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By Idang Alibi
Sometime last year, the comrade governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, dramatically drew wide national attention to one of the major ills that has been plaguing our education, namely the issue of unqualified, barely literate, poorly educated, incompetent and unmotivated persons masquerading as teachers in our various schools. He succeeded in highlighting the case of some persons who have no business whatsoever being found near a school taking employment as teachers and standing in classrooms dispensing ignorance and illiteracy to a captive audience that is compelled to swallow the broth being dished out to them hook, line and sinker. In other places where people are more serious minded, those people themselves ought to be members of those captive audiences to be taught morals, wisdom and skills by others who have been thoroughly schooled and licensed to do so.
The nation was compelled to watch with raft attention on national TV the particular case of an Edo woman teacher I have dubbed ‘’The Affidavit Woman Teacher’’. In one of his routine visits to one Edo State school and in an impromptu competency test he administered, the governor asked the woman teacher to read the affidavit of age she had sworn to in a high court. It was sheer torture for this woman to read that affidavit because she was a plain illiterate. This case and many others even worse than this, led to efforts by the state government to weed out unqualified teachers from the school system.
Eventually, less than one thousand teachers had their appointment terminated by the Edo State Government. Although it is common national knowledge that close to 50 per cent of teachers at the various levels of our education system ought not to be teachers, the effort by Oshiomhole represented some courage which other state governments ought to have emulated.
Imagine therefore the disappointment of some of us when in the aftermath of the recent Ekiti State governorship election in which the incumbent APC governor, the urbane Dr. Kayode Fayemi, lost to his more populist opponent who believes in ‘stomach infrastructure’, Oshiomhole was compelled more by realpolitik than by standing on what is right and progressive, to reverse the termination of appointment of those he had found out to be incompetent teachers. When he announced this reversal, the usually articulate and clear thinking man sounded so inarticulate in justifying his contradicting himself. This should have ministered to him that it is wrong action that makes a man to stammer!
What Oshiomhole has done is the triumph of politics over reason and rightness. And it is a great disservice to the nation and the future of our children who have a right to good education but are not getting it because of the numerous political teachers we have around who have no right or calling to be called teachers but are acting as teachers while those who are qualified are left out of the system because they have no long legs to be where they ought to be.
I am particularly pained by Oshiomhole’s unconscionable summersault because I believe that teachers are the single most important factor in the school system. They are more important than school buildings, laboratories and libraries combined. If you have a teacher who is competent and is truly called to be a teacher, he can, in the absence of many school facilities, impart knowledge to his learners who will grow up to become self-assured and very useful members of society.
I will, at this point, use this opportunity to pay tribute to one of my primary school teachers, Mr. Emmanuel Idoko Ellah who, in 1970, taught my primary three class an unforgettable poem entitled The Boy who says I can try. Long before inspirational and motivational teachers came along, Mr. Ellah, the good, creative, innovative, inventive, committed and called teacher that he was, sought to imbue in us the virtue of always being positive, self-motivated, self-assured and persistent, of never ever giving up, of never ever giving excuses, but forever believing that ‘’yes, we can’’, in pursuing our goal until we have attained.
The poem goes as follows: The boy who says I can try is always at the top of the mountain/ But he who says,‘’I cannot’’ is always at the bottom/ It is therefore good to always say, ‘’I can try’’. He then proceeded to draw a graphic showing the boy who says he can try sitting triumphantly at the summit of a very tall mountain I was convinced in my child’s eyes to be Mount Kilimanjaro and the one who says he cannot, sitting dejectedly at the bottom of that mountain. Forty four years after, if I am today confronted by any challenge, I recall Mr. Ellah’s poem urging me to tell myself that I can try.
But today a large number of teachers we have all around the nation teaching nonsense to our children are those who do not have what it takes to motivate a child to say he can try but who will insistently ask him to collect ‘co-operation fee’ from his parents with which to bribe external invigilators so that they can be assisted to cheat and pass their exams. These are some of the teachers the otherwise progressive governor has been compelled by the need of his political party to win election in Edo to allow to come back to the school system and continue with their destructive and demolition job on our so-called future leaders. In the foregoing, it is sad that Mai Turenchi, the Right Honourable Patrick Obahaigbon, who is Oshiomhole’s Chief of Staff, has not yet found it necessary to release from his formidable arsenal of bombastic English, the relevant adjectives to condemn his principal’s wrong move.
I am certain that if it had been someone else, Hon. Patrick would have said something like this: ‘’A vast majority of long suffering Nigerian parents who have suffered the abysmal, dismal performance of unqualified and incompetent teachers are greatly affronted by Governor Oshiomhole’s unconscionable bowing and kow-toing to the evil imperative of his party winning election to engage in a most regrettable action unbefitting of a man of progressive hue’’.
It is indeed unfortunate that instead of our leaders learning the many useful lessons in the Ekiti guber election, they have instead chosen to learn the one that the fear of civil servants, teachers and other active, powerful and influential voting blocs is the beginning of political wisdom. Let our politicians be ‘foolish’ in doing the right things for the growth and development of society than be wise in succumbing to blocs that can intimidate them to do what is not in the interest of the larger society. And if there is anyone among the current politics top brass who has the heart to do what is right, that person is Oshiomhole. That is why his capitulation for the sake of politics, is so, so sad. Comrade, re-revert yourself one more time. It is more honourable to so do than seeking to achieve short term political goal.
Article written by Idang Alibi
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