Please, Stop Humiliating Teachers

The Horizon By KAYODE KOMOLAFE, Email: Tel No: 08055001974


The occasion of a retreat on education two days ago provided the platform for President Muhammadu Buhari to endorse a “surgical operation” Governor Nasir el-Rufai is embarking upon in Kaduna. While this presidential endorsement would doubtless encourage the Kaduna state government in its policy steps on the one hand, on the other hand it has unwittingly raised a spectre of humiliation of teachers on the national horizon.

The governor is determined to sack about 22, 000 teachers who have been adjudged as “incompetent” in the school system of the metropolitan state. The allegation of the state government is that the 22, 000 teachers to be fired sat for tests meant for primary four pupils and failed abysmally. To justify its position, the state government has made the very scandalous scripts of a few of the teachers public. Any one concerned about the future of the pupils being taught by those whose scripts were made public should feel dispirited. The President felt so and actually said the situation is a “tragic one.”

The system is odiously faulty, yet it is convenient for those in government to isolate one aspect of a huge problem and make a festival of it because some helpless fellows are involved. Yes, the it is a serious problem, but it would be more helpful if both Buhari and el-Rufai ponder the deeply structural aspects of the problem.

For clarity, no genuinely progressive person could object to the strategic focus of el-Rufai in Kaduna State: the quality of education should be raised so that good education could be made accessible to the children of the poor. This is central to any effective poverty alleviation strategy. You cannot dispute such a strategy if you wish the poor students in Kaduna State well; it is also hardly debatable that the quality of public education in Nigeria (not only Kaduna) is in sharp decline.

The problem with the el-Rufai surgical operation is with his tactics. So it is with his politics and many of his policy steps. As a convinced right-wing star, the governor may have no time for the philosophical issues of dialectics. Yet, he needs a better comprehension of the dialectic of strategy and tactic in his politics and policy formulation, articulation and indeed, implementation. As every good student of dialectics knows very well, an extremely erroneous tactical step in the short run could easily compromise the strategic end in the long run.

Mallam el-Rufai has declared 22, 000 teachers incompetent. Can we also pause and think about the competence of the assessors of these poor folks? Does propriety matter in this exercise at all? Both in law and in fact, the test itself was incompetently administered. While the objective may be valid, the procedure also matters a great deal. Pray, this civil order is expected to be run on the basis of the rule of law, as the enthusiasts of liberal democracy tell us. What is the methodology of this famous test of teachers? Are the scripts of ALL the 22,000 teachers as bad as the few made public? How statistically representative are those few atrocious scripts of the performance of ALL the 22, 000 teachers to be sacked? Clearly, these teachers are so incompetent that their performance does not require the opinion of other assessors, in the view of the Kaduna State government.

By the way, has anybody asked about the authoritative opinion of the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN) on this very important policy step? Established by law in 1993 as a regulatory body for the teaching profession, the TRCN is an agency of the federal ministry of education. Its mandate is to ensure that the “quality, discipline, professionalism, reward and dignity” of Nigerian teachers “match international standards.”

Enormous damage has been done at the subjective and moral level to the teaching profession by the sheer tactlessness of the Kaduna exercise. The procedure of the assessment does not seem to matter because teachers are involved. The humiliating consequences of the test- and –sack operation in Kaduna state would become manifest if you ponder the fact that the state government could hardly mete this sort of maltreatment to any other category of professionals in the state civil service. The name- and- shame campaign going on Kaduna state will diminish the esteem of teachers who may not be guilty of incompetence as alleged by the state government.

After sacking the teachers, Mallam el-Rufai may proceed to go the Mars to import geniuses in pedagogy to practise teaching in the state. But the moral damage done is that in the foreseeable future, hardly would you find a young man or woman proudly announcing in the public that he or she is a teacher from Kaduna State or anywhere in Nigeria for that matter. Can you imagine a governor organising some tests for doctors, lawyers, engineers or accountants and proceed to declare them incompetent without the verdict of the respective professional and regulatory bodies responsible for the quality and ethics of those professionals? Without the opinion of the regulatory and professional bodies, the tests administered in Kaduna state cannot be said to be thorough.

