Sunday, 30 March 2014

PART TWO: What my mother-in-law told me about Youth Development -Ex Sports Minister, Malam Bolaji Abdulahi

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The Former minister in a chat with the GDA
The issue of youth restiveness after political elections is one subject every Nigerian is familiar with. asabeafrika wanted the minister to tell the world how his now belated “Drive the future youth innovation” can help sanitize this problem  and this was how Malam Abdulahi reacted to the question “Can you point to any country on earth where you don’t have the case of youth unrest as you said? It is all over, even in the best of democracies. As long there are human beings who are competing for things, you will always find those kinds of situations.

Now, the question is that ‘what are the conditions that make it easy for young people to be able to be requited into those kinds of activities? You understand. Politicians weather you like it or not would want to mobilize the youth. And because of the economic situation, there will be youths that would be willing to take money to do things for politicians. Now, the reality is the youth that is on the street can be given five thousand naira to rig election or go and burn down a place. But the youth that has a shop where he repairs (telephone) handsets is not likely to join any body to burn down a structure because he has a work he is doing. Do you understand the point I am making? The question is ‘how do we continue to create opportunities for young people in such a way that when they are involved in creative ventures, it will be difficult for you to pick them up from what they do to go and do violence.
Once they have a responsible means of livelihood, you can be assured of a lasting social security. I have a wife and a kid; I have a family so you don’t drag me off to violence. In a nutshell, the point I am making is that, it is a problem that is vicious in nature. You can’t solve it. What you do as a social engineer is to continue to tackle the condition that makes those things possible. For example, where do you put the role of parenting? These are some people’s children. My children would not like to do it; I am sure your own children would not like to do that. My mother-in-law would say discipline can move from generation to generation. It can be transmitted from generation to generation. And at the same time indiscipline can be transmitted from generation to generation. Because the wayward parent will give birth to a wayward child and that wayward child will give birth to another wayward child and it will continue like a vicious cycle. How can government take responsibility for parenting? And that is what I keep saying, that if the only thing you are able to contribute to Nigeria is that you are able to raise your child well, you have contributed something to this country. If all that you have done is that you raised a child that turned out to be a responsible citizen, you have contributed something major to Nigeria.
So, the issue of parenting is there, the issue of economic conditions is there; the issue of social pressure is there. All this thing taken together, you have to continue to tackle them. But like I mentioned at my recent seminar, we must begin to take a long term perspective of this issues. If you look at youth who are joining political violence today and you say ‘yea, we have to solve this problem’, yes, please, let’s continue to try to solve it. Let’s create empowerment programs that will enable young people to eschew violence. But the greatest challenge is in you ensuring that the child of today does not become a problem to be solved in the next ten years. You can only achieve that by doing the right thing today. Such a child could only become either the nation’s problem or the solution to the nation’s problem.
Malam Bolaji Abdulahi....the greatest problem of the
Nigerian Youth is Cynicism.

The Difference between being a commissioner & being a minister

The former Minister in a hearty chat
 Malam Boalji Abdulahi is probably one of the few Nigerian politicians who have been lucky to serve as a commissioner at the state level and a minister at the federal level, asabefarika asked him to tell the world how the experience made him feel and he smiles before answering the question “I think the different is like playing in the under twenty three team and playing in Super Eagle (General Laughter). It is the same foot ball you are playing, right? But the challenges are bigger, the intricacies are different, the stakes are higher. So, if you permit me to use that football metaphor, I would say that the difference is like playing in the Under-twenty three and then going on to play in the Super Eagles. It is a good experience” Abdulahi agrees.

What happened to me the day I was made minister
 When asabeafrika asked the former minister to define how he felt the moment his name was announced as a federal minister, he paused, looked at this blogger’s face and asked a counter question “You want to hear the whole truth?” to which we answered him in the affirmative. And what came out next was simple and direct but loaded with lots of philosophy “I didn’t feel anything” Malam Abdulahi said with a measured arrogance. He added “Even, I am surprised. I just saw it as another job. That is it”.

