At the end of my inauguration lecture for Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai two years ago, the first person to raise up his hands to make a comment was someone very high in the Kaduna pecking order.
I had warned Nasir in my lecture that the people were entitled to heightened expectations from a change government. Folks like me were not going to help him and the folks in Abuja to lower the people’s expectations. On the contrary, we would defend the people’s right to unforgiving high expectations. The previous government was corrupt. I inherited an empty treasury, etc. Those excuses, I said, would not be acceptable. You knew about those things before marketing yourselves as valid alternatives.
You must therefore not only build Rome in a day, I told Nasir, you must learn to build Rome in a single day and with only one kobo.
The man who rose up to make a comment was fuming with unrestrained anger. He was very unhappy with Nasir. He accused Nasir of bringing a non-indigene of kaduna to come and insult a whole Kaduna state. A whole kaduna state fa! And he reeled out the oriki of Kaduna state. A very proud oriki indeed. How can this foolish Professor come from Canada and claim that Kaduna state has only one kobo? What sort of nonsense is that? He went on and on about how Kaduna had billions in the treasury.
Beside me on the high table, Nasir, Shehu Sani, General Martin Luther Agwai, a former Chief of Defense Staff, were all wincing in discomfort. I could see Samaila Aruwan wincing in embarrassment in one corner. Bamidele Ademola-Olateju was hoping that the ground would open up and swallow her. When Nasir eventually got the microphone, he used style to explain the meaning of metaphor to his very angry friend.
So, when I see Kaduna state moaning that some twenty something thousand school teachers failed an aptitude test so elementary as to embarrass anyone who cares about Nigeria, I say I understand the immensity of the problem. Here, after all, is a state where a big Oga, one of the Lords of the land, needed to be helped in public with the meaning of metaphor. The state University has no website to speak of and I have used back channels to warn the Oga in Kaduna about that University.
Nasir is taking the right steps by looking into the issue of the quality of his teachers. He however grossly underestimates the nature of the problem. You are going to hire about twenty-five thousand teachers to solve the problem. Some twenty-five thousand unemployed graduates who have been languishing in the job market will suddenly get lucky and be hired. Some of them will perhaps be products of Kaduna State University – where having a standard website is even rocket science.
But amidst other problems, you are hiring these teachers within the same atmospherics and the same national imaginary of teaching as a profession of grudging last resort. You go to teach because MTN did not hire you, GTB did not hire you, no politician has hired you as special assistant to a special assistant, and maga has not paid on the internet.
You go into teaching, already defeated, already demoralized, envying your friends who are Senior Special Assistants to the Councillor of your local council. Life is so unfair! A whole me carrying chalk in the classroom fa! When Adamu, my course mate in the University, is SA Media to the wife of our local government chairman! You will carry this attitude of teaching as something beneath your dignity to the classroom and reproduce the failures of the past.
These are the issues Nasir and the Kaduna authorities are missing. They are therefore curing ringworm in the presence of leprosy. Nasir, you have to declare a state of emergency in your education sector and let those who know help you with holistic and enduring solutions. The problem is way deeper, much deeper than sacking and hiring teachers.