Nasir El-Ru­fai and the ques­tion of medi­ocrity

We sum­mon cheap ar­gu­ments and black­mail to dis­guise the point that you need a leader to make the dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions. Any­one can make the po­lit­i­cally-con­ve­nient ones, but if the fu­ture is to be any bet­ter than the present, the dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions, in­cludi

Sunday Trust - - FEVER PITCH -

Iw­hole­heart­edly ap­plaud the de­ci­sion of Kaduna State gov­er­nor Nasir El-Ru­fai to fire nearly 22,000 of his teach­ers and re­place them with tested ones. The de­ci­sion fol­lowed a process in which two of ev­ery three teach­ers could not pass a Pri­mary Four com­pe­tency test. On Twit­ter last Thurs­day, the gov­er­nor pub­lished some of the atroc­i­ties pro­duced by some of the teach­ers in the test.

Read some of those pa­pers, Se­na­tor Shehu Sani (APC-Kaduna Cen­tral Con­stituency), and you should be ashamed. The Se­na­tor rushed to the press, de­scrib­ing the fir­ing plan as the “height of lu­nacy,” and as “a plot to em­ploy po­lit­i­cal loy­al­ists of the Gov­er­nor.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Se­na­tor, “[Gov­er­nor El-Ru­fai] promised the peo­ple of the state that he will en­roll his chil­dren in pub­lic school when he be­comes gov­er­nor, he has not only failed to do that but he is de­stroy­ing the ed­u­ca­tional fu­ture of those who chose to send their wards to pub­lic school. In­com­pe­tence is not a rea­son but an ex­cuse to sack thou­sands of teach­ers owed salaries for months.”

I sub­scribe fully to hold­ing po­lit­i­cal of­fice hold­ers to ac­count, and the Se­na­tor has ques­tions he should be ask­ing the gov­er­nor. But black­mail is not a ques­tion, it is a crime. And it is a par­tic­u­larly bad strat­egy for elic­it­ing trans­parency.

The truth is that what El-Ru­fai is com­bat­ing is not sim­ply bad or un­qual­i­fied teach­ers. It is the scourge of medi­ocrity in Nige­ria, be­gin­ning with the pub­lic ser­vices. The scan­dalous ex­am­ples of those teach­ers pub­lished by the gov­er­nor last week to il­lus­trate his de­ter­mi­na­tion to fire them un­der­scores the scale of the prob­lem.

I have cho­sen the word, scan­dalous, care­fully. It is scan­dalous that any­one would have hired such “teach­ers” in the first place. Queried the gov­er­nor, “Would you al­low some­one like this teach your child?”

It did not seem to mat­ter to the Nige­ria Labour Congress (NLC), which au­tho­rized the Nige­ria Union of Teach­ers in Kaduna to or­ga­nize a protest rally.

It is not sur­pris­ing that there are some peo­ple and in­sti­tu­tions, ex­em­pli­fied by Se­na­tor Sani and the NLC, who seem to be­lieve that a teacher is a teacher. The ex­ten­sion of that ar­gu­ment is that it does not mat­ter what qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion a child gets.

It is a stupid ar­gu­ment, but not one that is dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand: we have be­come a na­tion of poor val­ues. But you sim­ply can­not sug­gest that a child is en­ti­tled to un­qual­i­fied teach­ers and claim to have faith in the fu­ture at the same time.

Gov­er­nor El-Ru­fai has ex­plained that the de­bris in teach­ing in Kaduna State was emp­tied into the sys­tem be­cause teacher-re­cruit­ment be­came a vic­tim of pol­i­tics, with politi­cians, bu­reau­crats and lo­cal gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials find­ing it to be a dump­ing ground for a va­ri­ety of un­qual­i­fied per­sons. It is a story that other state gover­nors should learn from.

“Teach­ers were em­ployed at the lo­cal gov­ern­ment level with­out ad­her­ence to stan­dards,” he said last week. “In many in­stances, no ex­am­i­na­tions or in­ter­views were con­ducted to as­sess the qual­ity of re­cruits. Po­lit­i­cal pa­tron­age, nepo­tism and cor­rup­tion be­came the yard­stick, thus giv­ing un­qual­i­fied per­sons a way in. Teach­ing jobs were given as pa­tron­age to those con­nected to politi­cians and bu­reau­crats.”

It is the truth. The same ex­pla­na­tion ap­plies in the civil ser­vice, but it is in teach­ing that the great­est dan­ger ex­ists be­cause the dam­age is repli­cated and mul­ti­plied with each dam­aged child.

Which leaves Gov­er­nor El-Ru­fai’s ba­sic ques­tion: “Would you al­low some­one [who does not know how to teach or what to teach ruin] your child?”

