Suspension of COEs upgrade: Buhari sets sail in stormy waters

President Muhammadu Buhari

President Muhammadu Buhari

Last month, the Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government quietly directed the suspension of plans to upgrade four federal colleges of education to universities of education. The upgrade was at the behest of his predecessor, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. Expectedly, the “put on hold” directive precipitated leadership crises in the institutions, just as workers backed by their vociferous students are spoiling for a showdown with the new government, which is beginning its romance with the education sector on a sour note. ENO-ABASI SUNDAY writes.

THE Federal Government owns the institution. It was the Federal Government that converted it to a university before, and it is the same Federal Government that is converting it back to a college of education. All we have to do as staff of the institution is to obey Mr. President. Let it be mentioned in clear terms, that the institution here in Owerri, as of this moment is called Alvan Ikoku College of Education.”

This dictum by the Executive Secretary, National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE), Prof Monday Tommy Joshua, effectively put an end to weeks of speculation by stakeholders, concerned authorities and indeed the generality of Nigerians on the fate of the four colleges of education upgraded to universities of education in the twilight of the President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan-led administration.

In the last three weeks, hordes of stories made the rounds regarding the suspension of the upgrade. While these went on, those that should know in government quarters remained taciturn, perhaps as one of the affected vice chancellors put it, “because the Federal Government was not sure of what the reactions of Nigerians would be.”

Last month, the acting Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Education, Mrs. Hindatu Abdullahi, had through a circular quietly directed that the upgrading/conversion process in the four institutions be put on hold with immediate effect.

Be that as it may, whatever shade of uncertainty that dovetailed the return to status quo ante saga, was eased off with Joshua’s pronouncement.

Evidently, that declaration by the NCCE boss in Owerri, the Imo State capital, did little to calm frayed nerves in the state and beyond, as academic and non-academic staff of the institution, apart from embarking on a one-week warning strike, backed by their students, also called for a reversal of the decision, failure of which they would embark on an indefinite strike action.

Also, the state House of Assembly, a day after the staff/students protested, deliberated and resolved to ask the state governor, Mr. Rochas Okorocha, to lead a high-powered delegation to Buhari, with a view to persuading him to reverse himself on the issue.

During a plenary session of the House, members appealed to the Federal Government not to shortchange the school of the university status granted it earlier, even as members stressed that the institution had all it takes to function well as a university.

Member representing Ikeduru State Constituency and Chairman House Committee on Education, Uche Oguwuike, who spoke during a motion he moved, rejected the move by the Federal Government to reverse the status of the university.

The motion, which the bulk of the state’s lawmakers supported, mandated Okorocha to parley with Buhari and the education ministry to see how this issue can be resolved as soon as possible, and ensure that the school maintains its university status.

They also want the National Universities Commission (NUC), (which appear to still recognise the four institutions as universities, as it was yet to delist them from its website as at Wednesday, September 3rd), to ensure the availability of adequate manpower in the institution to enable it function well and perform its new roles creditably.

The unfortunate scenario playing out in Owerri is replicated in each of the other three Nigerian cities, which dreams of hosting federal universities have now been suspended.

The other affected schools are: Adeyemi University of Education; Federal College of Education, Zaria; and the Federal University of Education, located in Ondo, Kaduna and Kano states respectively.

As the furore persists, litanies of meanings have been read into government’s decision. For instance, a school of thought is of the view that the suspension order is simply another variant of witch-hunt on President Jonathan’s administration’s desire to improve the standard of teachers and the teaching profession in the country.

Another group, which opines that there ought not be a rush in truncating the process that was gathering steam, is also of the view that if the president was in any doubt regarding the viability of the system in place, the issue should have been subjected to a national debate or further scrutiny, which would have provided fresh insights as well as new vistas.

Still as Buhari begins his romance with the education sector on a sour note, yet another school of thought is vigorously criticising the decision, saying it was a hastily executed agenda, which lacks good reasoning, but meant to favour a few interested parties.

Even though the provocative action has given birth to a deluge of unpleasant consequences, as reflected in the number of stakeholders, students and workers that are livid with rage, one of the very few sets of persons that are happy with development are provosts of the colleges of education, who have once again retaken the reins in the respective institutions.

From empirical findings, most top scorers in the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB)-organised Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) long for university education. Those behind these table toppers head to polytechnics and monotechnics while the dregs are railroaded into colleges of education.

