Photograph — People's post Media

Last week, social media was abuzz with reports of the competency tests taken by public school teachers in Kaduna state. The state government released some of these answer papers to the general public on its twitter account. As usual, this ‘revolutionary’ act has generated varying reactions from Nigerians. The competency tests have also produced questions of whether competency can be tested in other levels of the civil service.

Following the refusal of the Kaduna state government to re-instate the sacked teachers in regards to an ultimatum issued by the Kaduna chapter of the Nigerian Union of Teachers, there were protests in the streets against the government’s decision. Nigerian labour Congress (NLC), Nigeria’s foremost labour union, led the protests as they demanded for Kaduna state governor El-Rufai to step down.

Whichever side of the divide you may belong to, you can agree that this is the second most definitive action taken by any state government in this administration to arrest the decline of education in Nigeria, after Sokoto state declared a state of emergency on education last year. A provost of a Nigerian College of Education declared last year that the biggest problem with education in Nigeria particularly at its primary level “is its poor level”. Apparently, Kaduna state believes the key contributors to that are the teachers. Apart from the fact that Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school children (11 million children), many of them at primary school level, in the world (and more than half the global estimates), most of that number is also concentrated in Northern Nigeria. For Northern states, it is still a bone of contention that it has some of the worst education statistics of the whole country. Now, it has to deal with incompetent teachers.

The only drastic educational reform in Nigeria in past administrations was under Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, Nigeria’s former education minister who served under former President Olusegun Obasanjo between June 2006 and April 2007. She introduced a policy reform which questioned the status quo in the educational sector. Though she spent 11 months on the job, her policy reform was extensive and addressed most of the major ills in education; a 10 year strategic plan that was supposed to address education, the most prominent in decades, but wasn’t implemented.

El-Rufai has seemingly ruffled a hornets’ nest. In the past, a Nigerian governor attempted to conduct a competency test for teachers in his state. He set up a Teachers’ Development Needs Assesment (TDNA) to test the competence of teachers, but the scheme has since been abandoned by the subsequent administration. The man in question, Kayode Fayemi, former governor of Ekiti state and now Nigeria’s minister for mining reportedly helped Nasir El-Rufai in the assessment of teachers in Kaduna state. The competency tests, which were based on primary 4 level examinations, were failed by more than half of the primary school teachers who sat for it, implying that they are hardly fit to teach the primary school students of Kaduna state.

Reality is, if El-Rufai and Kaduna’s education board come out unscathed from the barrage of accusations that have followed this decision, we might probably see this test conducted throughout the 36 states of Nigeria. Kogi state government today sent representatives to Kaduna state to “understudy” the competency tests used for Kaduna state teachers, according to the Kaduna state government in a tweet post today. Other state governments have also contacted the Kaduna state government in regards to the competency test. Nigeria’s education needs a reform, one that is pointing towards the right direction, and should obviously begin with the people tasked with equipping the minds of its future generations.

However, addressing the rot in Nigeria’s educational system is more than competency tests, and more than primary school teachers. Nigeria’s civil service needs reforms too. Though it is difficult to measure public service, there have been several efforts to reform it since independence; the Public Service Review Commission-1972-1974, the 1988 Civil Service Reforms and the 1994 Review Panel on Civil Service Reform were some of the reforms implemented by the country at different times in its history.  Nigeria’s public service still remains the backbone of its corrupt government. Public service in Nigeria is rife with bribery, absenteeism, nepotism, misappropriation of funds, ghost workforce, falsification of official records etc; all of which aid corruption.

Many of Nigeria’s federal agencies don’t have long term plans to direct their affairs. Case in point, the education ministry. Despite the damning indices on education in Nigeria, there’s been no clear-cut policy or reform aimed at improving education in Nigeria in the past decade. Millions have been budgeted for education since 2007, but there’s been no change. The 10 year strategic plan would have ended this year ironically, which would have indicated that steps had been taken to improve education.

Perhaps, it’s the public service in Nigeria, not only Kaduna state, that needs reforms. The threat to other incompetent public workers was summed up in a medical worker’s interview with Premium Times last week during the protests in Kaduna. When asked why he was at the rally, Michael John said “You know the Hausa proverb that says ‘If the beard of your neighbour catches fire, you should help spring water on it before the fire gets to your own.” Well Mr. John, if you cut off your beard, you probably wouldn’t have to worry about catching fire. Competency cannot be burned.

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