Yet thoroughness is important in these matters. You cannot pass a professional judgement without the due competence to do so. Given thoroughness it would be possible to detect if some cases could be subject to remediation while the irredeemable ones would have to leave the system. It is thoroughness that would eventually prove that some of them should not be addressed as teachers because they are not in the first place.

Some otherwise informed commentators have also questioned the mandate of the Nigeria Union of Teachers and the Nigeria Labour Congress in defending the hapless teachers. Some of them dismiss the issues raised by labour as defending “so-called rights” of the teachers. Now, in a law-governed society you can remove incompetent teachers from the education system without being indecently anti-labour. There is a subsisting contract if the incompetent teachers were actually issued with letters of appointment. It is, therefore, not a matter of “so-called rights” for labour to insist that the disengagement should be done decently and according to labour laws.

The subjective aspect of this problem is worth pondering by all those genuinely promoting access to quality education in Nigeria. From primary school to the university level, the official attitude also corroborated by the elite is to humiliate teachers. It is a deep irony of the Nigerian society. Every professional, technocrat or politician knows that he is a product of the cumulative efforts of his teachers at all levels, yet it is no more a national culture to accord our teachers with the due respect and proclaim their dignity.

The first class graduates used to dream of becoming professors. That was when a university professor earned more than a minister. The Kaduna drama should be situated squarely within a national culture of disrespect to teachers. You cannot advance the quality of education by humiliating teachers simply because they are teachers. As a subjective factor, the dignity of teachers is central to any progress you want to make in the education sector.

Although in a markedly different historical context and scale, what is happening in Kaduna state is reminiscent of the purge of the civil service by the Murtala/ Obasanjo military regime in the mid- 1970s. In the name of fighting corruption and indiscipline, the career of many innocent civil servants were unjustly truncated in the rashness that was the order of the day. In retrospect, many reviewers of what happened still insist that the Murtala/Obasanjo “surgical operation” killed the soul of the civil service. The civil service has hardly recovered from the operation more than 40 years after because since then permanence has ceased to be a feature of the service. This happened with the consequences for loyalty, dedication and security of tenure.

The lack of thoroughness of the quality check is partly due to the fact that the Kaduna state government does not seem to have sufficiently taken a systemic view of the problem. For instance, if you sack the incompetent teachers, are you going to sack the officials in the ministry of education and the teaching board who issued the teachers letters of appointment in the first place? Or will the ministry too have to be reconstituted with entirely new staff? What is the condition of the teachers’ training institutions in the sate? How central is training to the current reform process? There is a definite context to the productivity of teachers like any other category of workers. The factors of training, equipment and reward are applicable as any other labour situation. These are all important elements of reform.

Beyond humiliating incompetent teachers, any honest reform in the education sector is more crucially about the priority accorded to public education in social expenditure. On this score, no government in Nigeria has acted competently. Recently, our neo-liberal ideologues (whose views dominate policy conception in Abuja and the state capitals) have been making a distinction between ‘’funding education” and “investing in education.” It is part of the almost inexorable trend of making education a commodity and the education sector a booming market in which only the rich can buy quality education for their children. When a government adequately funds public education, the social objective is to produce quality manpower for the society and economy.

The private school owners are education investors with profit motives, which, by the way, is legitimate in a capitalist system. In fact, a state government in the southwest has contemplated privatising primary schools as a solution to funding problem! Now you cannot solve the burgeoning crisis in the education with this bourgeois societal orientation. The children of the poor would simply be left behind in the race for quality education. This is the hidden ideological war in the social sector.

So talking about competence the question may be posed: has the government discharged its responsibility in funding public education competently? In the retreat in which the President said the situation in the education is “serious”, the introductory speech of the Education Minister Adamu Adamu touched on insufficient funding of the education sector. In a breach of the international standards, Buhari has not budgeted up to 10% for education at the federal level. Former Goodluck Jonathan budgeted 10% in 2014. There are countries budgeting over 20% for education. This is also a “serious” issue for the education sector. A radical reform should also include a leap taken in this direction.

