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On teachers crisis in Borno State: How Governor Zulum is salvaging a bad situation

The Borno State Government has been battling with the problems of teachers’ recruitment, remuneration and retention. Over the years, unscrupulous employment practices, particularly by Local Education Authorities, have resulted in the engagement of persons who were not qualified into the teaching profession contrary to the national standards. Indeed, many individuals were indiscriminately employed as teachers on the basis of ethnic or political reasons. These individuals not only lack the basic qualifications to stand before pupils, but refused to subject themselves to gaining the necessary qualification that will enable them to acquire the required competence in teaching pedagogy.

In this piece, I address the vexing issues of the crisis of the teaching profession in Borno State. This is in response to recent negative commentaries, fake news, misleading information and mischief that are bandied in the social media. The piece addresses the following: background and diagnosis of the problem; Governor Zulum’s intervention; some lingering issues; and future projection.

Background & Diagnosis of Teacher Recruitment in Borno State

The problem of teacher recruitment, retention and remuneration pre-dated the Zulum Administration. In fact, no particular administration could be blamed for deliberate negligence, as the problem was caused by national policy gaps which allowed local education authorities to fill employment gaps without recourse to employment best practices.

The first problem was the acute shortage of teachers in the market place and the burden faced by Local Government Education Authorities (LGEAs) who had no option than to recruit persons who possess non-teaching qualifications such as ND, HND, BSc, BA, B.Eng. and even SSCE.

The second policy gap was the mismanagement of the baseline requirement for teaching qualification from Grade II to the Nigeria Certificate of Education (NCE), a national policy which came into effect in 1980. Due to the low volume of NCE graduates in many states of the federation including Borno, LGEAs had to absorb non-NCE holders as a temporary measure to fill the gaps.

The third challenge was the politicization of teacher recruitment especially during democratic regimes when politicians flooded the teaching space with their political supporters and hooligans whose only qualifications were party loyalty and nepotism. This category of teachers do not report to work, and where they report they end-up as jesters in the school compound.

The fourth problem is “ghost teacher syndrome” borne by corruption and sharp practices in the recruitment of teachers, a practice that was common during table payment regimes. Local Education Secretaries, School Head Teachers, LGEAs Accountants, either on their own or in connivance with others, load-up the payment vouchers with dummy or imaginary “teachers” who collect their salaries and then share with their sponsors on the basis of agreed sharing formula.

The foregoing problems resulted in several negative outcomes: first was the over-bloating of the nominal roll of teachers with all manner of staff: “the good, the bad and the ugly” – known in Borno parlance as “Ali-a, Modu-a, Dala-a” (Tom, Dick and Harry) – who populate the teaching space without providing any services. Second was the colossal rise of salary bills which, in some local government areas, consumed the entire monthly allocation leaving no resource for capital projects. Finally, there was pernicious implosion of the teaching space with “ghost teachers”; holders of fake certificates; party supporters; personal friends and relatives of education administrators and elected politicians. In some local government authorities, this problem festered in geometric progression such that the Ministry of Local Government had to instruct LGEAs who hold surplus in their salary bill to come to the aid of “imploded” LGEAs.

By 2019, the figure of LGEA employees stood at a whooping 26,450; out of which 18,451 were teaching staff while 7,999 were non-teaching staff. A verification exercise would later reveal that 66% were unqualified persons or holders of fake certificates and thus not fit for purpose.

Governor Zulum’s Interventions

On assumption of power on 29 May 2019, Gov Zulum inherited the above problem, and expressed his determination to clean up the system. A similar scenario existed in Kaduna where Gov Nasir El-Rufa’i applied an aggressive strategy to cleanse the teaching space leading to outright sacking of the fake and unqualified teachers. While El-Rufa’i adopted a scorched earth policy to the purge the unqualified and fake “teachers”, Gov Zulum decided to adopt compassionate tactics by keeping the unqualified teachers at an administrative “holding facility” on a temporary stipend until they are transferred to non-education sectors for appropriate engagement, and processing the holders of fake certificates for criminal prosecution, in consonance with the principle of the rule of law.

In 2020, Gov Zulum issued an instruction to the Ministry of Education to clean-up the mess of local education authorities. Zulum said “If I cannot allow my own children to be taught by unqualified persons, I cannot allow the children of the poor to be taught by unqualified persons. We have a duty to defend the interest of those we have sworn to protect.” The MoE immediately embarked on elaborate and well-planned series of exercises to cleanse the system:

1. Staff Verification: a committee headed by Dr Shettima Kullima was established to conduct staff verification. The committee discovered that of the 18,451 teachers presented for verification, only 15,823 were cleared as fit for teaching, while the balance of 2,628 were classified as “unqualified” on the basis of a clearly spelt-out requirements that were consistent with national and global best practices. Gov Zulum established a Review Committee led by late Usman Jidda Shuwa to consider cases of candidates who did not appear in the previous verification. The Report of the review committee reaffirmed the findings of Kullima Committee, and recommended 144 candidates to be relocated into the payroll based on merit.

