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By NBF News
Listen to article The falling standard of education in Nigeria and its attendant consequences have been subjects of intense public interest in the recent past. In this interview with DONATUS NADI, the Executive Chairman, Nasarawa State Universal Basic Education Board (NSUBEB), Mallam Abdulkarim Mohammed, speaks on the reasons for the downturn in the nation's educational fortunes and how it can be addressed using Nasarawa State as a window.

The falling standard of education in Nigeria has generated intense public interest; what in your opinion are responsible for this trend which currently defies all known solutions?

We have to realize that we need to rely on history to analyze the facts available so that we are not just making dogmatic statements but we are also bringing factual statements of the reality of the falling standard of education. And the best way to do it is to go back to the history records to see how Nigeria stood educationally in the yesteryears, which we always make references to. In the early 1960s and before that, we know that we had a very effective mechanism. We had a structure for implementation of our educational standards.

At the time, all the stakeholders were actively involved in ensuring that all the requirements that make up for good standard of education were available from the parents to the communities. Education was a project for the entire community; it was a project for the society so there was no way one would allow some of the present lapses to take place. So the reason we have such falling standard of education is because of the lapses and gaps created because of the individual interests that have come to supersede community and society's interests, and this has given birth to the chronic level of corruption. This word corruption is taken for granted but there are many ways you can interpret the concept, whether moral corruption or fiscal corruption, and it has become a major factor that has crept into our educational system, fast reducing it to rubbles.

You also see people perpetrating acts of corruption through the indifference they display. We see people displaying acts of criminality and then we become passive. The society itself has become a captive of this passivity; it has allowed itself to be misruled, misguided by elements that do not mean well for the common wealth. So it is the lack of looking at education as a national project, as a collective societal project that it used to be that has also contributed to the awful falling standard of education in Nigeria.

Nigeria, as a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, had University of Ibadan rated as one of the best universities in the Commonwealth. So how come we have fallen from that lofty height? That is the question. What has made others sustain their level of educational growth and what has made ours to keep plummeting. After years of glorious outing in the educational sector where we had great scholars and people were coming here to learn and of a sudden something invaded our consciences and paralyzed our sense of values. It also made us lose our bearing because there is a great evil invention of corruption that has taken our sense of human commitment.

How can we surmount these challenges?
There is no better way than to re-trace our steps and address our misbehaviour. We have to rediscover our ways and we must set our past as a compass. So if we must redesign our future on the past, we must locate what were the building blocks for those achievements so recorded and what has deprived us of the ability maintain it. We must look at what does actual community participation provide for and what was the level of leadership, who were the leaders, how were they behaving, what was their conduct? There was a common standard for everybody in those days.

I come from a very remote village school and when I took the common entrance examination in the old Northern Region, I was seated in my small village school and the then provincial secretary from Benue, the late Reverend Tanko Jolly Yusuf, obliged the requirement of the system to come and interview me in a remote village school in Keffi. So people were chosen on the basis of competence; there was no selfishness and so no reason to patronize mediocrity.

The best way, therefore, is to ask ourselves individually because what obtains now is for our leaders to go into some false moral pontifications, sermonizing to the evil forces when we are intricately part of it. You cannot go and climb the mount to deliver a sermon that you yourself are a perpetrator of the evil that you are trying to preach. There is this saying that example is better than precept; so let us be candid with ourselves in what way we can reassess our sense of value and judgment to mitigate the evil that has come to overtake our country.

In a nutshell, we know what is wrong but are we prepared to confront ourselves to solve the problems, having indentified the facts. This is because what has been worsening our plight in this country is this close psychology where we cast aspersion on the 'they' instead of collectivizing the ills into 'we'. The moment we accept the prescription that we are included in the moral viral infection or its vectors, then we begin to seek remedy. We must accept responsibility as contributors and if we renege, we are then contributing to the downfall of education.