 What I learnt from Collin Powel
Perhaps not many Nigerians know that the former minister is an agent of change in all ramifications. While arriving at some of his public events as Minister, he never blew siren and always arrive quietly. We asked him what was responsible for this culture and he lectured us on what he calls leadership principle of Collin Powel, the former Defense Secretary of the United States of America. Hear Abdulahi “Why should I be loud? One of the things I learnt long ago is what I will call the leadership principles of Collin Powel. He said ‘don’t attach your ego to your office. So that when you lose your office, you don’t lose your ego’. It is so difficult for people to be themselves when you start to build this various trappings around the temporary position that you are occupying.
Again, one of the lessons I learnt also from the very good father of mine is that no matter how high you go, try to stay close to the ground. The simple test before us now is that you can rise above this building (pointing to the upper serene side of the lagoon area behind Redison Blu hotel, VI, where the interview was taking place) but no matter how high you go, please stay close to the ground. Keep your two feet firmly on the ground. And one of the easiest ways to uproot yourself from the ground is all this things you are talking about. You don’t need it. You just need to keep your head calm”. This blog believes this philosophy might have come handy for the minister when a raging President Jonathan fired him in early March, 2014.

Why I became a Motor boy at age 14
Malam Bolaji Abdulahi....poses for
The story of Malam Bolaji Abdulahi’s humble beginning as a motor boy is the story that will inspire any hopeless youth into becoming any good thing he desires in life. He told asabeafrika during the encounter, hear him “I started my career as a bus conductor at the age of 14. I think it was quite significant because when I started secondary school, the secondary school that I initially attended I did not pass the common entrance examination there. So my father had to go round the whole of Kwara state to find who he think could get me admission into one of the community schools. I managed to gain admission and the first year it was good. I was always coming first in the class; sometimes scoring 99 point something.
But the situation was that the whole of the school had only two teachers. It was the teacher that was teaching integrated science that was teaching math,  the same teacher taught us physical education, and equally teaches IRK and almost all the subjects. He was such a brilliant guy. But as longer as I was showing up at home with very good result, my father was happy. Then second year, the same thing was going on. At the end of second year I told myself even as young as I was then, that this can not be right. This can not be real. This shouldn’t be the way teaching should go. This is not schooling. So I came back home and I told my dad that I will not return to that school again. Of course it wasn’t good news to his ears as he didn’t have to pay to that school since it was a community school. And he said ‘look, if you will not return to this school, then it means you will not go to school because you knew what I went through to get you into this school. So, if you say you don’t want to go this school again, then it means you will not go to school’. And I said ‘fine, I would not go to school’. He said ‘you see, your mother’s stubbornness has affected you’-Laughter.  But there was a school near the house called Mount Camel College, a sharp school. Catholic school. That was the dream school for me; that was the school I wanted to attend. But for me to attend Mount Camel College I will need money and my father didn’t have money. But there was a motor park close to Mount Camel College. When I wake up in the morning, I will leave the house and go to this motor park and I will join a bus and work as a conductor. From the little fund I was making from my new endeavor, I was able to pursue my dream of attending Mount Camel College. But that was just the beginning. Wait for this. Not long after that I got a job with a driver who was not working within town but was doing inter-state. So, he went as far as Kaduna. On this particular occasion I didn’t come home for two days and my parent had gone really, really crazy looking for me; when I returned, they were surprised because they didn’t know the kind of work I was doing. My father thought I had joined some Indian hemp smoking gang. So, that was how my parent got to know that I have been working as a bus conductor and they were really, really sad, my father especially. And that was the end of my conducting career. But the point I am trying to make with that experience is not to really make a rag to riches story. That is not the story I am trying to sell. The story I am trying to pass across is that the story of the low standard of education that we talked about did not start today. It actually started long ago”.