Now, would you? In ef­fect, any­one who says the fired teach­ers should be al­lowed to keep their jobs an­swer that ques­tion in the af­fir­ma­tive. We sum­mon cheap ar­gu­ments and black­mail to dis­guise the point that you need a leader to make the dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions.

Any­one can make the po­lit­i­cal­ly­con­ve­nient ones, but if the fu­ture is to be any bet­ter than the present, the dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions, in­clud­ing elim­i­nat­ing thugs and semi-il­lit­er­ates mas­querad­ing as trained and com­pe­tent teach­ers, must be made.

But the chal­lenge is far big­ger: the sit­u­a­tion in Kaduna over un­qual­i­fied teach­ers is really the ques­tion of stan­dards in Nige­ria, and the preva­lence of medi­ocrity in pub­lic ser­vice.

When pres­i­dents and gover­nors, rather than seek the most qual­i­fied and mo­ti­vated, choose party hacks, rel­a­tives and mis­tresses for crit­i­cal ap­point­ments, Min­is­ters and Com­mis­sion­ers and Per­ma­nent Sec­re­taries and Manag­ing Di­rec­tors-as well as those hacks and rel­a­tives-do the same.

In turn, when Min­is­ters and Com­mis­sion­ers and Per­ma­nent Sec­re­taries and Manag­ing Di­rec­tors choose party hacks, rel­a­tives and mis­tresses over the most qual­i­fied and mo­ti­vated, they use the same tem­plate to poi­son their of­fices. The job is either an award or a re­ward, and com­pe­tence and ac­count­abil­ity are not sug­gested, let alone de­manded.

Ev­ery­one knows that this: the prac­tice and per­sis­tence of poor and wrong ap­point­ments, is largely why Nige­rian pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions fail. Only last week, for in­stance, fol­low­ing a news­pa­per story that 81 of Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari’s ap­point­ments are from three North­ern States, the pres­i­dency re­sponded with a 159-per­son sub­mis­sion it de­scribed as a ‘full list’ of all his ap­point­ments.

“To claim, sug­gest or at­tempt to in­sin­u­ate that the Pres­i­dent’s ap­point­ments are tilted in favour of a sec­tion of the coun­try is sim­ply un­true and cer­tainly un­char­i­ta­ble,” said spokesman Femi Adesina.

But the pres­i­dency was wrong, a close ex­am­i­na­tion of the list showed it to be lit­tered with sundry er­rors and mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

Ques­tioned, Mr. Adesina said his “full list” was not “com­pletely ex­haus­tive,” there be­ing ap­point­ments he had not re­flected. “It’s just to show that the pa­per that pub­lished 100 and said 81 was from the North is not right. It was a mis­chievous story.”

Per­haps. But that would make the 159-per­son claim of a “full list” a fab­ri­ca­tion. Noth­ing pre­vented the pres­i­dency from telling the truth, the whole truth and noth­ing but the truth in one in­ter­ven­tion.

And of­fi­cial fab­ri­ca­tions, in­clud­ing ap­point­ing un­qual­i­fied teach­ers, have made Nige­ria a joke for nearly 60 years and crum­bled our in­sti­tu­tions. 81 or 200 per­sons of the most demon­stra­bly qual­i­fied and com­mit­ted, even if they are from the same lo­cal coun­cil area, will lead a na­tion to great heights.

In Nige­ria, the in­ter­na­tional cap­i­tal of hypocrisy, the job of such ap­pointees is per­sis­tently to ex­plain not how great things were ac­com­plished, but why fail­ure was the only op­tion. For a liv­ing, they con­struct ex­cuses rather than struc­tures and in­sti­tu­tions which el­e­vate the peo­ple.

Think about it: pre­ced­ing the pres­i­dency’s 159-per­son howler was its fugi­tive Ab­dul­rasheed Maina re­in­state­ment-with­pro­mo­tion-and-four-year-back-pay scan­dal. That was pre­ceded by the mess in the Min­istry of Petroleum.

Think about it: only last week, the World In­ter­nal Se­cu­rity and Po­lice In­dex, an ini­tia­tive of the In­ter­na­tional Po­lice Sci­ence As­so­ci­a­tion and the In­sti­tute for Eco­nomics and Peace, an­nounced its rank­ings of 127 of the world’s po­lice forces. The Nige­ria Po­lice ranked the worst, at 127th.

Sim­i­larly, the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion has ranked Nige­rian roads among the world’s most dan­ger­ous for driv­ing. And yes, un­like 2016 when we had only one air­port listed among the world’s 10 worst, this year we have two!

A speech is not an achieve­ment.

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