Because of the moralizing, we always do as leaders, there is a high level of cynicism among the citizens that keep hearing these falsehoods because they know that what we are saying is contrary to what the reality is or the way we act. How then can we effect the desired change?

What then are the most critical challenges facing the education sector in Nasarawa State, especially with regard to primary education?

Well, what was referred to as primary education is now called basic education because the federal government has enacted a policy that now prescribed the primary school and junior secondary school to be under the Universal Basic Education. Having said that, the education sector in Nigeria is so bad but I think that of Nasarawa State is beyond description. The photograph published in the national dailies sometime ago exposing the underbelly of the rot in which the previous administrations left the primary educations in the state is replicated all over the state. Millions were expended on paid adverts and radio and television jingles, making false claims of their achievements.

So, the challenges we have in Nasarawa State are very daunting. First, no investment was made in that sector commensurate with  what obtains in other states. The level of attention given to educational advancement of the state has been very negligible, if any, and finances and investments that were  meant for education went to servicing political cog wheels. The contractor syndrome for rewarding politicians turned the Universal Basic Education Board (UBEB) into a vineyard for political godfathers and party patrons. Contracts were given that were not executed. You can't believe that when other states in the country have people with masters and doctorate degrees manning the education sector, we have people that were recruited to serve as teachers without even the secondary school qualification.

We are very low because we have morally decided to undermine the sector that should be considered the prime sector in development. We all pay lip service to development because it baffles me how you can achieve it without education. It is the incontestable focal point that gives direction to national development, but in our own case, we have decided to put it on the backburner. There is also the insufficiency of teaching aid, books; supplies were contracted out but suppliers either did not supply at all or you found them in the open market because there is a conspiracy to deprive the state of its educational glory to catch up with the rest of the country. This way they thought the people will be kept perpetually ignorant to the benefit of the political merchants in the state.

Recruitment of personnel was  also compromised because vested political interests were considered to be above the collective interest of the state. It was a field day for rogues and crooks as investigation has revealed that we have lost a lot of money and have abandoned projects all over the place. Anyone who has been a close monitor of events in Nigeria would know that Al-Makura is fighting in the biggest battlefront against all forms of corruption, both individual and institutional.  He inherited the greatest debt burden in this country, yet people are not seeing that. More people are however taking a more critical look and are now appreciating Al-Makura for achieving so much from nothing. He is a miracle worker. What opened the eyes of Nigerians to the revival in Nasarawa State was the national media tour embarked upon by the minister for information, Labaran Maku.

Governor Al-Makura has always asked us never to compromise on the standard of education in the state even in the face of the limited resources accruing to the state. We must not despair or be daunted by the challenges of the crisis that we met on the ground and that is what we are doing. There are members of the current cabinet who think the education sector should be open to them like a vineyard to explore and exploit. Can you imagine; recently I saw letters coming asking or proposing names of education secretaries.  Who is not aware that the epicentre of corruption in this country for a long time has been the local government system. They  have been patented to be the place where criminals reside by virtue of the extended syndication of corruption where you see the elders and some of the political elite get their returns monthly.

Some people are in Al-Makura's government not because of what they have to offer, but for what they want to take away. We have a lot of predators who want to use the board as a prey for their selfish ends. We cannot be a prey to anybody regardless of political standing.  We understand that some commissioners went round making a lot of efforts to make sure that they nominate education secretaries for us to adopt through their minions but that is unacceptable to us. We also know that there some of them who operate as shadow government, a shadow cabinet that tries to always deceive the governor through guile and subterfuges. We will not allow it because we are in a battle front with only one commander being Al-Makura. I will never allow any subordinate, under whatever guise, to deceive the governor and implement their hidden agenda whether as cabals or as a secret mafia running a shadow government. We shall soon expose them and their minions. We shall expose the scavengers in the corridors of power and other political refugees.

