In life, Joseph Onuorah Nzekwu, now deceased, was an obscure journalist but his novel, ‘’Eze Goes to School’’, is an all time classic. The book, as timeless as ever, is relevant today as it was 53 years ago, when it was first published. In 1961, he wrote ‘’Wand of Noble Wood’’ and the book, his first major outing, got a rave of positive reviews. In fact, Encyclopaedia Britannica gave it a favourable mention but ‘’Eze…’’ resonates more with the literati. Last week, Malam Nasir El Rufai, the governor of Kaduna state, enrolled his child into a public school. Like Eze, Abubakar also went to school and the new pupil, unlike the fictional character, was the cynosure of all eyes on September 23. The event, from beginning to end, was captured by the media as the six year old took his faltering steps in learning. Thereafter, a barrage of commentaries followed the enrolment. The motive, utility and various interpretations have been argued back and forth in the last two odd weeks.
Broadly, Malam Nasir El Rufai, as APC candidate, had promised to provide security, enthrone peace in Kaduna state, create jobs and improve healthcare and education in the ‘’Centre of Learning.’’ In retrospect, five years down the road, he has largely delivered on these promises but it is still work-in-progress. Education, according to him, is key to solving most problems, empowering the citizenry and bringing development in any society. The governor, on various occasions, has flaunted his public school education as part of his success story. In particular, he attended an L.E.A Primary School in Kaduna, went to Ahmadu Bello University Zaria and came out with flying colours. Similarly, in both private and public sectors, he has given a good account of his quality education.
However, over the years, things went south in the education sector. In fact, only the never-do-wells, children of the working class and urban poor attend public schools in the country. The rich, powerful government officials and elites gave them a wide berth. In droves, their wards went to either private schools or schooled abroad. El Rufai, on the campaign trail, had promised to reverse this trend, vowing to lead by example. In summary, he pledged to restore public schools to their past glories, revamp the entire education sector and above all, enrol his child into a public school. The governor, on September 23, fulfilled his covenant with the electorate, as Abubakar went to Capital School Kaduna.
In part, before the enrolment, El Rufai has changed the face of public schools, upgraded the education sector and boosted enrolment figures in Kaduna state. Indeed, things are still not where they ought to be, but they have left where they were pre-2015. Specifically, he met a pathetic situation in Kaduna state on assuming office, as most of the 4,000 public primary schools and 1,000 secondary schools were in shambles. In particular, infrastructures had decayed, most had blown off roofs, the floors were without cement and the buildings lacked windows and doors. In addition, most schools lacked toilets, water and electricity and more than 50% of the pupils sat on bare floor . Similarly, school enrollment was low and students’ completion rate stood at 24.17% for primary schools, 54.94% for junior secondary schools and 70.14% for senior secondary schools. Likewise, classrooms were crowded and the learning environment was hostile. Consequently, the state performed as poorly as 4% in WAEC in 2010 and 10% in the succeeding year.
Alarmed, El Rufai declared a state of emergency on the education sector, when he assumed office. In addition, he enforced the Universal Basic Education Act, making basic education free and compulsory. Likewise, free uniforms were issued to every pupil and secondary school student. Above all, massive infrastructural development ensued, so did the provision of instructional and educational materials to pupils and teachers. Specifically, for four years, the education sector got the highest budgetary allocations since El Rufai became governor. In 2016, it got 33% of the budget, representing N27.89billion. In 2017, it got 35 % and this translated to N43.98 billion. Subsequently, the sector got N33 billion in 2018 and in this year’s budget, N25 billion was allocated to it.
However, these efforts notwithstanding, Kaduna state did the unprecedented in 2017, when it weeded out unqualified teachers from public primary schools. Earlier, the government had conducted a survey and the result was both revealing and unsettling. In 2015, Kaduna state had 33,000 primary school teachers but 42% were unqualified to teach. In October, all public primary school teachers, across the 23 local governments, sat for an examination and only 11, 220 scaled the 75% cut off point. Subsequently, the failures were booted out and the government, via newspapers adverts, asked eligible candidates to apply for the vacant posts. Thereafter, the applicants sat for a qualifying examination and in the end, 25, 000 passed the rigorous process.
Significantly, within one year, the dividends of the reforms started manifesting in Kaduna state. First, pupils enrolment jumped from 1.1 million to 2.1 million in 2016 and it is still counting. Fundamentally, teaching and learning have also improved, going by the performance Kaduna state in NECO and WAEC examinations in the last three years. In 2016, 2017and 2018, Kaduna state came first in the northern states and overall 12th in the country in these two national examinations. Last week, another endorsement came from the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria(TRCN), when it ranked Kaduna state as one of the top three states that boast of qualified teachers. Prof Segun Ajiboye, TRCN’s Registrar, mentioned Oyo state as first on the list, with 5,200 qualified teachers, followed by Lagos state which has 5,117 and Kaduna state followed with 4,616 bonafide teachers in the country.
Indeed, Kaduna state has started reaping the fruits of its education reform. Last year, students from its public school came runners up at the Czech Republic, in World Debating Championship, doing the state and the country proud. In particular, Kaduna Debating Team emerged best runner- up in the 2018 British Parliament category of the Heart of the Europe Debating Championship, defeating countries like the US, Bulgaria, Slovenia and Slovakia. The team, comprising five students, beat its United States counterpart at the quarter finals. Specifically, the students who brought honour to Kaduna state included Mary Manuel Bawa, from Government Secondary School, Independence Way, Kaduna; Shu’aibu Nura, a student of Alhuda Huda, College, Zaria and Auwal Abubakar from Government Secondary School, Kofar-Kibo, Zairia. The rest of the winning team are Nathaniel Adamu, from St. Johns Secondary School, Kachia; Hauwa Mustapha, a student of Government Secondary School, Kofar Gaya, Zaria; and Joy Victor of ECWA Secondary School, Kaduna.
For critics, El Rufai was merely grandstanding by taking Abubakar to Capital School. However, the governor saw it as a fulfilment of a campaign promise, his faith in public schools and an endorsement of his education reforms. Unwittingly, he has thrown a challenge to his commissioners and senior government officials, fellow state governors and ministers, to follow in his footsteps. Ultimately, the governor wants children of the elite and the poor, to learn under one roof, as he schooled with wards of ministers and permanent secretaries in the 60s, at L.E.A Primary School, Kawo Kaduna. Indeed, that’s the aim of enrolling Abubakar El Rufai, his biological son, into a public school; a campaign for saving the endangered education sector, not politics or populism.
Musa writes from Kaduna