The situation in Ogun state as it relates to the sacked education officials appears to be fluid. It seems some of us who initially wanted Governor Amosun’s head on a platter may now have to recant, or as we say in local parlance, eat our words.
The scud missiles of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), the rocket-propelled grenades of some opinion writers, lawyers and academics and the Molotov cocktails of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) appeared to have been directed at a wrong target. What a colossal error!
I had read an article in the newspapers by one educationist, Ayobami Odesanya, who said “The greatest tragedy in the question paper has not been highlighted by many commentators. I discovered to my horror and chagrin that the so-called SUMMARY passage was actually a summary or synopsis of opinions expressed in newspaper adverts sponsored by the opposition in the months leading to the April 11 governorship election in Ogun State!”
Initially, I was not strongly persuaded because of the plight of teachers in Nigeria. I joined in the condemnation of the Ogun state governor based on what has now turned out to be a one-sided information available at the time. Some of my not too apolitical colleagues at the weekend showed me a couple of leaflets and handbills distributed by the opposition parties towards the end of 2014 and in early 2015. I also saw some newspaper adverts by the leading opposition party in the state. When I married them with the controversial question paper which led to the dismissal of some education workers, I saw a smoking gun. Indeed, some words appeared to have been lifted from the opposition materials.
This is regrettable. I am not an educationist but I agree with the submission of Mr Odesanya: “The action of the teacher or ministry officials who approved the question is totally inadmissible. It’s an attempt to corrupt the pupils politically and discredit the government that has provided them with free education… Condensing into an exam passage published attacks of the opposition political party against the government is totally reprehensible. Children are too impressionable to be drawn into such high-wire politics. We should not toy with their future.”
There is something particularly funny about the Ministry of Education in Ogun state. Was it not in the same ministry that a scam of two hundred million naira (N200,000,000) was uncovered in 2013? I understand huge sums were traced to the accounts of some of those involved. Certainly, the practice must have been going on for years, where money voted for WAEC by the government was diverted into private pockets. If N200,000,000 could be stolen in one year, then not less than N400,000,000 must have been stolen in this ministry under the current administration before the sleaze was discovered. It is not clear whether this is the reason the government stopped giving running cost to the schools as investigation revealed it was during the scam that the grant stopped. Could it be they were equally fiddling with the grant which was increased by about 50% by the Amosun administration?
Of course, there is bound to be reactions since the state government has shut all the sleaze doors and blocked loopholes that were being exploited by the workers. And one could see manifestation of such frustration in the partisan political question set for the innocent children. It’s really a shame. We often criticize governments across Nigeria for not devoting enough budget to education but here in Ogun were education officials diverting millions of government money meant to pay WAEC fees of children of the poor into their private pockets!
I think we’ve really been unnecessarily hard on the government of Ogun state. For a state whose IGR is ridiculous in comparison to Lagos to be paying teachers higher salaries deserves commendation rather than scorn. What is more, the number of public schools in most of the states in the country is so small in comparison to Ogun. Lagos with humongous resources has about 3 or 4 public higher institutions of learning but Ogun state has more than 10! I wonder what the government wants to do with such number anyway! In all, Ogun state alone has almost twice the number of public schools in Lagos. And the number of public schools keeps increasing, necessitating the need to employ more teachers. Perhaps this is the reason why the government dithered in dismissing the over two hundred teachers involved in the WAEC scam, many of them in the service for many years.
If, in spite of these challenges, the current governor has been able to renovate over 2,000 school buildings, pay arrears of WAEC fees, salaries, and pensions he inherited, build world class model schools for public school pupils, I think he deserves our understanding and support even if such support is measured. From information in the press, enrolment figures for primary and secondary schools rose sharply as a result of the free education with free textbook policy of the Amosun government. Between 2011 and 2013, enrolment figure for upper secondary school increased from 146,737 to 162,536 while that of lower secondary school jumped from 174,820 to 214,837. And the number has been growing every academic session.
Last week, the taciturn governor finally reacted to the spate of attacks, which now appeared to have been directed at the wrong person. The news media carried the press release signed by Mr Taiwo Adeoluwa who is the Secretary to the Ogun state Government.
Following this press release, I got a copy of the constitution. I discovered that the Civil Service Commission is a creation of section 197 of the Nigerian constitution.
I also checked Part II, Third Schedule to the document and confirmed this:
2. (1) The Commission shall have power without prejudice to the powers vested in the Governor and the State Judicial Service Commission to –
(a) appoint persons to offices in the State civil service; and
(b) dismiss and exercise disciplinary control over persons holding such offices.
(2) The Commission shall not exercise any of its powers under sub-paragraph (1) of this paragraph in respect of such offices of heads of divisions of Ministries or of departments of the Government of the State as may from time to time be designated by an order made by the Governor except after consultation with the Head of the Civil Service of the State.
It is crystal clear that those of us who had and are currently attacking the personality of the governor are all guilty of jumping the gun and leaping before looking. We all need to own up to our mistakes and error of judgement. So the governor even had no power to sack any civil servant!
We should not excoriate public officials for the sake of doing so. Just as public office holders can be wrong, we also, the public watchdog, can be wrong. However, by my own reading of the press statement, it does not mean the approval of the governor would not be obtained before the disciplinary measures were effected. Without prejudice to Part II, Third Schedule of the 1999 constitution, the combined reading of the constitution suggests that the governor cannot entirely be shut out from major employment or major dismissal of workers by the Commission. The Civil Service Commission cannot do major employment without the authority or permission of the governor, because he has to pay the workers. In the same vein, the CSC cannot dismiss workers at such a level that involved very senior officials without seeking the final approval of the governor. But to hold that it was the governor that sat behind a desk in his office and sacked the erring officials, as some of us initially believed, is a grievous offence. When the National Judicial Council dismisses a judge and the president accepts the dismissal, no one talks about the judge being sacked by the president. The blaring headline is usually, “NJC hammers, sacks or dismisses a judge.” The process of sacking a civil servant or a judge is extremely tortuous. No one can wake up in his bedroom and then order the sack of a civil servant. There are procedures upon procedures and from my personal study so far all these were complied it by the Civil Service Commission in respect of the sanctioned officials. The principle of fair hearing was complied with to the letter and some of the senior officials were even alleged to have owned up to negligence on their part.
In parenthesis, I wish to use this medium to draw the attention of the governor to the Sango-Akute road. When he started this road, we were all very happy, but construction work appeared to have halted. One understands the current financial situation in the country but kindly give it priority once things begin to improve.
Finally, I think the Commission should give more information to the public or unravel the processes that led to its decisions in order to aid further commentaries on this matter. More importantly, what does the law say about those that set partisan political question to school children, thereby attempting to corrupt them? What about those workers in the education ministry that diverted two hundred million money meant for WAEC into their pockets? N200,000,000 is no small amount of money. Has the stupendous sum been recovered? How long has the practice been going on? Is there any guarantee that the millions of naira voted for bursary have also not been diverted over the years?
Dr Sola Adekanmbi writes from Akute, Ogun state