Who the cap fits as Nigeria’s best education minister in 20 years

[FILE PHOTO] Dr Oby Ezekwesili
[FILE PHOTO] Dr Oby Ezekwesili
On May 29, the country celebrated 20 years of uninterrupted democracy. The journey has been bumpy, and many used the last celebration for stocktaking. UJUNWA ATUEYI sought the views of stakeholders on the individual that could fit the bill as the country’s best education minister beginning from 1999.

The progress of the nation’s educational sector cannot be measured without a look at the contributions of individuals that played major roles in its development. Since 1999, Nigeria has had over 20 ministers and ministers of states in the education ministry.

These ministers, differently, brought reforms, whether perfunctory or drastic, at the ministry, which is noted for ineptitude, corruption and inefficiency. However, negative politics seems to have prevented some of these reforms from yielding the desired results.

Some of these ministers bequeathed memorable legacies, while others were merely tools in the hands of those who appointed them. They were ‘political jobbers’, whose appointments were aided by considerations such as ethnicity, religion and political balancing rather than competence and credibility.

Many Nigerians are disappointed that the sector is still struggling despite several years of democratic practice. Appointment of those in the leadership of the ministry has been based on political patronage and affiliations.

A struggling sector
Hitherto, the country’s educational sector has been plagued by policy flip-flops, under-funding, poor infrastructure, kidnappings and abductions, untrained personnel, mass failure, examination malpractices, unqualified teachers, lack of modern equipment, inconsistency in academic calendar, industrial disputes, loss of values, fraudulent conducts across all strata and disharmony among workers up to the governing council level.

The problems also include a lack of clear-cut policies, political will, corruption, nepotism, and absence of continuity of programmes and initiatives by successors.It was alleged that some of the ministers who were supposed to introduce initiatives that would advance the sector, were members of the kitchen cabinet of the then president and were on a mission to pull down policies and initiatives of their predecessors.

But stakeholders were quick to affirm that the likes of Oby Ezekwesili, Tunde Adeniran, Babalola Borishade, Chinwe Obaji, Ruqqayat Rufai’ and Adamu Adamu put up a good show in an attempt to tackle the hydra-headed problems at the ministry, while a few others were inexperienced.

The Guardian’s investigation, however, revealed that Prof. Tunde Adeniran, the first civilian minister of education, stands out for his active role in the execution of Universal Basic Education (UBE) scheme and the establishment of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN); while Prof. Babalola Borishade was famous for the ban on satellite campuses and promotion of the core values of NOUN.

Mrs. Chinwe Obaji was notable for authorising the Post Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) and Dr. Oby Ezekwesili demonstrated good political will in changing the modus operandi of the ministry. Mr. Abba Ruma and Igwe Nwachukwu were equally famous for dismantling the structures of their predecessor, Ezekwesili.

While Dr Sam Egwu was remarkable for the famous education roadmap; Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau was described as an “injury time” minister owing to the circumstances surrounding his appointment and the short time he spent in office, before the emergence of Mallam Adamu Adamu.

Stakeholders’ views
On the ministers that made the most impactful impression during their time in the last 20 years, the Emeritus President and Vice Chancellor, Babcock University, Prof. Kayode Makinde, said apart from Prof. Tunde Adeniran, who midwifed private universities and brought in competition into an otherwise low energy and moribund sector, none seemed to have had a clear vision or a set goal and the roadmap before becoming minister.

Judging by their performances, Makinde noted, “I can’t really identify any who shook the system positively and left a reverberating impact. The lackluster performance could also have been due to the unending interruptions in tenure. (I mean 10 ministers in 16 years before Adamu Adamu meant each averaged one year seven months on seat.) Then apart from the doubtful pedigree or competence of the minister, the ineffectiveness of tenures was even more impacted by its brevity and low funding priority in the national political chess games.”

Notwithstanding, Makinde said the issue still comes down to competence, as none of the ministers ever resigned or publicly complained of budgetary inadequacy. “They all commended Mr. President for his efforts and the privilege to serve.”Meanwhile, Ezekwesili, he observed, “could possibly have impacted more if she had a listening ear to do both positive learning (what and how to do) and negative learning (what and how not to do) from experienced system operators rather than believing she had all the solutions.

“But then, before she could even begin to implement those solutions to demonstrate greater effect than those of practitioners, she was gone.  Lack of continuity in government business is particularly deadly for education. There was also a period of time when a Niger Delta local government chairman became a minister of state and acting minister of education for a period of time. He overshadowed the substantive by spending more time, energy and resources running errands for the first lady, raising a violent army of youths and mapping out strategies for a gubernatorial campaign in his state.  Education paid the bill in kind.”

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