By Dr. Ahmed Akanbi
As the upper chamber of the National Assembly screens three nominees for ministerial positions, presented to it by President Goodluck Jonathan, one name stands out. The name is that of the former Kano state governor, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau. Shekarau’s inclusion in the list is taking all the attention because of obvious reasons. One, Shekarau’s towering public service profile dwarfs those of his co-nominees. He was not only a prominent state governor; he was a presidential candidate of a major political party during the 2011 presidential election. Secondly, his coming to the Federal Executive Council at a critical time like this is a big plus to the visions of President Jonathan, or any leader for that matter. Thirdly, though not immediately relevant to this discuss is the implication of this new assignment to the political equation of Kano and beyond. It is thus not surprising that the media is making his nomination into the federal cabinet a big issue.
However, beyond the appointment into the highest policy making body of the country, the major issue is what role he is beckoned to play. Of course, Ibrahim Shekarau cannot, by any definition, be seen as a rookie minister. Yes, he has never served in that particular capacity but his wealth of experience far exceeds that which is needed for one to function as a minister. For someone who served as a governor of a very important state like Kano, for eight consecutive years, he is no doubt adequately prepared to serve in any capacity. The credential is also not only about him serving as a governor for, as it is said, it is how well, not how long that matters. Indeed, in the eight years Shekarau was governor of Kano state even his blindest critic would not fail to see his gigantic steps in the annals of Kano history.
Now that Shekarau is prompted for a national assignment, people like me who knew him and closely interacted with him, could not help but express our happiness. Those of us who know him since his days as a school principal can always vouch for his forthrightness, dedication to duty and innovative ideas. However, Shakarau’s nomination to the Federal Executive Council is not end on its own. It is a means to the end. Thus, it is important that in assigning him to any position of national service, the square peg that he is should be adequately utilized by throwing him into a square hole. Shekarau’s vacation for 25 years, before venturing into politics, is education. He paid more than his dues in all aspects of pre-tertiary education, and took the zeal and commitment with him when he became the governor of his state. He was at various times a classroom teacher, counselor, school administrator and policy maker in the field of education. His exceptional brilliance and dedication saw him becoming a school principal at the young age of 25. He successfully and effortless climbed up to the position of a permanent secretary when of his mates were hanging down the ladder.
As a governor, Shekarau took education as his baby. All the ideas that formed the fulcrum of his practice as an educationist found a ground to fertilize. In no time, he repositioned education in Kano state that the state was winning awards in the sector from as credible organisations as UNESCO. All sectors of education, from primary to tertiary education got all the attention they required. There was balanced government attention on such critical areas as infrastructural development, students’ welfare and improvement of teachers’ condition. The teachers, who were his colleagues anyway, were so happy with his administration that they contributed money to purchase the forms for his second term aspiration in 2007. For students, Shekarau scrapped an obnoxious policy he met which excluded students of certain courses from gaining scholarship, and jerked up the scholarship handout by 150 %.
A state university that was established by a previous administration was adequately revamped leading it to secure accreditation on all the courses it offered before the end of the Shekarau administration in 2011. Apart from sponsorship to lecturers to further their studies abroad, in a move to modernize teaching and learning, his administration purchased and distributed hundreds of high definition laptop computers to lecturers in its employment. Some tertiary institutions were granted administrative autonomy in order to have them chart their ways of progress and strengthen their academic excellence.
Primary and secondary school teachers benefitted from government-sponsored trainings aimed at improving the quality of knowledge they impact on their students. In the eight years of his administration, Shekarau recruited over 5000 teachers for both primary and secondary schools and established several schools to cater for increasing demand of education in nooks and crannies of the state.
There is no gainsaying that a man of this impeccable record as an educationist and friend of education is a great asset to have as a minister of education. His records speak of him in glowing terms as an achiever, and practical educationist. At a time when lecturers and other workers in the sector are on strike or threatening such actions, the coming of Shekarau, who is a reputed peacemaker should put a stop to that ugly trend. Moreover, as someone who rose from a classroom teacher to be administrative head of ministry of education (as permanent secretary) I believe Shekarau should have the wand to address the so-much-talked-about dwindling quality of education at all levels. As a former WAEC examiner, I would expect Shekarau to tackle the menace of poor performance in such exams, head on.
If indeed we have had challenges in formulating and executing national educational policies, it is because we have not had people with thorough knowledge of the sector to superintend it. If Shekarau is eventually assigned as the minister of education, as expected, I foresee robust actions that would turn around our educational system for the better.
Dr. Akanbi, a retired educationist, wrote from Ilorin.