How I changed the educational sector in Kwara State
Abdulahi...Our educational reforms
in Kwara brough great changes
 It is a big irony that many years later, the same  Bolaji Abdulahi who was a victim of a shallow educational standard in Kwara state was appointed Commissioner with the education portfolio in his state and that were when faith gave him the room to play his role as it were. Hear him “When I became commissioner for education in Kwara, I saw it as a major-major challenge. So, I tried to do something. Because what happened was that when my career as bus conductor crashed, an uncle took me to Abuja where I enrolled at Government Secondary school, kwali at Abuja. There I eventually finished my secondary education. But all my class mates that I left behind (in Kwara) in that school, majority of them failed WAEC that year. If I had also stayed back (In the school), there is every probability that I would have failed my WAEC as well due to the standard of education in that school. So the point I am making is that I saw it all as a big challenge. So when I became a commissioner I saw it as an opportunity to do something. As a journalist I enjoyed bashing government; government can not do this, government can not do anything.
Now, I had the opportunity. So, one of the points was how to refine the quality of teachers. I organized exams for teachers. All the primary school teachers, I asked them to write primary four exams. The logic is simple; if you say you are teaching primary schools, you too should be able to pass the test meant for a primary four student. I was able to get support from DFID and we brought in professors from Oxford and world experts in test book. We set up the exam and administered it. Nineteen thousand teachers sat for that exam, only seventy-five scored eighty percent which we set as a minimum threshold because it is a primary four exam”.

How we stopped private school business in Kwara State
The minister spoke ahead on the shock of the discovery of the education problem in Kwara “When the result was announced, I mean when the result came out, I was totally paralyzed.  I mean I couldn’t get out of it because where would you start from? How do you begin to deal with that kind of a problem? And Governor (Bukola) Saraki said we are not going to sweep it under the carpet and he wrote a letter to the then President Umar Yar’ Adua. That this is a national disaster, this is not peculiar to Kwara. And we later extended the exercise, that exam and the same exercise was conducted in Lagos and Jigawa. Up till today, the result was not announced. So, why did teachers fail primary four exams? It is not because they are stupid but something has gone fundamentally wrong with our educational system. At least Kwara had a task to be fair and we saw the result. So, what did we do? The next thing we did was ‘ok, let’s import some kind of teaching manuals. We call it teaching manual, it is like a cookery book. We set minimum standard by saying ‘look, this is what a child completing primary one should be able to do in numeric and literacy. This is what a child completing primary two should be able to do in numeric and literacy and up to primary six.
Now, we developed teaching manuals for each of those teaching at the various schools in the state. We trained those teachers on how to use the teaching manuals, ‘you don’t need to go anywhere….if you enter the class, turn right. After turning right, ask the student to stand up. After they are done, ask them to clap. Just follow. So, we trained them. That was what we did; and I can tell you. I can tell you that within one year of our educational reform, parents started withdrawing their children from private schools back to government schools in Kwara state. Every public primary school in Kwara state, any public primary school in Kwara state is filled up. There is high confidence in public schools around the state right now. What we found out again, which I think is a long term problem, is the fact that most of the teachers teaching our students in the primary schools are people who had their educations at colleges of education-NCE. And the curriculum of the colleges of education has no relationship whatsoever with the primary school curriculum. In fact, the professors that teach in the colleges of education, many of them have not seen primary school curriculum before.  They will teach those physics, education, political science education.

How can you teach political science in secondary school, Physics in primary school, these can not be right? I said to all of these professors, you must go and teach in the neighboring primary schools in your college. I want to see what you teach twice in a week in public primary schools around your college. Because if you don’t teach in a primary school, how would you know what to prepare your own students for? So, that is the way you will also know the curriculum. And that was what we did, we overturned the curriculum completely. And you can never teach in our system except you have NCE in primary education or NCE in junior secondary education. And I can tell you that since we started our reform, Kwara has become a beacon of hope.  We also had the fear that Kwara should not be the only beneficiary. So, we went to Abuja and we met Professor Junaid, the Executive secretary of NCE, we told him of our reforms. Today, the NCE has adopted the reform in Kwara and they are replicating it in all the colleges of education in Nigeria. Sometime, it takes the ability to ask questions for you to be able to make some decisions. I knew nothing about education, what I was doing was to just ask questions and it is your own business to tell me the reality. Now, we are here”. 

Gbenga Dan Asabe

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