Tasks Nigeria’s minister of education must tackle

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Professor Tahir Mamman, OON, SAN

When Alhaji Bola Ahmed Tinubu took over the mantle of leadership of Nigeria from former President Muhammadu Buhari on 29 May 2023,  he appointed Professor Tahir Mamman who hails from Michika in Adamawa State  as the Minister of Education. Professor Mamman was born on Wednesday 7 July 1954, which means he was 69 years old by the time of his appointment.

He studied at Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria and Warwick University in the UK among other universities. He went to the Nigerian Law School in 1984 and holds LL.B, BL, LLM and PhD degrees in Law. He became a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, in 2015. Until his new appointment, Professor Mamman was the Vice Chancellor of Baze University, Abuja.

Professor Mamman is a man with a vast wealth of experience in administration and holds the titles of the Dokaji Mubi of Mubi Emirate, Adamawa State; Dan Ruwata Adamawa of Adamawa State Emirate; Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). He has authored several books on Law and the Constitution and also contributed immensely to several Nigerian and international law journals.

From his impeccable credentials, Nigerians had no doubt that the minister would put his very wide working experience at the disposal of Nigerian families who, over the years, had been subjected to untold hardships through the incompetence and cluelessness of previous administrations.

Professor Mamman obviously has a huge task at hand to revamp the education sector in Nigeria. He should worry about what he needs to do to re-track the educational sector to fall in line with the desires and aspirations of advocates of a New Nigeria. What are the expectations of Nigerians who mean well for him?

At the point of his entry as minister of education, Nigeria’s educational standards had come to an all-time low in practically every aspect. In virtually all states of the north, in Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Nasarawa, Niger, Sokoto, Taraba, Yobe and Zamfara particularly, the vandalous activities of insurgents had made it most difficult, if not impossible, for children to go to school any more. The many cases of kidnappings of hundreds of children from their schools made many parents afraid of sending their kids and wards back to school.

In the south, many young adults who felt they were no longer of school age simply dropped out at primary school or in the middle of secondary school, most of them claiming financial constraints. This aberration raises a pertinent question that the minister has to address: in states that claim education is free and compulsory, how compulsory has it been in actual fact? In other words, the minister must put in place strategic programmes and advocacies that will impress it upon Nigerian youths that education has no age limit because there is no age any man can say “I have known it all.”

As things stand now, Nigeria is known to have one of the highest number of out-of-school children in the world. With all the enormous mineral resources nature graciously endowed the country, this should not be so, by any stretch of the imagination. The minister must begin to think of how to put strategies in place to rein Nigerian children back into the classroom, if he has not already done so. It is important that these youths are taken out of the streets, and out of crime and criminal tendencies.

Another area the new minister must reform is the underfunding of education in Nigeria. Teachers at all levels must be well paid in comparison with their counterparts in middle class African and European countries – countries like Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, Romania, Denmark, Norway, and Finland. The minister must study what makes it possible for teachers in these countries to have steady school hours and adapt his findings to the Nigerian system of education.

More than that, lecture rooms and laboratories must be well equipped with modern facilities. The discussion with the Academic Staff Union of Universities must take a key from what happens in other countries the size and financial status of Nigeria. It is interesting that the National Executive Council has set about finding ways to dialogue more meaningfully with the country’s trade unions. This is a step in the right direction.

That notwithstanding, one of the most important areas Professor Mamman must look into is the curriculum content of the education sector. This will need a total revamping that must be adapted to the needs and aspirations of the people of Nigeria and their various traditions and culture. Right now, the wrong indoctrination at school is that money is the answer to all problems. This attitude has to be reversed. We already know how much that philosophy is costing the country.

From the banking sector, the educational sector, the religious sector to the political sector, the military and police forces, even in the various ministries and parastatals, the value and emphasis government and the people of Nigeria are placing on the acquisition of money has only led to increasing crimes, corruption, impunity, kidnapping and mindless killing of innocent citizens, some of them after being permanently displaced from their ancestral homes.

