Thursday, May 28, 2009
Education: 10 ministers, 10 years of democracyBy Rotimi Lawrence Oyekanmi
TOMORROW is Democracy Day, so declared by the Federal Government, but rejected by pro democracy groups, which would rather align with June 12, the date the acknowledged freest and fairest election in the country was held.
Nigerians are divided over whether the advent of democratic rule, which commenced in 1999, had brought more blessings than disappointments. The same divided opinions are shared by the education sector stakeholders.
There have been 10 substantive Education Ministers since civilian administration began. But what role did each one play?
Tunde Adeniran, erudite professor of Political Science was the first Education Minister to be appointed by former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Believed to be in the kitchen cabinet of the former president at that time, Adeniran was saddled with the responsibility of making a success of the Universal Basic Education scheme, which the Federal Government was so passionate with. And he did try his best. He got Prof. Pai Obanya appointed the first Coordinator of the scheme, and a lot of structures were put in place. But the reluctance of the states to go along with what they considered an interference with what is traditionally their responsibility slowed things down. Constitutional issues and the lack of common purpose among members of the Federal House of Representatives complicated matters too.
On secondary education, Adeniran was alarmed at the racketeering going on in the Federal Government Colleges. Petitions were flooding his office, especially about admission matters, and when he couldn’t bear it any longer, he decided to take certain actions, when it was too late. But there were other issues. It was at this time too, that satellite campuses were springing up everywhere in the country. He came out with a policy banning satellite campuses, causing a lot of uproar among the operators.
He also abolished the discretional list in the admission pattern of the universities. The five per cent reserved for discretion was added to merit. It was also during Adeniran’s time that seven students of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife were murdered by cult members, an incident which consumed the Vice Chancellor of the university at that time, Prof. Wale Omole. All allegations of complicity against Omole were later found to be untrue.
It was also Adeniran who laid the foundation for the establishment for the National Open University (NOUN), another pet project that was dear to Obasanjo’s heart. He was also the Minister that sought out and appointed Prof. Michael Omolewa as Ambassador of the Delegation of Nigeria to UNESCO. However, Adeniran was removed suddenly in 2001 by familiar forces in Aso Rock.
Luckily, Prof. Babalola Borishade, who took over from him, continued with most of his policies. Borishade strengthened the UBE scheme, although, Prof. Obanya was removed and Prof Gidado Tahir, who came from the National Commission for Nomadic Education at that time, was appointed. Borishade also enforced the ban on satellite campuses and promoted the interest of the NOUN forcefully. Borishade also enjoyed a good measure of successes internationally, as he became chairman of several international educational bodies, especially the ones that were linked to UNESCO.
However, the greatest problem Borishade faced was the Academic Staff Union of Universities strike, provoked by the crisis at the University of Ilorin in 2001 among others. While Borishade tried to help the sacked lecturers within his capacity, the ASUU executive at that time insisted that he was not genuinely interested in solving the problem. In fact, Borishade got into trouble with the Federal Executive Council at that time when he paid university lecturers their salaries against the directive of the Federal Government that the teachers should not be paid for the period they were on strike.
The departure of Borishade in 2003 paved the way for Prof. Fabian Osuji, who also could neither solve the UNILORIN crisis, nor reach an amicable resolution with ASUU. He was swept out of office in 2005 after a bribery scandal.
Senator Liyel Imoke and Mrs. Halima Alao both spent short periods, before Mrs. Chinwe Obaji was appointed in June 2005.
Obaji introduced some radical reforms. She tried to resuscitate the Inspectorate Division of the Federal Ministry of Education, and was credited with having started the one-meal-a-day project in some pilot primary schools across the country. Obaji also transferred some principals of Federal Government Colleges.
But what Obaji would be most remembered for is the Post Universities Matriculcation Examination tests she permitted vice chancellors to introduce. This measure pitted the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) against Vice Chancellors at that time, with Prof. Bello Ahmad Salim, its former Registrar, constantly accusing them of eroding the board’s enabling Act.
After Obaji came the indefatigable Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, who practically changed how business was done at the Ministry. Ezekwesili’s approach was scientific and methodological, but critics insist that she muddled up some things in her effort to make an impression.
At the heart of Ezekwesili’s passion was the determination to deal with corruption at the Federal Ministry of Education, a move that attracted a barrage of attacks on her person.
Nevertheless, Ezekwesili put an agenda together for all the levels, defined the problems, goals, and the approach. From primary to secondary, through technical to tertiary, she had something to offer. Again, she could not spend enough time to actualise some of her dreams.
Mr. Abba Ruma’s tenure has been variously linked to a period when some of Ezekwesili’s policies were reversed. And when Dr. Igwe Nwachukwu was appointed in July 2007, he practically drove the final nail into the coffin. Nwachukwu was believed to have lacked proper understanding of the dynamics of the FME, and had been misled by the smart civil servants who wanted to achieve their selfish aims.
The arrival of Dr. Sam Egwu has, however, brought a glimmer of hope. He has revived some old progressive policies and has also come out with a Roadmap.