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Stemming the recruitment of unqualified teachers


 Udom Emmanuel

Udom Emmanuel

At a time when many states in the country are recruiting to shore up their stock of qualified teachers, in a bid to address the gaping shortfall, the recent sack of 5, 000 newly recruited ones in Akwa Ibom surprised many stakeholders. Assistant Features Editor, ENO-ABASI SUNDAY, writes that only a deep look at the circumstances surrounding the sack reveals the propriety of the decision.

Not long ago, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) revealed that the Nigerian economy has recorded two consecutive quarters of economic contraction. According to it, in Q1 2016, the GDP growth was negative (-0.36 per cent). The Q2 2016 data reflects even a larger contraction (-2.06 per cent), while the GDP in the third quarter shrank badly to 2.24 thereby worsening the chances of the country getting out of recession this year.

In addition to this grim scenario, the rate of price inflation for the months of September and October 2016 were 17.9 per cent and 18.3 per cent, respectively, while official statistics also indicate that the country’s unemployment rate increased to 12.1 per cent and 13.3 per cent during the first and second quarters of 2016.

With the above scenario in place, any large scale employment opportunity in the country, if not well managed, is highly susceptible to widespread anomalies, with all known professional parameters that should characterise such exercises observed in the breach.

Apart from such recruitment exercises being hijacked by syndicates or serial bribe-takers, nepotism, flagrant abuse of set rules, supplanting names of qualified candidates with those of highly unqualified ones, are constant features of recent recruitment exercises. The highly questionable recruitment into the Nigeria Prison Service (NPS), conducted by the immediate past administration, lends credence to this assertion.

It would have been expected that because of the very sensitive and delicate nature of the education sector, recruitment of teachers should be spared any form of unethical practice or sundry fraudulent practices. That has clearly not been the case as reflected by the two large-scale teacher recruitments in the country, which political figures and their assigns flawed the exercises.

After a report emerged that several primary schools in Enugu State, especially in the rural areas were without the full complement of teaching staff, with only one teaching staff handling an entire school, in some cases, the state government a few months ago moved to strengthen its primary school system, with the recruitment of 2, 000 teachers.

Over 10,000 applications were received from interested candidates, shortly after the vacancies were made public.

But the exercise soon got mired in allegations of bribery and other sharp practices, allegedly perpetrated by officials of the Enugu State Basic Education Board (ENSUBEB), and their fronts.

Matters got to a head when some candidates who participated in the exercise called on Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, to cancel the aptitude test, and order a fresh one.

Enugu State goveror,  Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi

Enugu State goveror, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi

The aggrieved candidates pointedly accused ENSUBEB officials of collecting between N150, 000 to N200, 000 from prospective candidates before offering them jobs, through their cronies.

The candidates who alleged that the payment of the amount that was the “main criteria” for employment, and not the outcome of the written tests, or even the genuiness of academic credentials presented, threatened to mobilise to the Governor’s Office, should the board go ahead to publish any list of successful applicants. This was shortly before a non-governmental organisation, Human Rights Observers, joined them to call on the state government to probe the allegations, stressing that “doing the right thing is the only way Enugu State can get the best brains to handle her primary school pupils.”

Worried by the apparent loss of credibility of the exercise, the state House of Assembly cancelled the recruitment exercise, and ordered the conduct of a fresh one. The House’s decision came in the wake of an invite extended to ENSUBEB chair, Mr. Ikeje Asogwa, and the Permanent Secretary of the board, Mrs. Rose Chiaha, at its plenary.

In Akwa Ibom State, while defending the 2016 budget estimate for the Akwa Ibom State Secondary Education Board (AKSSEB), Permanent Secretary, Mr. Akpan Solomon, informed the lawmakers that the board needs 500 new teachers yearly to fill vacancies created in the system by the retirement, withdrawal and untimely death of teachers.

According to Solomon, the current enrolment in public secondary schools in the state was 347, 697, while the number of teaching staff stood at 11,000 only.

