Executive Arm Overstretching Its Luck – Mohammed | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Executive Arm Overstretching Its Luck – Mohammed

Posted: Jun 30, 2016 at 4:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Hon. Zakari Mohammed, Chairman, House Committee On Basic Education, is the lawmaker representing Baruten/Kaiama Federal Constituency in Kwara State under the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC).  In this interview with AHMED MUSA, he spoke on the face-off between the executive and legislative arms of government over alleged forgery and challenges in Nigeria’s educational system. Excerpts:

What is your reaction to the heightened tension between the executive and legislature flowing from the lawsuit filed against the two presiding officers of the Senate over alleged forgery?

We have made it very clear. We had a motion on the floor of the House and we made it very clear that there are three arms of government; the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. In the Federal Executive Council, there are rules and procedures by which they conduct their proceedings. If there’s any infraction there, is it the business of the Legislature or the Judiciary to start prying into it? They must have their internal mechanism for taking action aimed at correcting it with appropriate sanction against whoever is found culpable. Our rules for sitting in the House or the Senate are very clear. Any law or body of rules agreed upon must be the basis upon which we conduct our operations. If you look at the interlocutory judgement passed by Justice Kolawole in that case, it’s very clear. It said that it would be an attempt by an arm of government to stifle the other arm of government, because there are internal mechanisms by which they operate; and if there are disagreements about certain portions of the rules, you get yourselves together and by 2/3 majority you throw out that portion that has been deemed questionable using the internal mechanism. So, no arm of government has the right to defer. I see it as a deference. I hope we are not sliding back to the days of fascism. So we must be able to, as democrats respect our boundaries. The Legislature has its boundaries, so does the Judiciary as well as the Executive. I want to say that the executive is over-stretching its luck. And we, the legislators will not hesitate to check it and we have done that through  very intelligent resolutions both in the House and the Senate the last time we met, and it’s very clear. This is the problem of this arm of government, some people fought for it and we met it. It wouldn’t be in our time that they will cow the Legislature. The Legislature is the last bus-stop of the common man. And we will make sure it remains so, so that those coming after us would know that this is a legacy that was bequeathed to them.

Your party, the APC and its government in power has promised to embark on school feeding programme for primary school pupils. There have been criticisms about the modality to follow. Do you think such a policy would really be possible going by the current economic situation in the country?

Yes. My take on it is that, first and foremost, domiciliation of that policy in the office of the Vice president is faulty, because you must keep monies where you can access them and they are available for oversight. What is stopping them from thrusting that responsibility on the Ministry of Education which is statutorily empowered to handle issues relating to education? And if you even want to take it further, there’s Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC). When I say this, it looks like it’s self-serving, but I’m just saying that let the right thing be done.

It is a brilliant idea, yes, meal subsidy and employment of teachers; but let the right thing be done by domiciling it in the Ministry. The office of the Vice president is not an office for such activities. But of course, the deed has been done, and my fear stems from the proper implementation of such a policy, and that was exactly what my colleagues expressed on the floor when the matter came up for debate. However, the programme on its face value is okay, but the fear of proper implementation remains a concern, because how do you carry out oversight on those monies? We are talking about N500billion. What are the modalities?  I’m sure that they have a framework which is close to their chest, but they should make it open for us to know exactly what schools are going to benefit. What is the criteria of distribution and who are supposed to benefit from the sum?. And don’t forget that there are some states that have already started the school feeding programme, so that it doesn’t lead to multiplicity and duplicity of effort and waste of public funds.

What’s your view on the scraping of the post-UTME exams by the federal government?

Students and parents go through agonies in trying to get their wards and children into schools, and that is not acceptable. Secondly, too, it’s a money making venture for the schools, because there are certain amount of fees paid before they can take the exams. But if you ask the schools, they would say, they want to standardise entry. Meanwhile in the first place, JAMB should have been the standard by which everybody enters. And I believe the minister of education would have listened to the cry of students and parents. For the schools, I think they should accept exactly what happened, and get back to the basis of allowing JAMB conduct exams and successful students are taken in by the schools. The schools can now introduce their screening at the level of registration, and not put people through unnecessary rigours. Let me tell you, in 21st century, there mustn’t be a reason why these students shouldn’t be in school no matter the availability of other alternatives which in any case aren’t really there. But the system has made it very difficult for these students. Somebody would pass SSCE and JAMB which are statutory, and you are denying him or her on the pretext they failed entry exam called post UTME. And of course they will have to retake the same, JAMB and another post UTME next year. It’s a drain on the mental and psychological strength of the students; It’s a drain on the finances of their parents too when every Nigerian has the right to go to the university. It’s frustrating and puts them off balance psychologically and also contributes to the rate of crimes in the society.

When you said every Nigerian has the right to go to the university, is it a necessity and compulsory that everyone must be in the university, is it even realistic given the number of schools available compared to the population?

What I’m saying is that as a matter of fact, you cannot get everybody in the university even if you have schools everywhere. For instance, in the developed economies, schools are there, but not everybody is a graduate. It’s about choices; God didn’t make all of us equal. So, even if you have schools, you cannot get everybody to be a graduate, there are no emphasis on that. But at least, there’s a base line. The universities are ivory towers meant for brains that can take the challenge. You see, I have said for the umpteenth time, and I’m going to say it again, too much emphasis on paper qualification is a problem in this country. And that’s why you see that there is rush for admission and everybody wanting to get certificates, and there are certain people who cannot even defend these certificates. Because, they say, ‘let me just have it to fulfill all righteousness’. And most of the best inventors are not even university graduates. That’s the reality of life that we have failed to understand. So technical education should be given some priorities too. I know that there are even those of sub-skilled manpower. There’s such in Abuja for instance, and I’m sure there are such in some other parts of the country too where we can train handy-men for different kinds of jobs. But a situation where we have to bring in these semi-skilled workers from Ghana, Togo and Republic of Benin is not right. Most of the constructions going on are done by them. So we need to have a rethink. We can’t ask you to go and do masons job. So, technical education must be given its due emphasis, and vocational education. Somebody’s limit could be that he’s finished JSS 3, he can read, write and can communicate in English. With that he can open books for research on how to go about doing certain things using different techniques. And before you know it, he would be an employer of labour.

What are some of the problems facing basic education in the country?

They are very obvious when you look at the issue of inadequate infrastructure, funding and lack of quality teachers. Basic infrastructure is more serious because as we speak, there are schools where pupils still have to learn under trees in many parts of Nigeria. And that’s not supposed to be acceptable at this age and time. Secondly is the fact that teachers themselves are ill-equipped. Teaching, just like journalism has become an all-comers affair. If you can’t get a job, why not go and teach? If you can’t get a job, why not take the pen and write? So, I think there must be professionalism in the teaching profession. And that’s exactly why I believe that the National Teachers Institute which is the professional body for training teachers must be given teeth to bite so that every teacher that would practice must be certified by the NTI or any other body that would be established before they can be allowed to practice. We also have the Teachers Registration Council which needs so much empowerment. We have problems of infrastructure and manpower development. I can say that when you went to school, you went to a public school where the standard of teaching was good. And I bet you can hold your own anywhere you find yourself. I even met the book programme when the school would give you books to take home and read, based on which you would come to class and be tested. At some point, the books were reduced to one a week. Then you we started going to the library to pick and read them whenever we wanted to. So those kinds of policies must be re-introduced.