2. Competency Test: as an enhanced measure, a committee headed by Engineer Lawan Wakilbe processed those cleared by Kullima Report to be presented for competency test conducted on 5-20 January 2022. The test results revealed that 5,257 passed; 6,227 were found trainable; and 4,339 failed. Gov Zulum decided that those who failed the test, rather than being sacked, should be placed on a token monthly stipend while being processed for transfer to other sectors. In Kaduna State, this category was sacked immediately. It is possible that those in this category were discontented with the outcome of the exercise.

3. New Recruitment: a committee led by Engineer Lawan Wakilbe was tasked to embark on a recruitment campaign based on a uniform criteria. The committee conducted its task from 2 August to 30 September 2023. Of the 19,313 who applied, only 3,000 were recommended for recruitment and thereafter placed on minimum wage of N30,000 which is above the national minimum wage.

4. Scale-Up and Upgrade: In collaboration with the National Teachers Institute (NTI), the Borno State Government negotiated the Emergency Teachers Upgrade Programme (ETUP) to scale up the competence and pedagogy of trainable teachers. Of the 3,524 candidates who participated in this programme, 2,396 passed, while 1,468 were recommended for immediate engagement and retention on the minimum wage.

Key Achievements of the Zulum Administration

Gov Zulum is a university professor who believes in merit, competence and adherence to due process. In the course of resolving the crisis of the teaching profession in Borno State, Gov Zulum demonstrated vision, patience, tact, compassion and resilience.

First, Zulum applied rule of law and administrative best practices to clean-up the mess of the teaching sector that was accumulated over three decades of policy negligence and sharp practices of reckless education managers and politicians.

Second, Gov Zulum applied benevolence and compassion to retain the unqualified teachers on temporary basis pending their relocation to other sectors where their relevant competence can be useful. They are also granted opportunity for second chance training and vocational education, if they so wish.

Third, Gov Zulum determined that those education managers who may have committed sharp practices, or teachers who were indicted of possessing fake certificates shall be considered for disciplinary and legal action, rather than being subjected to indiscriminate purge. This benevolent gesture has been applauded by all relevant stakeholders.

Fourth, Gov Zulum set aside N1 billion for training of teachers in Borno State. In the fullness of time, the giant strides in education infrastructural development will be matched with adequate and appropriate quality and quantity of teachers.

Finally, Gov Zulum recently established an innovative repurposing of the Office of Local Education Secretaries through legislative and bureaucratic reforms. The present crops of Local Education Secretaries were recruited based on competitive and keenly-contested recruitment exercise. The newly recruited LGECs were placed on a competitive and attractive salaries (equivalent to that of Permanent Secretaries), and granted staff cars and monitoring vehicles. In an elaborate ceremony to handover the keys to their official vehicles, Gov Zulum urged the newly appointed LGECs to live up to the government’s high expectations. He informed them that they shall be subjected to annual appraisal and regular evaluation based on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to be conducted by the Borno State Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation (MEST&I).

Some Lingering Issues and Logical Steps

The following issues are still lingering: First, out of compassion, Governor Zulum took the painful decision not to sack the unqualified teachers immediately. Some of these unqualified persons were employed based on arbitrary and reckless “back-hand” practices of the past. It would be a betrayal of societal trust and social contract to allow dunderheads who lack basic numeracy, literacy or teaching pedagogy to stand before pupils.

Second, there are allegations that some teachers are placed on salary of N7,000 or thereabout. This is correct and undeniable. Our investigation reveals that most of these candidates have collected social investment and workplace loans, deductible from their monthly salaries. Therefore, their net pay could be a reflection of their earnings after all deductions. The fact remains that, based on Gov Zulum’s intervention, majority of teachers who have been verified, retrained and newly recruited are now placed on minimum wage of N30,000 or more.

Future Projection

The Zulum Administration promises to stay the course on revamping and rejuvenating the education sector in Borno State. To achieve this, the Government has rectified the policy and administrative errors of the past, introduced new legislation to rectify past mistakes, and repositioned the education sector on a solid pedestal. With the reconfiguration of the Teaching Service Board (TSB), the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) as well as, the establishment of Senior Secondary Education Board (SSEB) and Arabic and Sangaya Education Board, the Zulum led administration has created the necessary bureaucratic backbone for a sound education sector in Borno State.

Going forward, it is anticipated that the unqualified teachers who are placed on administrative stipends will be relocated to other relevant sectors, while the administrative loopholes of the past shall be permanently closed. The 2024 budget contains a bouquet of projects and novel initiatives that will enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of education institutions in the state across primary, secondary and tertiary levels.

Education stands as a key pillar in the Borno States 25-Year Development Plan; the 10-Year Strategic Transformation Initiative; and the Infrastructure Development Master Plan. Gov Zulum believes that a sound educational system which is driven by an adequately-paid and a highly-motivated staff, is necessary to drive the Borno Restoration Project (BRP).

Prof. Tar is a Professor of Defence and Security Studies, and the Incumbent Commissioner for Information and Internal Security in Borno State._

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Written by Nike

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