Ogun and the pernicious passage By Paul Onomuakpokpo

Ibikunle Amosun

WHAT  easily  unravels any claims of Nigerian leaders to altruism as mere histrionic avowals is their petulant reaction  to  the mildest  reminder by the citizens of the need for them to do better.

They expect  the citizens  to be content with the media blitz that proclaims  whatever success they claim to have recorded in some  areas like the building of bridges and roads.

But they  are inexorably outraged at the people’s reminder  that  there are some areas that need governmental intervention after years of neglect.

In such circumstances,  they feel  that their performance  has  been undeservedly questioned, and they would deploy the  state powers at their disposal against the citizens with such unbridled courage to teach them how to govern.

Since Nigeria’s independence, this has often been the case. From the federal  to the state and council levels,  the country has not  been fortunate enough to have  leaders who are tolerant of criticism  and amenable to  the fact  that  they are in  government  just for the sole reason of improving the lot of the people.

But when  the Ogun State  government  demonstrated  this  intolerance  of criticism recently, it triggered so much  alarm if only for the reason  that the citizens had  thought  that they were  in an era  in which  governance  was no longer  an affair of a tiny class of winners of an election but  a joint project of all the stakeholders and all constructive criticisms were welcome.

Smarting  from a bruised ego, the  Ogun State  government    ordered the sacking of six  officials of the state Ministry of Education, Science  and Technology.

Although  the  government later converted the dismissal of  two  of the officials to compulsory retirement, neither the affected workers nor the  generality of Nigerians have been  appeased.

What riled the state government to no end    was a comprehension passage in the English Language examination conducted by the ministry for the united examination in public secondary schools for the third term of the 2014/2015 academic session.

The state government felt offended by the summary passage culled from a book that highlights a defect in the educational sector of a government .

The Ogun State  government is not mentioned in the passage.  But for the Ogun State government claiming that the passage refers to it, it would have passed as a  general  depiction of the  vitiated quality of  the nation’s educational system .

Clearly, there  is  hardly  any state of the federation where public  primary and secondary schools are not in urgent  need of redemptive  measures.

In the place of buildings, pupils now hold classes  under a  shelter provided by trees, teachers are not being paid and in states where they are paid their salaries are paltry.

Since this is  the state of education nationwide, it  is obviously high-handed on the part of the Ogun State government  to assume  that  the  sacked  officials  deliberately set out to undermine it.

Even if the passage actually mentions  the Ogun State  government, its dismissal  of the officials is a blatant attack on academic freedom and the  freedom  of expression.

It is an  insult  to the intelligence of the pupils of Ogun State for the  state government to infer that they did  not know before they read the passage  that the educational system was defective.

Worse still, it is an affront to the parents of the pupils  who are aware of developments  in the state and who are politically sophisticated  enough to make  independent decisions  on the performance of the state government.

And if the state government had been so concerned about how it is criticised in books, why did it not ban the book from which the passage was taken before now?   Again, if really the passage refers to the decay in the educational system in Ogun State, there ought to be a better response than what the state government has offered.

If the Ogun State government were sincere  about good governance that would improve the lot of the people, it  should have considered the criticism as an opportunity to see what is wrong with its educational  system and correct it.

If the state government cannot brook  such a little reminder of the need to do more in the educational sector, how then can it defend itself against the charge of being brutal in the suppression of any other opposing view in the state?   Instead of sacking the officials, the state government  should rather mete out appropriate sanctions to those who advised it  to dismiss them.

For it is clear by now  to the state government  that  the advice  has  really directed  Nigerians’ attention to the rot in the state educational system.

The advisers  and the state government  should  have known  that any attempt  to curb  a people’s quest  for information  is an invitation  for them to  seek more  knowledge.

This is why books  that are banned often  become bestsellers. From Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales,  John Milton’s Areopagatica, Voltaire’s Candide,  Thomas Paine’s  Rights  of Man  , Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin,  Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary ,  D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, George Orwell’s Animal Farm and Ninety Eighty-Four and  to Salman  Rushdie’s  The Satanic Verses, the point has always been demonstrated  that a ban on a book  stokes  the interest  of readers  in it.

If there must be  punishment at all,  it should  not be outright dismissal for officials who might have unwittingly erred while discharging their official  responsibilities.

Why must the government dissipate  its  energy on sacking these officials  when there are probably  those civil servants  who are deliberately  undermining  it through indolence  and  financial haemorrhage  sired by corruption?  It is not enough for  the government to explain that it was not  responsible  for the sacking of the officials and  that this was done by the state Civil Service Commission. The  government  should go further by declaring that it, a higher authority, is overruling the decision of  the commission .

But if the state government does not avail itself of this face-saving opportunity  and  recall the  officials,  then it is  incumbent  on the Nigeria Union of Teachers  and other relevant  labour groups to intervene  and stop this impunity. They should not allow the state government  to get  away with this.

Let them go  to court  and stop  this  executive high-handedness. Those who were sacked  have  the right to end  their careers  on a better note  than an abrupt  dismissal.

The same  government  which  would go the whole  judicial  hog if its tenure is threatened should  not be allowed to  scuttle  the careers of those who  braved the  sun or rain  to vote it into office.

The state government  must  heed  the call of the people who want the sacked officials recalled. And instead of gagging  the citizens and  intimidating  its workers,  the  government  should  channel its energy towards  rendering nugatory Ogun’s despicable  status of a debtor-state.

GUARDIAN