Senator Isah Maina, Secretary for Education of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), in this interview, speaks on the challenges facing the education sector in the FCT and what is delaying take-off of the proposed Abuja University of Technology, Abaji ( AUTA) Among other issues. Excerpt:
By Abubakar Sadiq Isah
hat changes have you effected to improve the standard of education in the FCT?
There are things we are planning to do for the education sector in the FCT. I came with the passion for education, as education is fundamental to paving way for development. So immediately I was appointed Education Secretary by the FCT minister, Muhammad Musa Bello, what first came to my mind was, but for my passion for education which the minister saw in me, he wouldn’t have appointed me to head the education sector. And but for the education that I have acquired, I wouldn’t have joined the military to become successful, and after retirement, to go to the Senate. So it was a privilege for me and honour to accept the appointment so that I will be a part of the development of the education sector in the territory.
On assumption of office, I first took a tour of secondary schools across the area councils, including Abaji and Kwali, but I almost shed tears with what I saw, including where some students cannot further their education. From my inquiry, I discovered that their parents cannot afford to send them to school, while some can’t even get a job. In fact, parents sent their children to the university to acquire degree, but some of them will finish and come back to sit at home doing nothing.
So, there are a lot of challenges with our education sector in the FCT, but we have been able to improve in terms of infrastructure and instructional materials where there are none using the little resources on ground.
What are you doing to tackle the dearth of infrastructure and dilapidated classrooms especially in rural schools in the FCT?
When I visited some of the schools, what I saw was appalling as quite a number of them lacked even basic infrastructure, while some didn’t even have perimeter fence and teaching staff. Unfortunately, we don’t have the resources now like we did back in those days to provide the entire infrastructure at a time. So you can see that we have limited amount of money to spend and I gave the example of our last year’s budget in the FCT which was N241 billion, and we only cash-back N130 billion, which is just about 50 per cent.
Our first priority in the FCT is payment of civil servants’ salaries. We always ensure that by the 25th of every month, everybody is paid his or her salary and then the balance goes to development of infrastructures. So you can see our predicament. Not that we don’t want to build those schools to the standard of the schools we attended, money is not really available and that is why we emphasise the need for the intervention of development partners and NGOs to come and assist us in developing the education sector in the FCT.
We had a Federal Executive Council retreat on standard of education recently, where the Federal Government noted that the standard of education in the country is unacceptable. And let me inform you that we just received a letter from the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) that they want to build a model that will include teacher training facility in the FCT. You know it is one of the good things to have a school fully equipped to include nice classrooms and well equipped with teachers, which is one of the things the UBEC is trying to address.
What have you done about teachers’ motivation in schools?
It is very easy to say lack of motivation, but I just told you that payment of workers’ salaries is one of our priorities as we ensure that teachers in the FCT receive their salaries when due. We don’t joke with teachers’ salaries. So as far as I am concerned, prompt salary payment as motivation should not be an issue in FCT. The first thing I noticed here is that the FCT minister does not joke with the payment of salaries. In fact, as I am talking to you now, I believe everybody who is working has gotten their salary for August. And I stand to be corrected.
So the issue the chairman of the FCT teachers’ union talked about is that of some pending promotion arrears for teachers and I assured him that I will look into that. Therefore, teachers motivation is not an issue, as we always ensure that they get their salaries and other entitlements when due. So to crown it all, we are making effort and will improve on infrastructure in FCT schools as soon as the situation improves.