Doubtless, el-Rufai should be supported in his drive to raise the quality of teachers in Kaduna without humiliating the good professionals in the crowd. Rebuke could be done decently and in many ways. For instance, in an exceptional show of goodwill, el-Rufai has over the years supported the efforts of a non-governmental organisation in Akwa Ibom state, the Inoyo Toro Foundation, working assiduously for quality of teachers in the state. In fact, he is graciously sponsoring a yearly prize for the Best History Teacher.

At the 10th anniversary of the foundation two weeks ago, no teacher was adjudged qualified for the prize in Mathematics by the board of assessors headed by a university teacher working all the year round interviewing the teachers and monitoring their performance. Members of the audience, of course, found this worrisome for the quality of public education in the state. Now, that was a subtle rebuke about standard without humiliating any teacher.

Reading the situation in Kaduna state, it may not be possible to take the surgical knife away from el-Rufai as he is bent on performing the operation. But the governor should note that a good surgeon would only open up the patient based on a thorough diagnosis of the disease and sufficient clinical assessment of the patient. Otherwise the surgeon would be acting like a butcher!

  • FrNinja

    Any Nigerian that has the interest of the future of this country at heart would be concerned about education. A good education equips one with the character, knowledge and skills to go out into the world and make it a better place. A bad education burdens one with destructive tendencies like Boko Haram, fraudsters and kidnappers like Evans who admitted that his education at nnewi was truncated.

    If we want societal transformation education is where it starts and it requires getting the right teachers.

  • Kemafor Anyanwu Ogan

    Perhaps worth worrying about but for just a moment. The reality is that there is a huge trust gap betweens Nigerian citizens and her goverments. Noone would have believed it wasnt some targeted disengagement of teachers without seeing the scripts. That is our reality. I think maybe the names on the scripts could have been blanked out. But really, if i had to rank the list of things to worry about this would not make the top ten. In any case, even if scripts were not shown, after the individuals are fired, people would infer they failed the test. More importantly though is that apparently, many of these people obtained jobs with fake certificates!! That amounts to criminal behavior and worrying about protecting the image of criminals is waaaay too generous
    Finally, this author may not be aware that two previous governments conducted this same evaluation with the same results. The governors merely regretted the state of their teachers and did nothing. So questioning whether the statistics are valid or not is neither here nor there. This assessment reached same conclusions and trends as previous exercises.

  • Kayode Abegunde

    Those to be sacked are not teachers.
    Did Komolafe’s children passed through Public School?
    If these said teachers are not good enough to teach the children of the rich why do you thinks they should be good enough to teach children of the poor?. So that their generation unborn will be forever poor?
    We daily talked about unemployment, what is wrong in employing those that are qualified?

  • Kayode Abegunde

    Journalists are part of Nigeria problems.

  • John

    ……….”But the governor should note that a good surgeon would only open up the
    patient based on a thorough diagnosis of the disease and sufficient
    clinical assessment of the patient. Otherwise the surgeon would be
    acting like a butcher!”

    ………..”In retrospect, many reviewers of what happened still insist that the
    Murtala/Obasanjo “surgical operation” killed the soul of the civil
    service. The civil service has hardly recovered from the operation more
    than 40 years after because since then permanence has ceased to be a
    feature of the service”

    He who has eyes to read and understand, let him read and understand.

    1, Who employed this caliber of people as teachers? WHO?

    2. Has the Governor assessed the quality of the teachers colleges?
    3. What is the competence of the Regulatory bodies in Kaduna State?
    4. What is the minimum qualification for a Primary school teacher in the state?
    So many questions that the Governor cannot provide answers to. The governor is just behaving like a doctor that is sewing up a man’s anus that has running stomach.