This, to a great extent, is accountable for the very appalling state of the teaching profession in the country. Matters are made worse now that the figure of youths heading to the universities to study education-related courses is plummeting at break-neck speed.

It is in this light that many see the creation of these education varsities by Jonathan as a bold step towards not only addressing the abhorrent disparity between graduates of colleges of education, but also addressing the twin problem of dwindling self-worth of teachers and inherent manpower deficit.
For Director, Olawoye Awosika School of Innovative Studies, Lagos, Prof. Abiola Awosika, “Since we glorify university degrees in the country, if we want our best in the classroom, we must put them on a high pedestal so that people who have good degrees would be willing to take to teaching. Right now, those in classrooms doing the job of teachers, for the most part, are people who just needed jobs. And so, if we give COE’s university statuses, we should not stop there, but also rework the curriculum such that it is useful for the future of our kids.”

Awosika, while reacting to the unfolding scenario in the education varsities in a television programme in Lagos queried, “When a graduate with a university degree is started with Grade Level 8 at entry point, and the one with HND is starts with Grade Level 7, what we are basically saying to the HND holder is that your degree is inferior. But elevating COEs to universities would help us strengthen our teachers because their curriculum would be revamped.

Having said that, she added, “I don’t think reversing the process is not the answer. We could put it on hold while sourcing for the amount of money that would take them to the level that is required to make them function maximally. And that might be the picture that the government is looking at. So the goal for me should be don’t scrap it. Keep it on hold and when things get better, lets get them to the level where they need to be, by putting money in them gradually.

Leadership crisis precipitated by lack of communication
The Federal Government’s initial display of taciturnity, via the lack of official communication, did not help matters at the Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo, which experienced its fair share of leadership crisis.

As late as penultimate Monday, the Adeyemi University of Education, Ondo, was thrown into confusion as to who was the legitimate head of the school between Prof. Richard King and Prof. Olukoya Ogen.

King appointed by Jonathan as he was leaving office became Ogen’s boss, and the latter became the deputy vice chancellor upon the former taking over the reins. But while King was away allegedly on a medical mission abroad, things changed at a fast pace and his return to office that day was full of drama, as the ministry, according to a source had through a letter dated August 19, directed Ogen and his three other counterparts to return to their erstwhile offices.

Even though the state Assembly has stepped into the matter in Imo, the former provost may still walking on shaky grounds as the band of protesters led by a former Student Union Government (SUG) president of the school, Chief Martin Opara, said they would resist every attempt to revert the institution to a college of education and bring back the former provost, Dr. Blessing Ijeoma, to the institution.

In Kano, Chairman of the Federal University of Education, Kano, chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Dr. Abubakar Haruna, reportedly alleged sabotage, even as he added, “We feel that President Buhari must have been misinformed on the objectives for which the colleges were upgraded. The damage this decision (putting on hold, reversal) would do to host communities is better imagined. The plot to revert this development, in our opinion, is unpatriotic, counter-productive, obnoxious and retrogressive.”

Haruna’s views tally with those of Prof. Ibrahim Kolo, who was appointed vice chancellor of the Kano-based education varsity. Shedding some light on why leadership crisis festered in the institutions, he elected to go this way: “This is a new government and the tendencies are that the truth of the situation may not have properly filtered across to the President. But I am very sure that all these will be resolved in good time.
Kolo, said he believes the whole saga began with those who were not happy with the upgrade abinitio, stepping up to sell the idea of putting the process on hold to Mr. President so that issues raised would be attended to. We are very hopeful that the universities would continue to exist once these issues are cleared.

But what if government deems it necessary not to revert, Kolo added, “The effect is that teaching as a profession would suffer some form of stagnation because as the saying goes, no education system can rise above the quality of its teachers. The quality of many NCE holders is most appalling. And they are produced mainly in COEs. The curriculum in use in these COEs does not actually meet the needs of contemporary basic education. NCE is meant to be the minimum teaching qualification for primary and junior secondary schools teachers and the appropriate body has overhauled the curriculum severally. But unfortunately, correspondingly, the curriculum used for NCE has not been made to be in tandem with what they are expected teach at the basic education level.

President’s decision overrules every other directive
Without a tincture of word mincing, the NCCE boss told The Guardian yesterday that, “There is no going back on the president’s directive. Mr. President has directed that the schools should revert to colleges of education and we have done that immediately. This will remain so until further notice.
He urged the students as well as staff members to go about their legitimate duties whilst awaiting further directives from appropriate quarters because for now, nothing can be done about the matter.”

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