In this new dispensation that advocates of a new Nigeria are looking forward to, the educational curriculum must make it clear that people should only be recognised by how useful they have been to their communities, not by how fat their bank accounts are or by the number of certificates they have acquired. Nigerians will no longer need to recognise people by their lengthy degrees or by their pecuniary wealth because both money and education share a common enigmatic denominational factor. Like education, like money. The more you have it, the more you realize you don’t have enough of it, and the more you want it. So, while you keep wanting, how can you serve your country well enough? It is as simple as that. We need a paradigm shift from the current emphasis on education and wealth to more emphasis on service to community. The minister should see to that.

In many advanced democracies, institutions of higher learning are linked to employers and the ministry of employment and productivity. Students should not find it difficult to do their industrial training in workplaces that are linked to their educational institutions via the ministry of employment. When students are properly skilled in their chosen professions, they can do better when they are out from school and the society stands to gain more from their competence.

The minister will need to put in place strategies that will abrogate malpractices in examinations. The magnitude and frequency of examination fraud in Nigeria is quite alarming. There should be no reason for this. Similarly, entry cut-off marks into institutions of higher learning must be the same in every state of the country. A situation where cut-off marks in states like Imo, Anambra, Enugu and Lagos are 65 or 64 and a state like Adamawa is 12, Yobe 13, Borno 11 and so on, is not only unjustifiable but also self defeating. It is a two-edged sword that does no good to the country at the end of the day.

When students from Lagos or parts of the East know that their cut-off marks are high, they study hard to meet up with those standards. When the cut-off marks are low as in the north, for whatever reason, students from the north are not encouraged to study hard to make it to the top. As a matter of fact many Nigerians believe this is a deliberate policy the northern elites have adopted to deny poor families good education so that they can remain perpetually subjected to mental slavery.

In this century, and in a new political dispensation, the new minister will have to decide if that is the right way Nigerian democracy should be practised.

The students’ loan programme is one other important area that the office of the minister has to be very active, coordinating between the loans companies (which should not be the government but should have government support) and employers. At the moment, loans that cover only tuition must be reviewed to include accommodation, meals and transportation.

Because of the unnecessarily very high cost of governance in Nigeria, this might be difficult for the National Assembly to accept. The minister must work hard to get them to understand that this is a loan, not free money. If necessary, an interest of 5% can come with the loan, but it must be enough to see the students through their first to their last year in university in terms of tuition, feeding, accommodation and transportation. But that is even not all there is to it.

Many students have expressed their concern about getting jobs after their university education. How do they pay back their loans if they have no jobs after university? This calls for a serious coordination by the education ministry between employers at local council, state and federal levels, the ministry of employment and productivity and the institutions of higher learning which must hold the certificates of ex-students until they are informed by the loans companies that they have completely paid off their loans. The minister must liaise with the employment ministry to find jobs for Nigerian graduates to enable them pay off their loans so that others can also take loans and go to school too.

One more area the minister must take seriously is the area of substance abuse by students, especially in secondary schools and institutions of higher learning. The frustration that came in the wake of so many months the Academic Staff Union of Universities were on industrial action led many students into the use, and often abuse, of drugs, especially the one they call mkpuru-mmiri.

That drug has rendered so many Nigerian youths mentally challenged and yet they still find pleasure in its consumption. That and other hard drugs are turning Nigerian youths into hardened criminals. The minister must liaise with the necessary arms of the law to ensure that youths who indulge in illegal drug use are sent to rehabilitation centres for assessment and possible cure. Nigeria cannot continue to lose the cream of its youths to unnecessary evils that can be halted by government policies.

We wish Professor Mamman well in his job and hope that he will deploy his wealth of experience in showcasing to the world the difference between the old and the New Nigeria that every concerned citizen is anxious to embrace.

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