  • Abayomi Orafidiya

    While mediocrity must surely be abhorred, it seems to me that the Kaduna teachers have been scapegoated. The nation’s educational system has been allowed to rot to the core. The society is becoming unashamedly anti-intellectual. Merit does not seem to be the primary yardstick in assessing performance of students and “professors” in academic institutions. The education budget is paltry and inadequate. The rich send their children abroad for quality education. Making money, by any means necessary, has become the vogue. Our government needs to commit strongly to developing the mind of her citizens, particularly the youths. I wonder what the members of the NASS and our “leaders” will score if they are given the same tests which were taken by the Kaduna teachers. Your guess is as good as mine.

  • Michael Kadiri SocioPolitical

    Nigeria spends about $1bn USD on education every year which is about 6% of the budget. The UN recommends that countries spend 26% of their budget.

    We have allocated more money to defence in the 2017 budget – buying more guns than pencils.

    Guns which by the way we use to kill fellow Nigerians and not to defend ourselves from any external threats. The Nigerian Army kills more Nigerians than it has any foreign aggressor.

    The connection?

    If you do not educate your people, you will need more weapons to keep the peace and those weapons will be used to kill the illiterates that the country produces.

    Nature is perversely quite brilliant

  • BB

    This is a rather saddening piece and goes on to highlight the main issue with our dear Nation. Whereas, we applaud the war on corruption, Mr Komolafe a ‘seasoned’ journalist takes offence at El-Rufai’s war on incompetence.
    From the federal character mentality, to outright nepotistic tendencies on display in our civil service, it is as though we have become programmed to accepting gross incompetence as a part and parcel of the Nigerian state to the extent that we make excuses and are tolerant of incompetent leaders and staff (consequently celebrating mediocrity). It is in the spirit of this backward thinking that this article is founded
    We finally have a leader that has refused to paper over the cracks in the educational sector, which by the way is the bane of all our problems in Nigeria, and rather than applaud him, we are getting articles like this… (I am wont to believe that if a proper competency assessment is administered at NUJ, Mr Komolafe would definitely not be given the opportunity to insult our sensibilities with the nonsense he is spewing here -the amount of typos in the piece bear testimony to the fact)- absolutely shameful.
    At the risk of sounding snotty,(I am actually a firm believer in dignity of labour and abhor the get-rich-by-evil-means attitude of the Nigerian youth today),a neighboring governor is of the opinion that he is ’empowering’ his population by providing tea sellers and noodles makers with beverages and cups, whilst another has taken a no-nonsense approach to fighting illiteracy in his state, yet the Komolafes of the world believe the governor should be castigated for his actions. What rubbish!!! A teacher in Kaduna should be able to hold his/her head up high currently. The elements that brought shame to the profession are being weeded out

    • Iskacountryman

      komolafe urges systematic due process…not castigate the governor…

      • BB

        I saw some of those scripts!!! This is not the time for due diligence, but the time to declare a state of emergency!!! I hope you realize that these are the men and women managing the conveyor belt of the next generation of leaders in Nigeria. Scary

        • Iskacountryman

          they are still entitled to due process…you want a sate of emergency?…go to zimbabwe…

    • Kemafor Anyanwu Ogan

      Thank you!!!

  • NoPeaceInOurTime

    For the first time I am agreeing with Kayode Komolafe. I totally agree with his fear over the dilemma created by the “good” intentions of the Governor versus the strategy employed. Should unqualified teachers be weeded out? Yes, they should. However, should we create a situation that depresses an already depressed sector? No, we should not. The teaching sector is one of the most disrespected and marginalized sector of the workforce. Contrasted with the earlier period of Nigeria’s history when teachers commanded the respect of society, today teachers are considered as 4th class citizens who are good enough to take care of the children of citizens but not deserving of recognition both in financial remuneration and recognition as the rest of society. That is why the best shy away from the teaching job. This is not necessarily peculiar with Nigeria but is a recurrent issue in Africa. There are many proposals put forward by the World Bank and many donors in the Education Sector on how to improve the education sector in Africa incorporating improved conditions of service for teachers. Imagine classes of 100 pupils per teacher and the trauma of trying to ensure that learning takes place in such an environment. Imagine that your office is a dilapidated hovel with leaky roofs and children squatting on earthen floors or broken furniture and mostly without the necessary tools to teach. Some teachers have been noted to even buy the chalk they use on rotted blackboards. These are just examples of what many teachers face that many outside cannot understand. Government has to work with the appropriate agencies responsible for standards and regulation of the profession to work out a solution on the one hand and on the other has to find ways to improve the conditions of service of the teaching profession to attract the best. There are many things that should not necessarily be trumpeted on newspapers.

