BY MOHAMMED M. BILYAMINU
Alh. Ibrahim Hassan Kufa, the Executive Chairman of Universal Basic Education Niger State, said education as a serious business, really needs serious attention. He said the Chief Servant has vowed to make the state a model in terms of service delivery in the education sector. Excerpts:
As Executive chairman of the Board, what are the functions of this Organization?
As you are aware, if you go back to memory lane, SUBEB is a child of necessity, it underwent so many names; it was Universal Primary Education (UPE), Universal Free Primary Education, and later on changed to Universal Basic Education (UBE). All these as a result of the inability of the local government to manage the education sector under its jurisdiction. This was among the reasons given by the military to justify its coup that ousted president Shagari at that time. In some states teachers’ salaries are not paid for many years. As a result of this the government saw the reason for the creation of a board or a Commission that would monitor and manage the affairs of education at a basic level, not necessarily directly under the local government. So the function of SUBEB, among other things, is to regulate, monitor and ensure that proper things are taking place on education at the basic level. To coordinate all the duty of primary school teachers and the Junior Secondary Schools. We pay their salaries through the ministry for local governments; we ensure that only qualified and quality teachers are employed into the system to impart knowledge. We ensure that these teachers are trained; we also ensure that instructional materials are given to children to learn, and then we ensure that teachers are motivated so that they can put in their best in running the affairs of those particular pupils in the primary schools and junior secondary schools.
Instructional materials are vital for effective education. Are these available in Niger State schools?
If you are following up the trend in Niger State, there was a report last year that some syndicate groups were arrested diverting some of the instructional materials from Niger State to other places.
They were arrested, but what actually happened was that the entire issue was over blown; there was a Bookshop man that was based in Minna here, when his father died he decided to relocate back to his home town; so he moved out of Niger State with so many books to his home state. So there were some of these books that were sold to him by some of our staff here not as already exaggerated. You see a thief is always a thief provided there is evidence against him. So these materials where supplied to us by the federal government through the intervention funds and we are to make sure if these materials are supplied we also distribute them to all the local government areas. I would also make sure that each local government has taken ownership of these instructional materials. In some local governments what they normally do is they do not allow children to even take instructional materials home, they use them in the school and keep them in the school stores when they are going home. This ensures that there would be availability of these particular instructional materials and any local government that has confidence on the children, they allow them to take the said materials home but they keep them under close supervision to ensure that they are not distorted, to ensure that when the pupils finished their levels before moving to the next level those that are coming after them would also use the same materials for a certain period of time. We also ensure the availability of instructional materials we supplied to schools are kept and monitored closely.
Don’t you see the low performance of pupils and students in external examinations as being related to lack of instructional materials in schools?
There are so many reasons that contribute to the mass failure of students in examinations. Though the WAEC and NECO are not under our jurisdiction but under ministry of education, there are many reasons to this factor. In the first place the system for a very long time has been neglected; the teachers are not motivated; they are not given proper training to impart knowledge. As you are aware education is something dynamic, knowledge is something one has to update on a daily basis so as to catch up with the realities of time. Majority of the teachers are not up to date in their knowledge. Then the infrastructure itself is so dilapidated for so many years. In fact when this government came on board there are schools we visited and the only structure we saw were the structures put in place since 1976, as if there were no governments since then.
Instead of providing infrastructure to all these schools, we saw nothing, and learning is always more conducive when there is conducive environment and atmosphere. Really, I want to believe these and other reasons are responsible for this mass failure. The issue is not of government alone, as the parents have their own share of blame also. The students have their own share of blame, the teachers have their share of the blame and also the government as well. If the government in the past was up and did as it is at the moment, honestly the whole system would have become a story of the past.
Here in Niger State the chief servant has shown passion for education, the chief servant has given priority to education and as such anything that has to do with teaching, anything that has to do with education, he pays attention to it hundred percent.
When he came on board, precisely in 2007, the entire result of Niger State NECO was not released. When the chief servant enquired from NECO, he was told that majority of the parents could not afford to pay the examination fees. He therefore paid for them, and since then he made it a duty regardless of the child’s status, regardless of his state of origin, provided you school in Niger State WAEC and NECO are free. This is because he realized that many parents are handicapped; they don’t even have money to pay for their children’s school fees and that is why he took it upon himself to at least help the parents. In Niger State every year we pay for the school fees. This is part of the resolve to make education sincerely free in Niger State, and no levy is changed except the popular levy of PTA.
