Mohammed Dan’azumi is the Chairman, Nasarawa State Universal Basic Education Board. In this interview with Igbawase Ukumba, he speaks on the state’s preparedness before reopening schools in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic, the new Teachers’ Salary Structure, among other issues. Excerpts:
There are reported cases of poorly executed projects by contractors in your organisation. Have you noticed that in recent times?
Actually when we got another tranch of intervention; that is the last quarter of 2016, 2017 and 2018, having experienced what some of our contractors have been doing, the way they execute projects, some we were happy with, while some we were not happy with the way they handled these projects. The contractors whose works were not in line with the standard, we will not spare them.
As part of our own responsibility is to go out, in addition to what our technical people are doing, to also supervise them to ensure everything is moving in line with the laid down conditions of the project execution. Not quite much, but we discovered very few people and notices, observations were served on them to effect corrections or else we implement our policies. But happily from the reports that reached me from my technical officers; because they submit reports on quarterly basis of their inspection, and I think all is okay for now.
Your board recently uncovered some persons to be unqualified teachers teaching in Nasarawa State schools. What is their fate at the moment?
You see by the decision of the National Council of Education which was held last in Port Harcourt, in fact they are supposed to completely leave our classrooms by now.
But they have been given grace since about two years ago. Circulars upon circulars have been sent to them to ensure that they professionalise. Some felt may be it is not a big deal they can still continue like that. But in a quest to ensure that we change the narrative as far as education is concerned, we don’t want to see any unprofessional teacher in our classrooms.
So when we came back we reminded them because the deadline was December last year.
Most of them heeded to what was contained in our circulars and went back to professionalise. But there are few ones, and these few ones are religious instructors. There are some who attended Grade II, but up till now there are certain professional qualifications they are supposed to attain. But on their own, for reasons best known to them, they are not ready.
So these are the people that we sat with all the education secretaries of local government areas and development areas to discuss the matter and we came out with the resolution that those who are ready to go back and obtain a professional certificate will be permitted despite the lack of time; the deadline given will be over, we will just look inward because of the problems we’ve been facing.
If you go round our schools, most of our qualified teachers have left service. Our schools lack teachers now. We have provided infrastructures, we have been enrolling pupils into our schools, but we can not just allow them to go and be sitting and be playing. Whatever good you are going to make the environment and you don’t have teachers, you are making nonsense of yourself.
So the best thing is to inwardly arrange for them to compulsorily go and obtain these certificates because if we say we are going to send them away now, maybe the decision is against what the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN) has directed. But we have no other solution than to do this.
But for those who are not ready, we are sending them away. That was why we constituted a committee to go round the local government areas and identify them, discuss with them, discuss with chairmen of the local government areas and overseers of development areas on this matter to ensure that there is that compliance or else they leave our classrooms.
Recently the State House of Assembly uncovered that some schools in the state were taken over by some faith-based and private organisations. What is the board doing to recover such affected schools back to government?
I think that if I understood what you are saying very well, it is not that the schools have been taken over completely, but they are operating within our public schools. Even before the state House of Assembly took their oversight functions to those schools, we’ve directed that they should vacate those schools because we can’t have two schools running in the same environment; one is public, the other is private.
If you want to operate a private school, go and look for a land, construct your school. But for you to come and be operating in our own public schools, that is just what we cannot accept and we directed that they should all leave our environment.
Is there any policy that says teachers should be trained on a regular basis?
You know training and retraining of workers generally is something that must be entrenched if you want improvement in the system generally. So the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) has it as a policy that we undertake training annually of academic and non-academic staff. So it is a non-stop activity by UBEC.
Participants include headmasters, teachers and most of our school managers from different schools are being trained.
The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 has given approval for the reopening of schools in the country. What measures have your board taken to keep to protocols of the pandemic?
The federal government has directed that schools should reopen, but based on the readiness of individual state. Here in Nasarawa State, the Commissioner for Education invited for a meeting on this issue. Even before the directive, we’ve been very much prepared.
She set up a committee which include the SUBEB, ministry of education, Teachers Service Commission and some stakeholders which include Parent Teacher Association (PTA), Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), heads of secondary schools, teachers to sit down and come up with a new calendar since the other calendar had been tampared with due to the pandemic. All these were done and fortunately, the directive came that we should reopen.
She again invited us, we sat down and looked at the calendar. There was a template from the Federal Ministry of Education on how we should conduct ourselves at both primary and secondary schools. This template has to do with COVID-19 protocols because if we are reopening, we should find a way of ensuring that the students who may be having this disease do not transfer it to their school mates. So all these protective measures must be put in place.
We met at Akwanga with staff of the Federal Ministry of Education and the UNICEF to discuss this template to all agree on the template. And it was the same template that we sat and discussed also at our own level as a state. And anything that has to do with materials or equipment for this protection were made available by the state government and in our own case, UBEC too.
You could see some of the materials are being coupled to continue with the distributions. Provision of facemasks to all pupils and students in primary and secondary schools in the state. Hand sanitizers and buckets are to be positioned at the entry points of schools and other positions within the schools so that we have very good hygiene within the schools’ environment.
So these are the precautionary measures taken by the state government and UBEC to ensure that we have a very healthy environment. Before the resumption, all classrooms within our schools have been fumigated by the state ministry of environment.
Recently, President Muhammadu Buhari approved a new salary structure and extension of years of service for teachers in the country. Do you see state governments implementing it?
Of course it is implementable. Why I am saying this is because it does not add anything to the wage bill. It is the same wage bill they are receiving that they will continue to receive, only that maybe the years of service is being increased. As for the salaries, he can’t just make pronouncement without making arrangements on how it will be paid. So, it is something that is doable.
Honestly, for me I am very happy. If this policy had come before now, we would have saved the situation that schools are facing now. We would have experienced teachers that would have still remained in service by now and train those coming behind them.