Leaving them is passivity on our part and allowing them in the system is inimical to the change that Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura intends to effect in the state. We are the foot soldiers in the vanguard of this war and we are identifying them in whatever form and shape they want to manifest their evil.

There has been clamour for the inclusion of compulsory vocational and skill training at the basic education level; what do you make of such a clamour?

I think that is the best solution, and you know that that clamour deserves serious attention. If you look at the structural organogram of our educational process, it lacks the practical capacity that would make young people aspire to leave school and go into the world to solve problems of society. We are just organizing the education in our country to be a centre for rote memory where you just cram and go out trying to lay claim to employment that is not even there.

So why don't we provide this vocational education at the this basic level? I am for it and Governor Al-Makura has been championing the cause. That is why he has integrated our educational system in the state with relevant technology so that young people will go and learn skills. We are trying to give a sense of human worth to the young people who have been destroyed by the past political leadership in the state,  making them thugs who had nothing doing but harass public and political office holders from one office to another. It's a pity.

Even the developed countries of Europe that we always make references to have developed the capacity of their people through the combination of the academic and the vocational skills. Governor Al-Makura has awarded N1 billion contract to Relevant Technology for the provision of seats to schools across the state, the profit of which will be ploughed back into the skills acquisition programme for greater capacity development.

Having said that, what would you enumerate as governor  Almakura' s achievements under your stewardship at the helm of affairs at NSUBEB?

Al-makura has paid the enormous debt left behind by his predecessor, Aliyu Akwe Doma, and has invested in making sure that new schools are constructed across the state. Before my assumption of office he gave out about 44 ETF schools and with my coming in compliance with the Public Procurement act, we gave out 144 projects. We have trained teachers in more than ten different categories with the british counsel, National Teachers Institute, National Mathematical Centre and the private sector. Governor Almakura has also awarded N1.2 billion contract for the provision of furniture and paid money in millions for the provision of textbooks.

So given the realities on the ground and the difficulties caused by the economic burdens of bad debt inherited from the past government, one cannot but admire his foresight which has come to symbolize the best practices in governance. The only unfortunate part is those who surround him trying to derail his administration by operating a shadow government must be done away with. The political refugees that surround him who do not even merit recognition because in their polling units they worked to undermine his victory at the elections are still hanging around trying to undermine his victory as a governor.

Corruption perpetrated through the politicization of the activities of your board is a worrisome problem how to you intend to put a stop to the ill?

One of the priority considerations is what the governor has initiated because before his assumption of office as governor the teachers in the state were on strike for a long time and so the governor not only recalled them and settled their grievances, he also mandated that teachers be the first to receive their salaries contrary to what obtained when teachers collected salaries halfway into an incoming month because of the level of corruption in the board and the external political forces that made it so.

We are also in our own investigative imitative tracking down the masterminds of this serial corruption in the basic education sector. There are a lot ploys, you will see a teacher on grade level nine given grade level thirteen but he is not paid the due salary for the grade level. To be frank with you the level of corruption at the board is so specialized that it goes beyond table payment. We have had cases of security men being included on payrolls as teachers they make up to five vouchers some by the supervisors, chairmen, education secretaries and the list continues.

Some people are doing this because they had godfathers who were protecting them but as it is we have enough facts to nail those have been in this practice and shortly were are going to make it public. It is a shameful irony of fate that in Nasarawa today that those who were voted to rule the people but ruined them; those who were given public trust but abused the trust by inflicting several corrupt legacies of unimaginable proportions are now having field day in the press mocking at us for our liberal endurance of their criminality instead of putting them in jail. How else can we explain some of the empty and boastful vituperations by the ex-agents of corruption that depleted the lean resources of Nasarawa State during the past four years of their evil rule in the state.

The problem with Nigerians is that we like to glorify criminals instead of emulating credible heroes with proven records of good conscience and service to humanity. The criminals are celebrated while the true heroes are vilified because the former serves our selfish interests while the latter serves the collective interest.