PTA is allowed provided the principal can sit down with the parents and tell them what he intends to do in the school, and inform the parents what the intended project will cost. But even at that, such amounts as agreed would have to be paid in the bank so that whatever amount is generated, the school authority will be able to utilize the fund for the sake of that intended project. Prior to this administration there are many sorts of levies spread. Muslim pay their levies separate, Christians pay their levies separate and indigenes and non indigenes fees are also separate. In fact there are all sorts of charges in our school system. The levies are so many; there are some because of this levy they run away from the schools.
After all these how do you rate the students’ outcome?
It is gradually, in 2007 despite the money paid Niger State students got only 6%, which is very poor indeed, but realizing that couple with the fact that the ministry of education has joined hand to ensure that learning and teaching are properly taking place, the following year things started appreciating. Last year we are almost around 18.7 percent. So since then it keeps appreciating on yearly basis. The percentage has never come down, it has been going up. When we make comparisons with other northern states, we always see ourselves at high level, as looking at other states that have 7%, 6% highest 12% and then we are getting up to 18% close to 19% we really appreciated what God has given us. And we know that definitely with time we also do more than that.
Now we are giving attention to primary schools, because we are sure that is where the problem is coming from. If a child has no good foundation then definitely there is a problem. We now pay more and more emphasis on the primary sector so that our teachers in the primary schools should be qualitative enough to impart qualitative knowledge, whereby as the students preceded to secondary school, it would be just a continuing process. By so doing I believe our performance will go a long way. Then we decided to look at established laws of the schools where education secretaries were given mandate to employ teachers from level 1 to level 6. We have cancelled that mandate. These are some of the things we did to bring sanity into the system.
Girl child education is one of the priorities of SUBEB and MDGs. How are these taken in Niger State?
If you are following the history of education in Nigeria, particularly the activities of UNICEF in Nigeria, Niger State has gone very, very high in this particular aspect of girl child education. UNICEF came with the idea that is girl child project (GICP) we have GICP one, GICP two and we have GICP three.
Under GICP one UNICEF makes allot of contribution to education; they put our teachers in capacity building, they identify some schools based on selected stages that they call girls education project school. They make us have this office at each of the local government that takes care of the activities. Attention is given particularly to girls education and under GICP they came up with so many innovations like the issue of SBMC to have ownership of the school because after the GICP (one) they realize so many lapses, the schools are left in the hands of nobody; you know people look at government property as a useless property, everybody can enter a classroom and do whatever he wishes; no ownership of that school. So they introduced the idea of SBMC in our schools that is School Base Management Committee. We extract people from the old boys of a particular school with prominent educationists of that area to chair and form membership so that they can pay visits to oversee the schools from time to time to own that particular school. We have SBMC in every locality. This was initiated by UNICEF.
And then the (GICP III), now are talking of transaction and scholarship. Scholarship most be given to the girl child so that they also can contribute their quarter in their localities. They went round and discovered in some villages it is hard to see a lady who has upto NCE level, even the majority of the ones they have seen it is either grade II or School Cert. but are teaching in primary schools, from there they said those people need to go beyond that. They came up with the idea of sponsoring a number of students, they started with 50 girl students at the College of Education to be sponsored to go and study various courses to NCE level and also sale the idea to the state government. When they sponsored up to 50 we at the state government were able to sponsor 100 at the beginning and Her Excellency’s foundation (Life Rehab) also sponsored a certain number.
We also encouraged local government chairmen to boost the morale of girl child education in their localities by sponsoring certain numbers. Right now that I am talking to you we are into sponsorship for more than 2000 girls undergoing various courses at the College of Education here in Minna. The first batch has graduated and we are now compiling their names to send to the executive Governor for automatic employment as teachers in their respective domains. So at least they can serve as role models to other children that are coming behind.
You have mentioned that instructional materials are being kept in schools so as to maintain their standard for the next coming students, yet every year funds were being released for the purchase of the same materials, why?
Good, from 2006 to 2008 intervention fond states where given free hand to operate in terms of instructional materials; buy instructional materials that you feel are good for your state, but from 2009 to date the headquarters of UBEC handles the supply of this instructional materials. The reason for that is some of us are blamed, when you go round and discovered that materials purchased in some states are inferior materials some of them are even pirated materials that cannot last for more than a year or two.
Henceforth, the commission at Abuja decided to order bulk purchase from publishers directly, so that the publishers would produce these items in large number. The state would submit the kind of materials they need to UBEC and directly provide for them and they are not bringing the materials for primary 1 to 6 at the same time, they normally start with primaries 5 and 6 that is in the year 2009; the following year primaries 4 and 3, then later primaries 1 and 2, that is how they use to supply us the materials. You know some times we don’t get the exact population and sometimes we cannot get the whole number we send. That is why some pupils are left behind in terms of this materials and that is why we keep sending for more. And also they give these instructional materials for libraries like story books for the junior secondary schools to read and literature books.
