El Rufai goes to School

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

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