    • BB

      You write :”The teaching sector is one of the most disrespected and marginalized sector of the workforce”
      …….and why do you suppose this is? Are the teachers themselves without blame in the decline of respect accorded? It might interest you to know that teachers in a lot of private schools are actually accorded a lot of respect. Could the lack of respect to civil servant teachers have something to do with the quality of these ‘teachers’?

  • RumuPHC

    It is ironic that it took El Rufai to be a governor to stumble upon the incompetency of a critical public service in Kaduna state.

    El Rufai’s belated discovery of the sad state of the quality of the very important teaching professionals in Kaduna state is one of the reasons why I feel so sorry for the quest and religious-like pursuit of absolute power and dominance at the federal level by the north.

    Educated northerners like El Rufia spend a lifetime fighting for national power and taking up influential positions in the federal government as ministers , DGs and CEOs of parastatals while leaving the home front to the 3rd eleven and mediocres. Can Northerners love Nigeria more than their towns or states?

    The north is backward and low down in all indices of development. Yet the north has held on to power in Nigeria more than any other section or ethnic group. Apparently the underdevelopment of the north is a great opportunity cost for power grab in Abuja by the north.

    El Rufai and others like Sanusi Lamido Sanusi are shinning examples of why the north failed and will continue to fail , dragging Nigeria further down the path of failure. Both returned home from Abuja late in their 60’s after a lifetime of dominance at the federal level. Both are just discovering how far gone their states and region have been destroyed by those they left behind to manage local affairs. Both are now getting the signature response incompetent northerners in federal civil service have always presented when issues of quota system and mediocrity are brought up.

    It is hypocrisy when El Rufai yelled to high heavens that the government of Goodluck Jonathan was incompetent and corrupt but kept mute about the government of Governor Muktar Yero of Kaduna state. The current mess in the teaching profession and damages done to the education of the children in Kaduna State is a huge price Governor El Rufai is paying for his hypocrisy in the past.

    • okbaba

      I’m with you on this. He has to go the whole hog to deserve my respect. Thanks

  • James Gunn

    Mr Komolafe please stop trying to be clever by half. Any teacher who failed that test should be sacked. Would you allow your children to be taught by any of them? Come own. Let’s call a spade a spade and stop all these shenanigans. They have no business teaching anybody. Jeez!

    • ‘ned

      James, even passing the test is subjective. What will the pass mark be in an exam set for Primary School Teachers using the threshold of knowledge for Primary 4 pupils.

    • Iskacountryman

      and then what happens to the vacancy created?

      • James Gunn

        They will employ another batch of teachers. Look it is what it is. There’s no other way. Let’s stop being sentimental. They are not fit for purpose.

  • Amass a

    El-Rufai shouldn’t be crucified. Our public schools are so much in a sorry state. Kaduna state is not the only state. Nearly all our public schools around the country are the same. Many believe in helping their relationships to earn a living through this means but forgotten the after effect on our children. I hail Mallam El-Rufai on this. It’s high time employers

  • American Abroad

    As the neuroscientist, VS Ramachandran reminds us, any ape can reach for a banana, live, contend, copulate, strive, fight, amass few creature comforts and prized meals, then die in the forest: end of story. But it takes a cultivated (read: educated) human brain to reach for the stars, write, investigate, quest, splice genes, split atoms, launch rockets, peer upwards, delve deeply into the digits of Pi, but even more remarkably, gaze inwards and project the future and what it will take to make it more meaningful, even if not materially better.

