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Federal Government’s blunder on WASSCE

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After a sudden and unilateral decision to deny Nigerian students’ participation in the 2019/2020 West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), on the claim that it is not yet safe to reopen the schools, the Nigerian government appears to have chosen the path of wisdom to seek the opinions of the West African Examinations Council (WAEC), the exam administering body on the one hand and the four countries that, with Nigeria, participate in the examination on the other.

Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, said Nigeria has resolved to consult with the four other countries concerned namely: Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and The Gambia. He was quoted as saying the other day, “we met with WAEC…and have agreed to further consult with four other countries on new examination date.” Talk of putting the cart before the horse! This is nothing short of a blunder. 

Consultation with stakeholders – including the 36 federating states of Nigeria, should have been the starting point. And if this had been done, this government would have availed itself of a variety of suggestions on which to take a more informed and consensual decision.  Furthermore, it would have saved itself the embarrassment of a wide condemnation that followed its initial decision to pull Nigerian students out of the 2019/2020 examinations.

The point must also not be lost that the decision to pull out was a classic case of ‘‘policy summersault’’ because, just a few weeks earlier, the government, speaking through Dr. Sani Aliyu, the Presidential Task Force National Coordinator on COVID-19 was reported as saying at a June 29 press briefing that graduating classes of Primary 6, JSS3, and SSS3 would be allowed to resume school to prepare for their final examinations.

No one would like to fault the concern for public health including keeping the schools safe. That is the duty of government, among other things anyway. But constituted authorities are expected to think consistently through their decisions, seek a wide range of opinions – which they invariably have access to – and make informed, or at best wise policy decisions that make sense to not only those directly affected, but reasonable people. The Federal Government has displayed poor judgment in this matter of WASSCE such that it has, appropriately, brought on itself excoriation from the legislature and other stakeholders. The chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Basic Education and Services, Professor Julius Ihonvbere was succinct. He said, “this sudden policy reversal is not good for the country, it is bound to create further confusion in the education sector, create disappointment and  suspicion  among parents,  frustrate  students and show our development partners  and Nigerians that  the distortions and  disarticulations are only  getting worse.” 

Ihonvbere observed that Nigeria is not the only country writing the examinations amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. So, it is a shame that whereas the other countries seem to find a way to hold the examination, Nigeria that should, as leadership demands, know the way, show the way, and go the way to surmount the obstacle, is the very country unable or unwilling, to get its acts together. Indeed, in what appears as thinking up solutions for the executive, the House of Representatives Committee offered several ideas to resolve an existential challenge. It concluded by telling President Muhammad Buhari to “direct all his ministers to return to their states work with the governors and ensure the smooth implementation of the policy and conduct of the examinations.”  

There are many flaws in the process that led to the Federal Government’s decision. One important example is the non-involvement of the states. It is no wonder that some have taken a different direction. Under the 1999 constitution, education at all levels falls under the concurrent list as spelt out in Sections 29 and 30 of Part II of the Second Schedule.  So, while the Federal Government has chosen to deny the students of the ‘‘Unity Schools’’ under its control, the opportunity to sit for the WASSCE, some states have decided to allow students of their institutions go ahead with the examinations. The commissioners of education, special advisers on education, and the chairmen of the Universal Basic Education Boards in the six states of the South-West geo-political zone of Nigeria have accordingly resolved that their students would sit for the WASSCE. Apparently, some people take education, global competitiveness, and the future of their children more seriously than others. 

There is something that patriotic Nigerian should find disturbing about the choice of what to allow or disallow under the COVID-19 situation. It has been observed by not a few that a government that finds no reason under the COVID-19 pandemic to postpone elections that involve millions of voters into political offices suddenly considers it unsafe for eager students of a far less number to take the final examinations that will move them further in their academic career. This cannot but speak much about how little this government values education. If Nigerian students skip this WASSCE, the backlog created thereby will be a huge problem. The Federal Government should do nothing to jeopardize the future of Nigerian children. 

There is something valuable to learn from the ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes who once noted that the foundation of every state is the education of its youths. He is right. If, as it seems, Nigerian policymakers are not aware of this wisdom, it is hereby brought to their attention and action. 


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