What are the measures you take to curtail the issue of instructional materials diversion as you experienced?
Adequate measures were taken. In the first place we constituted a committee for distribution of these materials, and the committee is headed by a Director from this office. That committee has a number of people in attendance not only SUBEB staff; we also included the leadership of school base management committee (SBMC), PTA, youths group, and part of security personnel (SSS) also as numbers of that said committee. We sit with them regularly and when there is distribution we sit four to five times to ensure the total safe delivery of the items to all localities.
And our last action is each local government has its own stamp and logo to be stamped on the books at random pages; so any time you see a book like that you know where it comes from. This is besides the NOT FOR SALE that is writing boldly on each such book.
Inadequate infrastructure is one of the major problems affecting learning. How it is in Niger State?
Thank you, the Chief servant also in his wisdom, urged SUBEB to go round and ensure that the congestions we have in our schools particularly in the urban areas were reduced to the barest minimum. We build more classrooms to see all students are going to school in the morning no school shifting system in Niger State, now we are operating uniformly.
We have a school here, where we did assessment at the time we came around 2008; the population of a classroom was only 8 to 10 per classroom. But with the enrolment figure that has changed dramatically we are forced to put more than 25 numbers of classrooms to carter for the population so far. This is because at the time when this government came on board in 2007 the population of both primary and secondary schools was over about six hundred and eighty seven thousand (687,000). But today we are talking of 1.3 million all put together.
This development came at a time when parents start to see government schools are taking shape than the private schools they are taking their children to; they are competing favorably with the public schools then some parents started withdrawing their children back to government schools, where it’s even safer for them to send their children to than private schools that are too expensive for them.
In Niger State there is a legacy that the Chief Servant stands to leave behind. He created what we call ward development. Under this ward development in Niger every ward is given certain amount of money; initially it was N500,000 now it is one million Naira in every month to decide for whatever they would do to their ward in terms of what to do to improve their lives and living condition of their people. Particularly, we looked at the issue of schools were children learn under trees, to ensure they have real structures. That is why I say so far so good in Niger State because there is no ward out of the 274 wards we have in Niger State that would complain that no work is taking place at that particular ward.
Also, he insisted that SUBEB cannot do it alone. So out of this one million Naira, N100 thousand per each ward should be set aside to purchase chalks, diaries and registers. These are the daily needs of the schools and these are the needs that the teacher cannot even wait for. Some local governments went even ahead buying motor cycles for their supervisors to facilitate reaching all nocks and cranny of their localities with ease and to ensure effective monitoring of schools.
What are you doing to eradicate the Almagiri syndrome?
Part of the support is the free education we talked about. Parts of those are not able to send their children to school, because they don’t have money to pay. By the time you are sending your child to school and you are told to bring this and that parents are discouraged. If you are not an indigene you have to pay for not indigene fee, if you are a Christian you pay a Christian fee. Pay this levy, pay that levy before even paying the school fees; all these are enough to discourage parents, especially when you don’t have the means. That is why many were unable to send their children to school. Now education is free and parents are to pay only PTA levies, so they are sending their children.
You know during the colonial era they went as far as motivating some children to come to school by distributing them some milk, when you are in school they would be given such packages to go home with it and that would even attract you to bring your younger one tomorrow. We have that sensation and advocacy to various communities, where we invited some of the children in primaries that can speak or do one or two things for the parents to see and that things have gone a long way to assist in sending children to school. We cannot say government should be giving money to parents for them to send their children to school, no, but reducing a certain burden on them honestly has gone a long way in ensuring our enrolment is boosted to a certain level. Also in the course of motivation, our students are picking up. In the last one year, for instance, we sent some of them to Turkish International Competition, one of them won; she’s now under free scholarship from Turkish International School Abuja. She excels in Mathematics. This competition comprised of students of both private and public schools but yet she won.
These are some of the little indicators that tell us things are happing in the education sector and things have changed completely. Meanwhile, let me remind you that every child must write an examination and pass before going to the next level. If you cannot pass the examination automatically you cannot proceed further until you pass.
We just realized that people are coming to the system without having the preferred knowledge and they only maneuver to graduate.
The primary school is the foundation therefore we must tackle it at the primary level and we make it a policy that now in Niger State no child should go to secondary school without knowing how to read and write and also a child in primary I before moving to primary II must know how to read A to Z and 1 up to 1000 before he would be eligible to be in primary II. In fact, those are some of the strategies we are taking in our state. This is to ensure the passion that the chief servant has on education is not in vain.
