For the next few days, beginning October 19-21, 2010, the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), one of the leading policy organizations in Nigeria in partnership with the Nigerian Planning Commission (NPC), will be organizing an historic summit commemorating the Nigeria 50th independent anniversary. The theme: Nigeria @ 50: The Challenge of Visionary Leadership and Good Governance is appropriate considering the high level of corruption and calls for a deep authentic reflection and discussion on why a nation endowed with human and capital resources cannot do the right thing. President Goodluck Jonathan is expected to make another attempt at the NESG summit to make a stronger case for the need to be transformative in our actions and behavior if the education sector must be resuscitated under the hardworking and highly qualified Professor Ruqayyatu Ahmed Rufai.
In 2009, I travelled to Nigeria to see firsthand how education is being managed. I had lived in the United States for 30 years and I have been exposed to the American educational sector as a school teacher and a college professor of education. The general perception in America and elsewhere is that the major problem facing Nigeria since independence is the problem of leadership and good governance. I have argued that the problem facing the nation, particularly in education, is not the lack of technical know-how, workable and well-intentioned national policy on education nor the lack of capital to adequately fund education and other sectors, but the main problems are the failure of effective leadership and good governance and the failure to implement a clearly defined and clearly articulated vision and goals of education, and the reluctance by our educational leadership, including past ministers and state commissioners of education, to hold themselves accountable for their decisions and actions
Today, the nation seems on the verge of a new era in national politics and national life amidst challenges of state and national identities and affiliations. Since President Jonathan has resolved to deal with the myriad of problems facing the nation, and particularly the problem of governance. To transform a nation that is in a perpetual political and economic crisis will not be an easy task for the president. Transformational visionary leadership is an approach to leadership that has gained popularity around the world in the 21st century. It is a process that involves a great deal of influence and inspiration. It is also the process whereby a leader engages with followers to accomplish more than what is expected of them, and in the process, creates a connection that raises the level of motivation and morality in both the leader and the followers.
Education is the key to the transformation process. A nation that wants to reinvent itself must invest in education. Nigeria must reeducate its populace if it expects the youth to participate and contribute in the rebuilding effort. Professor Rufai, identified four areas of focus: (1) access and equity, (2) standards and quality assurance, (3) technical and vocational education and teacher training, and (4) funding and resource utilization as part of her plan to reform the education sector. Nigerian education is on the concurrent list of powers between the federal, state, and local governments unlike in the U.S., where the federal government has no constitutional responsibility. The Joint Consultative Committee on Education (JCC) and the National Council of Education (NCE) prepare and propose policy for primary and secondary education. The JCC considers educational proposals and recommends policy to the NCE. Professor Rufai, state commissioners of education and selected others recommends policy to the Federal Executive Council (FEC). The National Universities Commission (NUC) and the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) consider policies for higher education.
Professor Rufai must model transformative leadership. Her modeling of transformative or visionary leadership will be judged through the four areas of focus: access and equity, standards and quality assurance, technical and vocational education and teacher training, and funding and resource utilization. She has formed a task force and work has begun at the time of this publication. She has involved stakeholders in the country and abroad to work with her to meet the challenges caused by MDG and Education for All. She has acknowledged that, “We really know that we do have problem but I know that if we work hard, with the nation in mind, with the fact that we have to ensure that we perform in the education sector, being the key to success of all sectors of the nation’s economy, we will succeed.” The task force is charged to oversee the implementation of the action plan and to monitor and provide guidance. She believes that there is the need to “focus on those interventions that have maximum impact on the education sector and which are attainable within a twelve month frame.” One of the challenges for Minister Rufai would be to provide appropriate incentives for teachers and those individuals dealing with students at the state and local levels, in order to change the mindset of mediocrity and apathy and to meet the objectives of the MDGs. As a strategic move, Professor Rufai has made teacher training as the focal point of her administration.
Teacher education will be the catalyst for the transformational change the nation desires. Highly qualified and well trained teachers will be the agents of change in Nigeria. The federal government parastatal in-charge of teacher training, including all federal teacher colleges and universities is the National Teachers Institute (NTI) founded in 1978. The purpose of NTI is to conduct programs that would upgrade teacher qualifications to the National Certificate of Education (NCE) level. The NTI has carried out most of its training through the distance learning, but it is generally believed that it is working below par. Minister Rufai could plant seeds for a new beginning in the implementation and monitoring process. This is where her reform effort would have the most impact. Minister Rufai has shown that she is aware of the internal politics as well as the myriad of problems facing Nigerian schools. She seemed to be steadfast on her vision as she shifted emphasis to implementation, monitoring, visionary leadership and good governance. If she succeeds or fails, her leadership could be the model needed to transform the education sector.
Education as a human capital investment forms the foundations of a healthy society. It has been proved that investment in human capital has a direct correlation to economic growth and national development. Teachers will build the human capital development that will reposition Nigerian youths to compete in the global economy and ultimately position the nation as one of the 20 leading economies of the world by 2020. This is our collective vision.
Professor Rufai can make this happen. She must focus her attention on building working relationships with state and local governments, Nigerians and Nigerian educational organizations in the Diaspora, international donor organizations, and local educational agencies in Nigeria. Other challenges include increasing the literacy rate. It is believed that 50 percent of Nigerians are illiterate. Nigerian females account for about 60% of this illiteracy. About 6% of Nigerian adults are HIV/AIDS positive, which means that about 4 million are infected. The number could be increasing. These numbers have serious implications for education and the President Jonathan is aware of this. Professor Rufai must work with the state and local governments as well as the private sector to improve the reading culture of Nigerians by equipping the libraries in the country with books and encouraging e-learning and with new funding for the teacher education.
The new era in national politics and national life demands that we transform the education sector. President Jona
than will need to make tough decisions and tough choices. Effective leadership and good governance are at the core of transformational or visionary leadership. Professor Rufai must show transparency, integrity, and accountability. Educators in the Diaspora are ready to work with the professor if she willing to take the chance.