Kaduna, without the support of the simple majority of the Kaduna State House of Assembly.
On February 2nd, 2021, the court delivered judgement on the matter, saying the “claimants” claims were unsupported by evidence and as a result, lack merit. With that judgement, El-Rufai has won the court case but the real winners are children of the poor, who are pupils of public school. By the governor’s bold decision, he has secured their future and with hard work and commitment, they can achieve their dreams.
Nabilah is Special Assistant on Media and Communication