There are issues of quack teachers in service. How are you tackling the problem?
It is wonderful and you came at a right time. Yesterday when I was unable to attend to you that was the meeting we were in for.
We went for a meeting to the Ministry for Local Government to receive a report of a Committee that we assigned to go round all our schools in Niger State to see their problems. They submitted the report yesterday in our presence with the Hon Commissioner for Local Government.
They finished the assignment in 2012, made the executive summary and they have captured so many things in their report. They highlighted so many issues; in the first place they go round all schools in Niger State and they saw the teachers, but before they embarked on these activities we first collected all the names of our teachers through the vouchers and we made sure that we computed these names. Then later we wrote a letter to the Education Secretaries informing them that they don’t have the power to replace any staff. This is because replacement is not a good language in administration; you cannot replace but you can only recruit. There are instances where a teacher dies or retires, may be on grade leaver 12 or 14, and instead of having a qualified teacher to give him grade level 07 they prepare to go and bring their children or relations with secondary school Certificates, about three or four of them to continue sharing the salary of the GL 12 not knowing they are damaging the system.
There was a place that we had to send away the Education Secretary because we met a staff who came for screening and we discovered that while his appointment letter was reading 2005, his credentials indicated that he graduated from secondary school in 2007. This shows that he was employed as a teacher while he was still in secondary school and when we verified, we discovered that he is the son of one of the Education Secretaries. If at that level he is teaching his own child to be corrupt then what are you expecting from him?
We set up a disciplinary Committee and shown him the way out of the system. This is not the kind of people we need in the system because you have to be honest to be a teacher.
In constituting the Committee don’t you think that politics would come in?
We are very careful in constituting the committee for the main fact that we have a union. We assigned the union to nominate who would chair the particular committee and they chose somebody among themselves. Because they are also worried, they kept coming for the promotion of their teachers. So we said we can’t do that without knowing the particular total number of people we have. For instance you need to know the population size of your household before planning on it. So we cannot be planning blindly.
Now we have closed this chapter for not allowing anybody to come in. After stopping the employment we started to extract those that are dead, retired and those we do not even see in the schools. There is another group of people that we did not see, the married women; some are women of big men. For example, their husband is a speaker, deputy speaker, commissioner and so on but yet they are collecting salaries for service that are not rendered. We said no to all these categories of people. We cannot continue to allow them, if they cannot work let them stay at their homes and their names be removed from the pay roll.
There is another category of people that they were allowed to be on courses not even relevant to education and some of these people do not even teach for a year or months, they are only recruited and posted to studies. We said no to these things because there is a system that you must be appointed and worked for a certain number of years before you were allowed to go for course and even the course most be a specially related course because the knowledge you acquire we be what will benefit the children. But by the time you are teaching and you go to study Architecture, definitely when you come out of the school you would not come back to the education system. So we will end up wasting our money to train you and not come back to be of any help to us.
So what we intend to do if this white paper is put in place, is to stop the salaries all such categories of people.
What would you say about the call by some citizens to stop NTI from offering part time NCE courses?
Well, if people are advocating for the stopping of this kind of programmes I belief they have seen a lot of things. Equally do you know that in some of the NTI centers, there are people that apply, given admission and you never even see them in the class for either lecture or examination but at the end you would see them with the certificates? Seriously, if people are advocating for the stoppage of this kind of thing honesty I also join them.
If NTI would scrap or give closer making than they are doing now, it is the better for all of us.
What are SUBEB major challenges?
The challenges of everybody is funds, once you have the money, how to spend it is not a problem. But the truth is that no matter how passionate the Chief Servant is for the education sector, you know he cannot take the entire budget of Niger State and put in education. This is because education is such a sector that even if you combine the entire budget of the state it can take all. Though we are happy for what he is doing and we are happy he doesn’t play with our counterpart, once it comes to the issue of counterpart he doesn’t joke with it. In fact he gives instruction that even if we can borrow, he assured us to go and borrow and he will pay.
What do you want to share with the people of Niger State?
Well my call for the good people of Niger State is to cooperate with this administration and even after the tenure of the Chief Servant somebody energetic with vision like the Chief Servant should succeed him. This is to ensure that the ongoing plan should have continuity, because part of the problem of Nigeria today is lack of continuity.
We are appealing to Niger State to ensure that we have continuity of this administration and to ensure that attention is given to education and also parents should give attention to their children’s learning in the schools. Parents should take time to ask their children what have you learn today, how many lessons do you have today, as from these they can check the children and enable them to know if the teachers are performing to expectation or not.