He, therefore, noted that the number of teaching staff was grossly inadequate to guarantee effective teaching and learning in the 285 public secondary schools in the state, especially in the light of the one teacher, one subject policy being planned by the state government, and in order to meet up increased number of students occasioned by the free education policy of the state government.

In the twilight of the Godswill Obot Akpabio-led administration, 5, 000 teachers were recruited to fortify the pool of teachers in the state. But like the exercise in Enugu, it was also fraught with immense atrocities. Expectedly, the controversy generated by the exercise, like an obnoxious stench, refused to go away, leading to the discontinuance of the issuance of employment letters.

One year before the doomsday arrived for the sacked teachers, there were indications that the incumbent administration was far from being comfortable with the process that led to their employment because it was allegedly tainted with corruption and irregularities.

That not withstanding, not many were certain Governor Udom Emmanuel, would undo a decision made by Akpabio, because of the strong bond they share.

However, Emmanuel had hinted at a possible action using innuendos far back in November 2015, while speaking during a television interview in Uyo, the state capital.

On that occasion, he said that several job seekers in the state waiting for their “employment” to be finalised by the state government were holding fake civil service employment letters issued to them by fraudsters.

He added that the state government had information about fraudsters who forged signatures of officials of the state Civil Service Commission, and gave out fake civil service employment letters to job seekers.

“Believe me we have a whole lot of fake offer letters in the market … I am sure most of those who are making this noise (that government hasn’t paid salaries to new recruits) are those carrying fake offer letters … “If you have fallen victim of those fake offer letters, it is a pity there is nothing the governor can do in this regard. We will ignore it,” Emmanuel said.

Ironically, some of the affected teachers whom the governor accused of being holders of fake credentials, and who lobbied their way into the state civil service in the highly tainted recruitment exercise, in August publicly took their matter to God, asking him to intervene so that they would be paid their 16 months unpaid salaries.

Over 200 of them, gathered at the popular Ibom Plaza, in the state capital for two hours, praying for God to touch the governor’s heart, in order for him to post them to schools to start work.

This last ditch effort was after the unassigned teachers had appealed to the governor, speaker of the state Assembly, and the former commissioner for education, without any response. Sadly, none of those efforts yielded any positive result as the governor ordered their sack.

In giving reasons for the mass sack, Emmanuel in a statement said, “Even the bible says if the foundation is not right, what can the righteous man do? We have tried to see how we could get something out of that recruitment process, but believe me, the foundation was very faulty.

While warning that he won’t be swayed by sentiments, but would always make the right decisions that are in the interest of the people of the state, the governor said, “If we are putting people to teach our children, please let us leave sentiments apart and go for the right people. We need to make sure they went through the right process and have the right qualifications,” he said.

“We are assuring the 5,000 people that they need not worry, when we are calling for aptitude test, you need not re-apply, just walk into the venue of the exercise with that appointment letter and justify that you are qualified to teach our children,” the governor stated.

Chairman, Lagos State Wing of the Nigerian Union of Teachers, Comrade Segun Raheem, is of the view that every effort must be made by state governments and employers of teachers to ensure that only professional teachers are employed at all levels of education.

According to him, it is only by so doing that the much-needed rejuvenation of the education sector can be achieved, and the profession accorded the needed respect.

“Teaching should be left for professional teachers alone, and that is the position of the Nigeria Union of Teachers. In our country, the era where those who are waiting for openings in their choice ministries and parastatals are drafted into teaching should never be brought back.

“It is in this light that the NUT would advise the Akwa Ibom State government to recruit only teachers, who are qualified, having obtained the requisite teaching qualification, registered with the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN), and in possession of a valid license to teach,” Raheem stressed.

An education consultant, Samson Innocent is of the view that until political leaders and their cronies learn to draw a line between “job for the boys and teaching, the country’s growth could be stagnated.

“In this era where TRCN is a sine qua non for teachers, any state that goes ahead to recruit non-teachers to teach their children would have itself to blame shortly,” Innocent said.

While applauding the efforts of Enugu and Akwa Ibom states in ensuring sanity in the sector, he appealed to other state governments to spare a thought for the youths and equips them adequately for the future.

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