President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday, gave his backing to plans by Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, to sack 21,780 teachers, who failed the competency test conducted by the state government.
The President's support for the governor came as the leadership of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, warned Governor El-Rufai to wait for what it described as 'mother of all protests' over the alleged sack bid.
Also, Director-General of APC Governors Forum, Salihu Mohammed Lukman, warned against politicizing the issue, saying any attempt to do so would mean toying with the future of the nation's children.
President Buhari, in a speech read at the Presidential retreat for members of the Federal Executive Council, FEC, at the old Banquet Hall of the Presidential Viila in Abuja, said it was tragic for teachers to fail primary school test.
My days in school -- Buhari
He said: "To digress a little bit so that you know that I meant what I read. Having been an orphan, I still feel that whatever I did in life so far, was built by the boarding school. For nine years, I was in boarding school, three in primary and six in secondary school.
"In those days, teachers treat their students or children as their own children. If you did well, they will tell you, you did well; if you don't do well, they never spared the rod.
"When I finished my secondary school, I didn't work for a day, I refused to work in the local government, and then I joined the Army. And in the Army at that time, we went through all we went through, up-to the civil war.
"Then, I listened to one of the Nigerians I respect. He said after his training here in Nigeria and the United States, he went to his alma mater, his primary school, to see what he could contribute. I won't mention his name but when he went, he couldn't differentiate between the students, the children and the teachers.
"What El-Rufai is trying to do now is exactly what that man told me about 10 years ago. It is a very, very serious situation when teachers cannot pass the exams they are supposed to teach the children to pass.
"It is a very tragic situation we are in and this our gathering to me, is one of the most important in this administration."
State of education calls for concern
According to the President, the state of education in Nigeria calls for serious concern even as he explained the reason for the retreat.
He said further: "The problem is no longer a secret that the quality of education in Nigeria requires greater attention and improvement.
"That our country is facing numerous challenges in education and all other sectors as a result of historical abuses, mindless impunity and corruption is not news to anyone.
"With an estimated 13.2 million children out of school, high illiteracy level, infrastructural deficit and decay, unqualified teachers, and inadequate instructional materials, to mention some of the challenges, we can clearly see the effect of decades of neglect that the education sector has suffered.
"We are determined to turn around the sector for the better. We are already making appreciable progress in this respect. This summit must, therefore, among other things, sharpen our strategies for addressing the challenges of basic and secondary education, teacher training and professional development; technical and vocational education.
"The summit must work to enhance quality in, and access to, higher education and other challenges in the sector that will debar us from attaining the Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs and be among the top 20 economies in the world.
"I am delighted to welcome you all to this important ministerial summit which I consider crucial to our quest to improving the lot of our people through the provision of quality and functional education for all, at all levels."
President Buhari also commended the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, and the entire education family for setting the stage for the national conversation aimed at refocusing the education sector not only to overcome the numerous challenges, but also to strengthen the Ministerial Strategic Plan that had already been developed by the ministry.
He said: "The significance of this summit is obvious. We cannot progress beyond the level and standard of our education. Today, it is those who acquire the most qualitative education, equipped with requisite skills and training, and empowered with practical know-how that are leading the rest.
"We cannot afford to continue lagging behind. Education is our launch-pad to a more successful, more productive and more prosperous future. This administration is committed to revitalizing our education system and making it more responsive and globally competitive.
Role of education
"One of the primary roles of education is to build and sustain individual and society's development. It renews and improves the economic, social, political and cultural aspects of any nation.
"Education upgrades the living standard of citizens and enables people to become better and more productive citizens. It is a human right that creates a safe, healthy and prosperous society.
"It changes the visions and perspectives of individuals, enhances critical decisions and improves democracy. Indeed education is paramount and necessary requirement for all-round development.
"Nigeria's participation in all relevant international education fora together with our investment in education and collaboration with development partners is an indication of high level of commitment towards ensuring that every capable Nigerian receives good quality education.
"These efforts are justifiable only to the extent that schooling is effective in promoting the realization of national objectives, attaining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and Education For All (EFA) by 2030.
"These targets are, happily, in harmony with the manifesto and the change agenda of our Party, the All Progressives Congress (APC).
"It is also in agreement with my campaign promises during the 2015 elections exercise and in pursuit of the yearnings and aspirations of the generality of Nigerian citizens."
The President said with the calibre of participants at the summit, the road to a better future is on course.
He said: "It is my expectation that at the end of this summit, we shall come up with feasible, implementable but far-reaching action plans for the ministerial strategic plan that would make education play the pivotal role as the engine that drives national prosperity and development.
"While there are numerous other competing demands and responsibilities from different sectors of the economy, I want to assure you of this administration's commitment to confronting and tackling the challenges in the education sector. This will be part of our deliberate policy of revitalizing education provisioning and capacity building."
Need to get it right
He emphasized the need to get things right in the country, adding that to get it right meant setting the education sector on the right path.
"No nation can achieve economic, social, political and cultural prosperity without a sound and functional education system.
"We should also bear in mind that the security and stability of the country hinges, to a large extent, on its ability to provide functional education to its citizens," he said.
In his remarks, the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, noted that if education was weak or dysfunctional, society and its development would also be weak and dysfunctional.
He said: "All change, including our very Change Agenda, begins with education; because it is education that shapes, corrects and restores society.
"But to be able to restore order to society, education has to be made a national priority. This truism is valid for every society and is of particular relevance for our society which, we all agree, is confronted with a litany of challenges and deficits."
Adamu said civilization was at risk and in great peril when access to proper and quality education was denied majority of its citizens.
He said: "Such a denial can lead to a number of undesirable consequences, the most pernicious of which are Value erosion and character failure among the youths who are supposed to become leaders of the society.
"It is also high time we paid attention to teachers and to teaching as a profession. Mass literacy, adult education, distance learning, nomadic education and the rest are all important; but we cannot deliver them without giving respectability and renewed stature to the teacher. We must learn to make education attractive to the best brains, makes its study free, its outcome lucrative - and accord it the respect it deserves.
"That is why we must attract and retain the best brains into the classroom as it is done in many other nation's of the world.
"I am strongly persuaded that if we offer automatic scholarship to students who take education, and automatic employment and a preferential compensation package to those who take to teaching as a profession, our system will improve tremendously.
"If we give regulatory agencies the teeth to bite and do their work, mediocre teachers will soon disappear from our classrooms. If we insist on professionalism with appropriate deadlines set for those who teach, the situation will improve phenomenally. We can minimize and in due course eliminate mediocrity in the education sector.
"There is need to harmonize the learning and teaching that transpire our tertiary institutions as well as redefine our national goals periodically."
Mother of all protests coming -- Labour
But reacting to the sack plan of Governor El-Rufai, the leadership of Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, which had earlier organized a street protest against the proposed sack, told Governor Nasir El-Rufai to wait for what it described as mother of all protests.
Labour also accused the governor of mobilizing sole administrators in the 21 local government areas of the state to stage solidarity rally for him.
National President of the NLC, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, said in a statement in Abuja yesterday: "We have credible information that the governor of Kaduna State has directed the sole administrators in the 21 local governments in the state to use the resources of the local governments to mobilize people to Kaduna metropolis to demonstrate in support of his obnoxious policy on the mass sack of workers.
"We at the Nigeria Labour Congress condemn the use of public funds for the pursuit of nihilistic and sadistic agenda. It is criminal and goes against the grain of civilised behaviour and transparency.
"It is equally the height of hypocrisy, impunity, moral turpitude and self-righteousness. We advise the governor to put this money to more fruitful or beneficial use of Kaduna State people instead of this brazen profligacy.
"We equally advise youths in the state not to allow themselves to be used by the governor as it is the jobs of their parents that are being put on the line.
"We would want to make the point that no amount of money can make up for the means of livelihood of their parents or guardians; thus they should shun this inducement.
"On our part, we would want to sound a note of caution to the governor. After our Wednesday rally, we had thought he had seen the hand writing on the wall... .the overwhelming resentment against his unpopular and self-serving policies."
Comrade Wabba said the resolve of the governor to rent youths/crowds with scarce public funds from the local governments clearly suggested how far he had gone on a mission of self-immolation and a mission to destroy careers, means of livelihood and homes.
"We want to re-assure him that we will resist his malevolent, inhuman and unlawful policies with all the lawful means available to us.
"Accordingly, he should be ready to keep a date with us in a mother of all rallies as we mobilise workers, pensioners, and our civil society allies across the country to the state. It is a date we intend to keep with him except he advises himself wisely."
Don't politicize this, says Lukman
Meanwhile, Director-General of the APC Governors Forum, Salihu Mohammed Lukman, said the issue of the proposed sack of the teachers should not be politicized to avoid tampering with the future of the children.
In a letter, titled "State of Education in Kaduna: Issues and Politics", addressed to Kaduna State APC stakeholders, Lukman said: "Many of us, if not all, wouldn't have been where we are but for the privilege of access to good, quality public education.
"We are all products of public education on accounts of which we are globally competitive. This is not the case with our children. Our children are in most cases products of private education and hardly competitive locally. Looking at these scripts (scripts of teachers who failed the test), there is no question about why this is so.
"We can disagree with the approach of the state government, but the way to go is not to politicize this matter. We must do all we can to support the state government to get this reform right.
"Those politicizing this matter, including labour leaders, need to make public declarations about how many of their children are attending these schools. We need to come to terms with the reality that governance is not popularity contest.
"On the part of Mallam Nasir and officials of the state government, I will commend them for taking up this matter but appeal for restraints against making public commentaries that would indulge those seeking cheap publicity.
"My view, however, is that we need to see the bigger picture. Our politics must not be driven by narrow demands for recognition and the privileges that come with it. I know it is easy to say but very painful to bear."