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In search of Nigeria’s 47th minister of education

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has reel out a list of nominees for ministerial appointments. Of utmost importance is who becomes the minister of education given the challenges the sector faces and the underperformance of Adamu Adamu, the immediate past minister of education.
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Nigeria is at another crucible to forge an empowering future for its youthful population as President Bola Ahmed Tinubu reels out the list of nominees for ministerial appointments to the National House of Assembly.

The choice of Africa’s most populous country’s 47th education minister is critical given the pivotal role education plays in both personal and national development and the context of the underperformance of Mallam Adamu Adamu, Nigeria’s 46th and longest-serving minister of education. Education is the aggregate of all the processes by which the child or young adult develops his abilities, attitudes and other forms of behaviour, which are of positive value to the society in which he lives, according to Aliu Babatunde Fafunwa, Nigeria’s first professor of education and former minister of education.

If education is the aggregate of all the processes we have delineated above it means that whoever becomes the minister of education drives how Nigeria transmits abilities, attitudes, behaviours and culture to its citizens. This is the lifeblood of Nigerian society and this choice of minister of education must be made with utmost diligence. On May 29, 2023, we wrote an editorial that centred on Adamu’s confessions to knowing nothing about education before his appointment and we will reproduce some salient points from that editorial with a few updates, especially on Fafunwa’s shining innovations as minister of education.

Let us set the context again. Adamu at a valedictory session with officials and heads of parastatals of the Ministry of Education said: “I didn’t know anything about the education sector when I was appointed Minister except superficially.”

This may explain why he could not push the needle on out-of-school children because last year he was also reported to have publicly accepted to have failed Nigerians in that regard. The noble thing to do though would have been to resign.

The 69-year-old holds a bachelor of science degree in accounting from Ahamadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna state and a master’s degree from the University of Columbia’s School of Journalism. He has practised journalism since 1984. It means Adamu has neither an education certification nor practised in education, before his appointment.

Adamu also served as a special assistant to Buhari, then chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund. Before he was appointed minister, in 2015, he was the secretary and member of Muhammadu Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) Presidential Transition Committee.

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Credentials of ministers of education in select countries

A random check of the academic and professional background of ministers of education in some countries does not show a strong correlation between being a professional educator and becoming a minister of education.

In Finland, Li Sigrid Andersson, 36, holds a bachelor of social sciences degree in international law. In Kenya, Ezekiel Machogu, the cabinet secretary in charge of the Ministry of Education has a bachelor of arts degree in political science.

For Rwanda, Valentine Uwamariya, 52, earned a bachelor of science degree in Organic Chemistry from the National University in Rwanda, and a master of science degree in Electrochemistry from the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa. Thereafter in 2007, she got a scholarship to study a PhD programme at UNESCO-IHE and in 2013 she earned a doctorate.

She served as the deputy vice-chancellor in charge of Training, Institutional Development and Research in the newly established Rwanda Polytechnic just before she became the minister of education.

One last example in South Africa, Angie Motshekga the minister of primary education Motshekga studied at the University of the North, where she obtained a bachelor of arts degree in education. From the University of the Witwatersrand, Motshekga received a bachelor of Educational Science degree and a master’s degree.

In 1981, Motshekga was employed as a teacher at Orlando High School. She worked at the school until 1983 when she resigned following her appointment as a lecturer at the Soweto College of Education. Motshekga became a lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand in 1985. She lectured at the university until 1994.

Aliu Babatunde Fafunwa as a model

It is also important to learn from the track records of Aliu Babatunde Fafunwa (23 September 1923 – 11 October 2010) as Tinubu shops for Nigeria’s 47th minister of education. Fafunwa was the first Nigerian professor of education. He was a Nigerian educationist, scholar and former minister for education.

Fafunwa earned his first degrees in social science and English as well as his master’s degree in administration and higher education between 1950 and 1955 from Bethune Cookman College, which is now Bethune Cookman University, in Florida, the United States.

In 1958, he received his PhD in education from New York University, making him the first Nigerian to have this degree.

During the Nigerian civil war, which raged from 1966 to 1970, he left the University of Nigeria Nsukka w(UNN) where he started his teaching career in 1961 to join the faculty at the University of Ife, now known as Obafemi Awolowo University.

A proposal that was made by his colleagues at UNN to admit grade II teachers into a new two-year degree programme at the College of Education was one of his many contributions to the advancement of education in Nigeria. The National Certificate in Education was eventually created as a result of this initiative, which was later adopted. The inclusion of colleges of education in the Nigerian university system was a result of this growth.

His long-term plan to introduce a native language into pedagogy was adopted in 1977, making him the architect of the integration of the Nigerian language into the Nigerian educational system.

Between 1990 and 1992, Fafunwa served as minister of education under General Ibrahim Babangida’s military rule. He was the creator of the 6-3-3-4 system, which consists of a four-year tertiary programme that leads to a bachelor’s degree or higher national diploma after six years of secondary school divided into two sections of three years each.

In his capacity as minister of education, he estseveralnumber of significant parastatals, including the Nigerian-French Village in Badagry, an inter-university centre for French teaching and learning, the Arabic Village in Borno, the National Institute for Nigerian Languages in Aba, and the National Board for Educational Measurements in Minna, which later changed its name to the National Examinations Council, breaking WAEC’s monopoly on the administration of secondary school certificate exams. He established the Benin City-based National Business and Technical Examination Board (NABTEB).

Babs Fafunwa passed away on October 11, 2010, in Abuja.

Fafunwa’s contributions to the development of education in Nigeria cannot be overstated and they speak for themselves. While we have shown that academic credentials in education are not prerequisites for appointment as minister of education our beacon of light, Fafunwa shows through his academic background, professional development and national contributions to education that a thoroughbred professional with a track record in the educational sector would the best fit.

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