By Peter Okebukola
What is the mandate of a Nigerian Minister of Education? It is essentially to superintend educational provisions and be the chief harnesser of the power of education for national development. In a federal system, he sits atop the apparatus for national policy formulation and standards setting.
The enforcement of standards in collaboration with federal and state-level actors is also part of his or her charge. As chairman of the national council on education with state commissioners of education as members, the minister wields the power of captain of the education ship, steering it into shores that can be rocky or calm. In November 2015, Malam Adamu Adamu received the baton from Malam Ibrahim Shekarau, stepping into the track as Nigeria’s 46th Minister of Education since independence in 1960. After three plus years of “ministering”, a behind-the-scene assessment of his stewardship shows several interesting milestones and some unfinished businesses.
We open these excerpts of milestones with a glimpse at some public misperceptions. To some, Malam Adamu Adamu’s literary and journalist bent and training are weak ingredients for success as a minister of education. This warped perception is like looking at the hood of the monk rather than his deep entrails which serve as driver of the monk’s personality.
In the mind’s eye of many, the archetypal minister of education should have a doctorate degree. The blind spot in the mind’s eye of such persons fail to see that the world of the leader of today and the far future is not about the higher degrees brandished (although these provide added value) but on the ability of the leader to “learn how to learn” and possession of 21st century skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, ability to work with others, media literacy, technology literacy and flexibility. These skills which Malam Adamu Adamu is generously endowed, are called to duty in the day-to-day desk and field work of a minister of education of today.
More than half of the ministers of education in high-performing countries in education in the world have no more than a first degree, a master’s at best, but are politicians and technocrats with superlative leadership and 21st century skills. The minister of education of Finland, unarguably the best-performing country in education, Sanni Grahn-Laasonen is a career politician who worked as a journalist (like our education minister!) in the Finnish afternoon newspaper Iltalehti.
The other misperception is that Malam Adamu Adamu’s personality is ad contra to the bulldozer type needed in the education ministry to ferociously pierce the armour of challenges facing the Nigerian education sector. Unknown to many, Malam Adamu’s strategy is even more potent than being a bulldozer leader. Rather than being reactive, pugnacious and limelight-seeking, Malam Adamu empowered what can be likened to as his divisional commanders to take the battle to the enemies of poor-quality education and rout the foes.
Donning my chemistry cap, Malam Adamu Adamu is like a group 0 element in the periodic table of chemical elements. Members of this group such as helium, neon, argon, krypton, xenon, and radon are noble gases. They are octet in nature which makes them stable and unable to gain or lose electrons. I extend this analogy to Malam Adamu Adamu’s nature of ensuring that every subsector in education is served, not wishing some to gain and others to lose. So, what have we gained in the last four years, what education battles have been won? In the logbook of victories, some major milestones are discernible. A few will be highlighted.
The “battle plan” was encoded in the Ministerial Strategic Plan 2016-2019. Here, access to quality higher education was one of the areas to be “captured”. The goal was to increase access by minimum of 5% and significantly improve quality. Malam Adamu Adamu’s field generals in the higher education sector especially Professor Abubakar Adamu Rasheed (Executive Secretary, NUC) and Professor Is-haq Oloyede (Registrar, JAMB) achieved the 2016-2019 goals.
Riding on the Rasheed Revitalisation Plan for the Nigerian university system, Professor Rasheed led NUC to increase the carrying capacities of our universities by over 8% through the twin approach of expanding the human and facilities resourcing of existing universities and licensing new private universities as well as recognising new state universities.
Numerical strength of our universities leapt by over 15% since Malam Adamu Adamu took over as minister. On the quality front, Professor Rasheed embarked on a massive, no-holds-bared attack on quality depressants through sharpening the quality-assurance teeth of NUC, barking and biting along the rough road of getting the universities to maintain quality standards. Today, on all measures of quality, the Nigerian university system has gained 12 percentage points since 2016.
With the launch of the 2019-2023 Revitalisation Plan for the Nigerian University System, what is now popularly known as the Rasheed Revolution, is off to a fine start. The success story of JAMB catalysed by the mandate given it by Malam Adamu Adamu is now legendary and a subject of several global citations. Professor Is-haq Oloyede has set at least two gold standards- one for administering JAMB and the other for public accountability.
The JAMB story of conduct of the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) is one of freshness of vision, creativity and trust in authenticity of UTME scores. It is one of best practice in conducting cheat-proof public examinations. It is one of following your heart regardless of pressure by parents and candidates to release the results of the UTME without removing the bugs inserted by crooked candidates and their conniving parents and sponsors. It is one of establishing a level-playing field for blind candidates and offering equal opportunities for all regardless of disabilities.
Incidentally, both Professor Rasheed and Professor Oloyede are of the same prudent, masses-loving, creative-achiever stock as their boss- Malam Adamu Adamu. These two are unquestionably, ministerial materials.
At the basic education level, UBEC under Malam Adamu Adamu and his minister of state, Professor Anthony Anwuka reformatted its intervention system in the states. The Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) Executive Secretary, Dr Hamid Bobboyi was backed by the ministers to improve the machinery of release of funds to the states and monitor same for greater accountability.
Today, there has been significant improvement in the performance of UBEC on its mandate over the status in 2016, chief of which are at least 10% improvement in facilities for the delivery of basic education by way of new and refurbished classrooms and schools and school supplies. The new focus on teacher professional development by UBEC is heartwarming and a credit to the Adamu Adamu administration.
The school feeding programme coordinated by the Presidency is another positive development in the education sector.
Turning to other education indicators such as literacy rate, gender parity indices, school completion rates and efficiency, there were marginal positives, although not enough for celebration. The expectation of the Ministerial Strategic Plan that the number of out-of-school children will significantly drop by 2019 failed to achieve the mark.
Spates of strikes interrupted the academic calendar at several points in the period although the firmament is now calmer. Examination malpractice at all levels of the education system is still a blight. Minister Adamu Adamu, a man not to deceive himself, is aware of these pockets of resistance to quality education hence he convinced the federal executive council and the national economic council to declare a state of emergency in the education sector. Now is the time to step on the throttle of the implementation of the provisions of the declaration and hence a call to Mr. President to ensure that the persona behind the call, Malam Adamu Adamu is at the steering wheel of the implementation train.
We need an Adamu-led Ministerial Strategic Plan 2019-2023 for the education sector to continue to take its rightful place as a level for national development as we gallop to “the next level”.
Professor Peter Okebukola is a former Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission.