7 December 2017

Nigeria: El-Rufai and a Government's Comedy of Errors

opinion

The most glaring or obvious object of constitutional government is the limiting of arbitrariness. By defining and controlling the scope of official behaviour, the constitution, in systems marked by such limitation, provides, for instance, the basis for periodic election into named offices of state. This underlying prescription is founded on common consent, the need to protect diverse interests and the requirement to uphold the general welfare. Constitutional institutions are adjudged by their ability to protect diverse interests, understand diversity and advance society's interests.

A system of the division of power among officials is fashioned by the constitution. Under the principle of constitutionalism, no one is the sole judge of the legitimacy of his acts or is anyone unlimited in the exercise of power. It is thereby ensured that what a government does and how it is done will be the expression of a broader public opinion than that of the rulers' themselves. What emerges from the foregoing therefore is a government according to rules, based on discussion, co-operation and understanding.

The scenario that is currently playing out in Kaduna State arising from the peremptory sacking of more than 21,000 primary school teachers is a capital example of drama in which the possibilities for confusion are multiplied by the farcical intervention of those who ought to call the situation to order. President Muhammadu Buhari's reported endorsement of the ill-advised action of Governor Nasir El-Rufai appears like a humorous scene or speech in the course of a serious drama. Perhaps Buhari's comic intrusion was introduced to provide much-needed relief from the emotional intensity heightened by the street protests of young school children in some local government areas of the state and the protest rallies of the state branches of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC). By contrast, the President's siding with el-Rufai has enriched and deepened the tragic implications of the melo-drama that is unfolding in Kaduna State or that may emerge anywhere else the El-Rufai model is envisioned, envisaged or projected.

That teachers engaged at the critical primary level to impart knowledge and "lay a sound basis for scientific, critical and reflective thinking" among school children have been adjudged unfit for their role bespeaks the tragedy of the failure of governance not only in Kaduna State but all over Nigeria. Except in moments like this when pious preachments are made or imperial orders are decreed concerning the quality, paucity and lack of merit of many persons who by sheer accident of our circumstances find themselves in the position of teachers or instructors, very little attention is paid to the pivotal role of the school system or of the quality of teachers in our failing education system. Little consideration is accorded public education by government in Nigeria.

Whereas the UNESCO recommends that about 30 per cent be allocated to education in the annual budgets of member-nations, Nigeria's federal and state governments apportion a miserly fiscal single digit percentage to the beleaguered sector. In the proposed 2018 Federal budget, for instance, only 7.04 per cent of a whopping N 8.6 trillion has been vaingloriously allocated the entire gamut of the education sector. The situation is so worrisome that some enlightened interests have called for a declaration of a state of emergency in the educational sector. There is a requirement to re-align or, in fact, interrogate the processes of the allocation of resources, of the formulation of policies, and of their implementation, etc. if we are to rejig the education system in Nigeria.

Perhaps no governor has received more trenchant and incisive criticisms for his action than El-Rufai particularly so for the obvious abuse of the rule of law in the matter of the sacking of the vilified teachers. To determine whether an official of state especially a governor has played by the rules, one must consider if the terms of public authority are limited by a fundamental law and if the machinery for the exercise of political power is divided within and outside the government.In Nigeria, teaching is categorised as a profession which has as its regulatory apex the Teachers Registration Council.

It is amusing that it is not that body or the National Teachers Institute that set and marked the putative competency test which result or outcome is the cause of the present hoopla in Kaduna State. The governor has gratuitously side-stepped the process by self-gratifyingly conducting the controversial test. The conduct or superintendence of such test or examination properly belongs to or falls within the purview of one of the centres of power in a constitutional government. In order to ensure a seamless relationship between and among all the centres of power in a government, respect need be accorded the formal structure of government and the limitations on the exercise of power embodied in the constitution.

This will, in effect, put an end to the arbitrary use of power by officials of state or power wielders even as government will be conducted according to law. Constitutional experts are agreed that most constitutions are good in principles but that the real challenge lies in the manner in which they are operated. There is therefore the requirement to address the issue of the quality of persons who are eased into power even as many of them abjure the principle of the separation of powers or of the independence of key institutions of government such as the judiciary. Our socio-political circumstance is largely filled with men and women of mediocre talents, of low esteem or dross and of inconsequential value.

Proper communication and the need for the education of the citizens regarding their rights and obligations to the state will appear to have suffered irreversible reverses in the Kaduna State palaver. The Nigeria Labour Congress, the vanguard of Labour education, activism and sensitivity, has seized the opportunity for a combative response and has justifiably threatened brimstone and fire regarding the irregularity. Whereas training and re-training are an expressed kernel of the policy of personnel or human resource development, El-Rufai has inelegantly chosen the path of least resistance but one of un-ending controversy or avoidable crisis.

El-Rufai is well advised to reverse himself and tow the line of broad public opinion on this matter and by so doing would have hearkened to the plaintive pleas from "the mouths of babes and sucklings" of Kaduna State.

Rotimi-John, a lawyer and commentator on public affairs, wrote from Abuja.

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