opinionBy Anayo Onukwugha
In August 2012, the Rivers State government, through the Ministry of Education commenced the recruitment of about 13,000 teachers for its Universal Basic Education (UBE) and Senior Secondary Schools.
A total of 42,000 candidates applied for the vacancies which was open to both indigenes and non-indigenes of the state. An aptitude test was organised for the applicants by the Ministry of Education which was the coordinating ministry, on August 15, 2012.
At the end of the exercise, a total of 11,500 indigenes and 1,500 non-indigenes made the list having scored above 155 per cent which was the cut-off mark.
However, the dream of the applicants to resume their teaching jobs at the various primary and secondary schools in the state became shaky when the state House of Assembly accused the Ministry of Education of hijacking the responsibilities of the State Universal Basic Education Board (RSUBEB) and the State Senior Secondary Schools Board (RSSSSB).
To avoid any possible face-off between the executive and the legislature over the issue, the Chairman, House Committee on Education, Hon. Augustine Paul Ngo, called the attention of the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, Mr. Richard Ofuru, to the constitutional breach but the ministry seemed not to care.
Apparently worried by what they called, the 'erosion of powers' by the Ministry of Education, the State House of Assembly on Tuesday, November 6, 2012, summoned the Commissioner of Education, Dame Alice Lawrence-Nemi and the Permanent Secretary of the ministry, Mr. Ofuru, to appear before the House on Wednesday, November 7, 2012.
The Rt. Hon. Otelemaba Daniel Amachree-led House of Assembly also suspended the on-going teachers' recruitment exercise in the state on grounds that it did not follow due process.
The decision of the state legislature followed a motion sponsored by the member representing Ahoada-East constituency II, Hon. Ibiso Nwuche and co-sponsored by ten other lawmakers, who are mostly members of the House Committee on Education.
They were: the Deputy Leader of the House, Hon. Ename Robinson Ewor; the member representing Abua/Odual Constituency and Chairman of the Committee on Education, Ngo; the member representing Asari-Toru Constituency II, Hon. God's Time Horsfall and the member representing Etche Constituency II, Hon. Golden Ngozi Chioma. Others were: the member representing Bonny Constituency, Hon. Aye Atamah Pepple; the member representing Akuku-Toru Constituency I, Hon. Onari Brown; the member representing Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Constituency II, Hon. Lucky Odili; the member representing Port Harcourt Constituency III, Hon. Victor Ihunwo and the member representing Khana Constituency I, Hon. Legborsi Nwidadah.
The lawmakers alleged in the motion that the on-going recruitment exercise being carried out by the Ministry of Education with RSUBEB and RSSSSB as passive participants would not augur well for the management of the school system in the state.
They also raised fears that the on-going recruitment of teachers, if allowed to be handled by the Ministry of Education, could encourage discontent among the school managers and the Ministry, thereby making a mess of the series of reforms initiated by the Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi-led administration in the education sector.
However, the Commissioner, Lawrence-Nemi and her team from the Ministry of Education, failed to appear before the 32-member House to answer questions bordering on the alleged usurpation of powers and functions of the boards of the Universal Basic Education and the Senior Secondary Schools by her ministry.
The refusal of the Commissioner to appear, which the legislators described as a slight on their integrity, incurred the wrath of the members, as most of those who spoke during the day's sitting called for a warrant of arrest be issued on her without further invitation.
To the Leaders of the House, Hon. Chidi Julius Lloyd, it was an anomaly for a commissioner screened and approved by the lawmakers to shun their invitation. He however called on his colleagues to give the Commissioner another chance, failure of which the State Commissioner of Police would be directed to arrest her.
For the Speaker, Amachree, in his 10 years as a state lawmaker, it was the first time a serving Commissioner would disobey an order from the State House of Assembly.
He said; "I have never seen or heard for my years as a lawmaker, that a commissioner would refuse to appear before the lawmakers to answer questions. But, as a leader and considering what the Leader of the House has appealed, we summon her tomorrow (Thursday)."
Directing the Clerk of the House to write and invite the Commissioner, the Permanent Secretary and the directors of the ministry to appear before the House again, the Speaker said he would invoke powers vested on him by relevant sections of the 1999 Constitution and arrest Lawrence-Nemi if she failed to appear before the House for the second time.
Perhaps, due to the threat of arrest, the Commissioner and her team finally appeared on the floor of the 32-member House where she cited ill-heath as the main reason for her inability to appear before the lawmakers the previous day.
Lawrence-Nemi however told the lawmakers that she was ready to accept whatever decision the House would take.
After grilling her for about five hours over the alleged usurpation of powers and functions of the boards of the senior secondary schools and the UBE, the House ordered her to relinquish the rights to the two boards, especially as it affects the teachers' recruitment exercise in the state.
The House also lifted the suspension placed on the exercise and transferred same to the RSUBEB and RSSSSB.
Lawrence-Nemi also told the lawmakers that the teachers' recruitment exercise came as a result of the State Executive Council's decision to recruit more teachers to fill the several schools constructed by the Amaechi-led government.
She admitted before the lawmakers that the recruitment, promotion, and firing of teachers were not part of her duty but that of the Boards, while the Ministry supervises them. The commissioner said further that she applied for about N55 million for the recruitment exercise and estimated N1 billion for the payment of salaries of the 13,000 teachers.
She also said she employed the services of consultants in the exercise and sourced funds from the applicants through the sale of scratch cards.
It is on record that each of the 42,000 applicants who sat for the aptitude test spent not less than N1,500 for the application forms and scratch cards, amounting to over N50 million, which went into the coffers of the participating banks and the West African Examination Council (WAEC).
The latest but brief face-off between the executive and legislature in the state may at the end, be a sign of good things to come, which may bring an end to the toga of 'Rubber Stamp' legislature on the side of the lawmakers.