Anybody can become minister, as long as he/she is qualified to become a member of the House of Representatives. That’s the Nigerian law.
While the first term of the Buhari government lasted, I’ve interacted with people who feel that the then Minister of Education is not qualified to hold that post. The law doesn’t agree with that. Even professors who should be interested in such a post don’t either.
In one instance, a professor told me that the role of a minister is purely administrative. Much of the decisions are still made under a minister without he/she necessarily having his/her inputs except when needed to be informed.
So, the success of a ministry is dependent on how successful the parastatals and agencies under that ministry are. We have about 200 of such institutions under the education ministry.
This person prefers heading an agency under the ministry to being minister. According to her and several others, her expertise would be better put to use there than at the ministry headquarters. She is a technocrat (as social media users would say), academic and politician. She knows better.
Another professor who had served in various capacities including Vice-Chancellor and head of one Nigerian tertiary education regulatory agency shares this sentiment too. He considers the role as powerful in policy changes but not necessarily always influential.
According to him, it is the heads of parastatals that confer with the head of the Ministry to implement his/her plans to move that particular sector forward. Most of the implementation is by civil servants but a good administrator would always know how to harness resources to bring about successes.
He also noted that the minister of education, even in ‘saner climes’, is not necessarily an educationist. Finland, for instance, with its gains in educational development has career politicians (not academics) heading its ministry of education. It is succeeding based on policy directions implemented, not the choice of ministers.
By some metrics across sectors, the immediate past minister, Adamu Adamu partly succeeded. But that was because the professionals heading certain agencies under the ministry succeeded. Talk of JAMB’s innovations and accountability or the return of history as a subject to primary schools by the NERDC or some curriculum reforms at universities by the NUC, it was because he could give appropriate directives that the heads of the agencies kowtow with.
Of course, we all know that education is not entirely on the exclusive list. The case of out of school children is largely a factor of what the federal, state and local governments do individually and collectively. The figures came to a little over two million even if not as much as Adamu wanted it nationally in the ministerial strategic plan. Compared with Kaduna that achieved around 92% increment in school enrollment in a year, a state like Kano, Akwa Ibom or Katsina appears to be lagging behind in increasing school enrollment close to such a rate.
There are many challenges within the education sector requiring attention. The current heads of some education ministry parastatals need not spending the next day in office if we were to move forward. A competent minister is in a better position to advise the president appropriately on this.
This time around, we are not short of options of possible persons to govern the education sector from the centre. Aside Adamu who had been education minister, three other ministerial nominees have deeper experience in the education sector over the years.
Mariam Katagum, a Deputy Director in the education ministry has about three decades experience in education and international diplomacy. She is the current Nigeria’s Permanent Representative at UNESCO. Coincidentally, she hails from the same town as Adamu.
Mahmoud Muhammad is another person fit having served as chairman of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) for close to three years now. His educational qualifications also set him ready for the job.
If we were looking the way of Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), Isa Ali Pantami is perhaps the best man for the job. He is not just a technologist but has succeeded in the academia preparing some of Nigeria’s computer scientists for the future. His experience in teaching and learning goes beyond Nigeria to the UK, USA and Saudi Arabia.
Every other ministerial nominee ‘went to school’ and could become education minister as determined by the president after legislative confirmation. But when we have better fits among them, we shouldn’t go for ‘misfits’.
It’s still somehow uninteresting that no member of any Senate in a Nigerian or foreign university made the list of ministerial nominees. I just hope that the incoming minister would work with some of the competent brains in the academia and other sectors to reposition the Nigerian education sector for global competitiveness. May Nigeria succeed!
Abdussalam Amoo, Kaduna