Reign of Highhandedness

Last week, national media featured the Ogun State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun and the state’s Head of Service, Mrs. Modupe Adekunle. The media coverage hovered around an examination comprehension passage, and the sacking of six of the state’s educational officials.

“There is no arguing the fact that the government is merely paying lip service to the development of education. It is true that a lot of money is being spent on the education sector but with little or no impact felt by the people, except where we want to deceive ourselves.
Many schools run by the government, which were formerly known for academic excellence have suddenly lost their prestige and are living on past glories. No wonder, many parents and guardians are threatenly left with only one option, to withdraw their wards from these schools to other ones that are better managed. The evidences to show that the government is not doing enough to assist in the development of education are many. Even pupils in both primary and secondary schools can volunteer a good list on their fingertips.
One of the numerous indications is the government’s inability to pay running costs to schools. The running cost is the token amount per pupil paid to school administrators to run the affairs of the school in a term. This has been neglected to pile up for several academic sessions.
Another one is the regular poor conduct of terminal examinations. These examinations are not usually conducted as and when due. The government may have one excuse or the other, but real educationists know that appropriate timing is a strong factor in the process of Continuous Assessment (CA) of students. Thus, a situation where for instance, the first term examination is shifted to second term is an outright departure from the norms and ethics of Continuous Assessment.”

—Culled from Jola Adegbenro’s Issues on Education Today

The passage above has landed the officials in the backwaters of the governor’s graces. Scrolling through the comments posted on the Punch Newspaper’s website, there appears to be two camps—one in support of the governor, the other against his decision. This time, I choose to take sides. Notwithstanding the explanation given by the state’s Head of Service, that due process was followed in meting out the punishments; I see a streak of the highhandedness that has come to characterize many governments in Nigeria.

There is one existential rule in Nigeria—never criticise the government. If you want to survive, always praise the government. If the leader smiles, praise him. If he frowns, praise him. If he shits in his pants, praise him. In fact, declare a feast in honour of the gods who have decided to show the best way to defecate. Those persons saying that the axed officials erred in selecting a passage that appears to criticise the Ogun State government, are merely reiterating the obnoxious Nigerian doctrine.

Talking about criticism, did the passage actually criticise the Ogun State government? I have been unable to lay my hands on the full article, but some commentators posit, and I agree, that the article addresses the state of Nigeria’s educational system, not just Ogun State. The quoted session did not mention any particular state. Virtually any state can be put into that passage, and it would fit almost perfectly.

Some commentators have argued that the passage could poison the students’ minds and instigate them against the government. Studying the passage, I am at a loss as to how that is even possible. The points discussed in the passage are publicly known, except, as the passage says, “where we want to deceive ourselves”. Even WAEC and NECO examinations have questions that require students to discuss certain government policies. Does that in any way instigate them against the government?

For the sake of argument, let us assume that the officials had ulterior motives and acted out of spite, or due to the influence of an opposition party. Is termination of their careers the best way to handle such an “embarrassment”? Such embarrassment would not have occurred if the government were alive to its responsibilities. A better move would have been to look at the passage critically, see where and how it relates to Ogun State, and focus on solving whatever problems it may have exposed. Quickly wielding an axe has only served to give the government bad publicity, and made this matter more popular than it would have been if the government had just ignored the passage.

One thing is certain that if those officials had been involved in a sycophantic move, they would not have been thrown to the dogs. The perpetual praise singing required by many leaders is what inevitably leads to their downfall. When you make it a policy to punish any person who does or says anything that appears critical, you create a climate of fear. People would never say the truth in such an egregious climate. Sometimes, the bitter truth, in form of constructive criticism, is required for real progress. Such truth can come in different forms, including an innocuous-looking summary passage.

I hope that Governor Amosun would swallow some moral pills and rescind his government’s decision. He can even assume a benevolent persona and reap a little more praise singing. Finally, to avoid this “embarrassment” in the future, he should institute a working system of checks in the education ministry to screen examination questions to suit the government’s taste, and attack the rot in the educational system with the same intensity with which the axed officials have been attacked.

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