Two months ago, precisely in the September 12 edition of Saturday PUNCH, I wrote a piece titled, “The Education Minister Buhari Should Appoint.” In that article, it was observed that while the President had the right to appoint anyone as a minister, the choice of an education minister should not be based on sentiments because education is real business.
I also emphasised that what Nigeria needs today is a minister of education that understands the dynamics of globalisation of education, someone with a good grasp of the problem areas and enough capacity both in terms of intellect and political will to ensure quick fixes and positive changes.
Well, the President in his infinite wisdom has sworn in his long-time associate, Mallam Adamu Adamu, as Nigeria’s Minister of Education. Adamu, a graduate of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, is from Bauchi State. He is an accountant, a columnist with the Daily Trust and a former chairman of editorial board, New Nigerian newspapers.
He was a chief accountant in Bauchi Water Corporation before setting up the defunct Citizenmagazine. He later edited the late Gen Shehu Musa Yar’Adua’s Sentinel, before becoming President Muhammadu Buhari’s Special Assistant when he was at the Petroleum Trust Fund.
Further checks on Adamu’s career history show he was a personal assistant to the late Solomon Lar, who was the pioneer chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party and a former governor of Plateau State on the platform of the Nigerian Peoples Party in the Second Republic.
Adamu is described as an ardent follower of President Buhari. He was said to be one of those who accompanied him to Bauchi State during the 2007 elections to campaign for the candidacy of Governor Isa Yuguda of the All Nigeria Peoples Party, the President’s former political party.
Understandably, many Nigerians have expressed the opinion that Adamu should be better elsewhere than in the education ministry. But his supporters have maintained that President Buhari could be absolutely trusted to have picked the best man for the ministry.
They argue that the likes of Aliko Dangote, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have lots of professors in their firms. They also argue that as supervisors of their ministries, ministers are merely policy drivers, not necessarily practitioners.
I agree that one does not have to be a professor to function effectively as a minister in the education ministry. After all, Nicky Morgan, Britain’s Secretary of State for Education is a lawyer and Arne Duncan, the United States Secretary of Education, is not a professor.
I also know that some of our professor ministers have failed us in the past. After all, one of them closed all private and public primary/ secondary schools for almost a term just because of voter registration exercise. This was in spite of poor performance of students in external examinations. One would have expected that students should maximise the time available for learning to gain more. But our professor minister thought otherwise. The worst part was that most of the schools closed were never used as registration centres.
Another professor minister was accused of packaging bribe for lawmakers during the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, to facilitate approval of budgetary allocation to his ministry.
But what I will easily contest is any argument that suggests that any politician can be a minister of education whether he has pre-requisite knowledge of the sector or not.
I believe that even as a professor, a person should be well versed in the global perspectives on education from primary to tertiary levels before he/she could be appointed education minister.
It is not for fun that many advanced countries choose either Profs or experienced educationists as their education ministers. Though, America’s Duncan is not a professor, he has a robust career in the education sector. He was a superintendent of the Chicago public schools and a director of the Ariel Education Initiative among others before he was appointed education secretary.
In China, for instance, in addition to being a full professor with master’s degree in philosophy, Yuan Guiren, in charge of the education ministry, was a teacher, lecturer, vice minister of education, director-general, municipal education committee and so on before his appointment.
In Germany, Johanna Wanka, who is the Federal Minister of Education and Research, is a professor of engineering mathematics, an assistant researcher and someone who has spent all her career around the education sector.
Even our nearest neighbour, Ghana, sees the wisdom in appointing someone very conversant with the education sector as a minister for the ministry. Apart from being a professor, Jane Nana Opoku-Agyemang, who is in charge of Ghana Education Service, is a former vice-chancellor and active participant at global forums on education. She was once a representative to the executive board of UNESCO.
Little wonder Nigerian students spend over $1bn to study in Ghana every year, according to the former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi.
Besides, I can’t figure out the logic in equating Adamu with the Bill Gates of this world. Bill Gates and his likes are men of vision, full of creativity. Their visions inspired them to become great accomplishers. They are born leaders. Their own goal is to employ others and not to be employed. True, the professors working for them could have ideas, but ultimately they take decisions on what to do with such ideas. They can smell opportunities from a thousand miles.
I had expected the President to adopt a more radical approach to solving the problems in the education sector. But perhaps he does not see the sector as having any serious challenge.
For now, it makes no sense crying over spilt milk. Since the President who some people see as wearing the shoes and therefore knowing where it pinches, has decided that Adamu is the best man for the job, I can only wish the minister the best of luck.
But, in the meantime, I will advise the minister to focus on how to train and retrain the army of unqualified teachers in the country. The National Teachers Institute, Kaduna, has said that over 80 per cent of teachers in the North are unqualified to teach. He needs to initiate policies to reverse this ugly trend.
Good enough, the minister has said that he would improve on the condition of service of teachers. He has also identified underfunding, poor teaching infrastructure, lack of laboratory and research equipment and brain drain from tertiary institutions as the challenges facing the education sector.
He should work on ensuring that Nigeria’s best brains are recruited into the teaching profession. There is no point increasing welfare package for unqualified teachers. They can’t add value. That is not the type of incentive we are talking about.
Minister Adamu should also focus attention on making learning at primary and secondary schools more exciting by improving on learning facilities and infrastructure. He should also work on making teaching both attractive and lucrative.
Our minister should initiate policies that will stop lowering admission requirement for applicants aspiring to go for teaching courses.