    For too long, we have allowed our children to slip slowly and unconscionably, into a nether-world of mediocrity, mass ignorance, superstition, poverty, violence, intemperance, uncertainty and desperation. Mr El-Rufai, warts and all, should be congratulated on an important first step towards Redemption.

    I have had my long-standing reservations about Mr El-Rufai’s style of governance, though I suspect that partly betrays my own innate liberal instincts. Still, despite his carefully crafted stage presence, political connexions, much-vaunted intellect, acerbic wit and proselytizing zeal, I never saw him as either a reliable means or vehicle to democratic revival in my country of birth. He is too much given to the the concept of “Strong Man” leadership, the Daddy-Knows-Best brand of governance which is all the rage in Africa, from Buhari (and Obasanjo, its original prototype) to Biya to Mugabe to Zuma, and all points within. Therefore, very sadly, for someone with such undoubted talent, he has become an end to himself, a shrill, obnoxious caricature of what he is eminently capable of. But I digress.

    The fact is that we have fallen so far behind in all available human development indices, the chief being education, that it would be tragic to waste any more time on surplus niceties and nonesuch. Sure, it will take more than merely chastising- or dismissing- the hapless (and clearly ill-educated, therefore, incompetent) Kaduna teachers. One hopes that Mr El-rufai will develop a template that can work in the long-term, and hopefully be copied by other states in dire straits: stop constructing new “universities”, which are anything but, and focus on primary & secondary school instruction; devote a sizable bulk of state finances, say 30% or more, to education (recall that old aphorism that nothing good ever comes for free, the only free food in the animal kingdom being only found in a mousetrap); pay teachers well (and on time, as and at when due), which will consequently attract this country’s “best and brightest”, who are presently leaching into the banking sector and diverse internet crimes (recall the aphorism about paying peanuts and getting only monkeys); publicly recognize excellence amongst teachers (recall the aphorism, this time from the cosmetic entrepreneur, Mary Kay, the only two things people value more than money are recognition and praise); organize holiday retreats for teaching excellence and innovation; let teachers teach, let administrators administer; make teaching relevant to the environment by encouraging teachers to step outdoors with their class; lead by example, Sir: visit classrooms in your state, show where your heart truly is.

    Nigeria has fallen into a chasm of brackish floodwater. Still, nobody drowns simply because they fell into a body of water, however deep or murky it might be. You only drown if you stay there doing nothing. Surrender is always a choice, never a calling. Mr El-Rufai has struck the first blow on behalf of our common posterity. He has demonstrated that we can certainly do better than simply bemoan the distemper and rot in our social fabric. For that reason alone, he deserves my salutation and full support.

    • Jaybanj

      WELL SAID!!! The main article has some valid points in that sacking the teachers alone will not solve the problem and there are underlying factors! However having seen the quality of some teachers during my time in Nigeria I am convinced that a large amount of them have NO business being in ANY school and i feel sorry for the children they are presently teaching. I have seen poor people scrape money together , run to the bank on pay day to send money for their child’s school fees and i have felt great pity thinking this person believes he is doing what he can for his childs future, doing the right thing but is the school playing its part? Every country should aim to create a system and environment where the best graduates are interested and drawn into teaching / education sector , it should not be a profession for those who cant find work anywhere else. Finally I ask the author Mr Komolafe – If you are hiring a teacher to teach your child and paying them directly, you come home one day and find out that the teacher you fired to teach your child English cant spell. – Would you keep him on??

      • austin

        No he won’t keep him. Nigerians know how to separate government business from private. Business practices they cant allow in private business, they’d expect the government to allow same.

      • Tea

        How did u hire him in the 1st instance, didn’t u do due diligence? This is a fire bridge approach and only portrays the Governor as a hard/strong man. He should check the Colleges of education in the state, THE TEACHER training colleges, etc have a stake holders meeting and marshal out a roadmap to revive the sector, budget adequate funds, recognise teachers in the state, etc.

    • BB

      I like the way you think

      • American Abroad

        Thank you; Me too.