President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has 60 days from the 29 May date of his inauguration, to announce his cabinet. Among the speculated cabinet members are those who held offices in the last administration at the federal level, such as Festus Keyamo (Minister of State for Labour and Employment), Babatunde Fashola (Minister of Works and Housing), or who served as governors in states, such as Nasir El-Rufai (Former Governor Kaduna State), Ibikunle Amosun (Senator, Ogun Central Senatorial District), Abdullahi Ganduje (Kano State Governor), or any of the political elites.
Interrogating the education sector, Maryam Katagum, Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment was suggested by Mallam Adamu Adamu, outgoing Minister of Education, as his replacement in 2019 after Buhari’s 1st term as president. However, he was retained and she was given a different ministerial appointment. Although it is not clear what cues, if any, Tinubu is taking from his predecessor, this could be a name to watch.
Goodluck Opiah, the minister of state for education, could be tipped for the position.
Nyesom Wike, Former Governor of Rivers State, and member of the opposition party PDP -who contributed significantly to the inroads of APC in Rivers State during the presidential elections- has paid several visits to Aso Rock since the inauguration. His construction of the Port Harcourt Law School might be a harbinger of his role in the burgeoning Tinubu administration, considering that he served as Minister of State for Education, under President Goodluck Jonathan.
The appointees of the new president already announced by Abiodun Oladunjoye the State House, Director of Information, include Femi Gbajabiamila -former Speaker of the House of Representatives- as the Chief of Staff, and Senator Ibrahim Hadejia as Deputy. Notably, George Akume, who served as Minister of Special Duties in the Buhari administration was appointed as Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF). This suggests that Tinubu is re-establishing personalities from the Buhari government. It is particularly damning that persons from an administration that directly oversaw the country as it spiraled downward economically, politically and socially are rewarded with extended employment and promotions. The ministerial cabinet will likely be filled with the goal of maintaining and/or rewarding loyalty. It may therefore lack the alignment of expertise required at this crucial time.
Adamu Adamu, the longest serving Minister of Education in 21st century Nigeria is an example of a long list of public office holders who, though lacking expertise in the sector into which they are employed, are granted the position and maintained because of nepotism and favouritism in high places. Despite his radical support of ASUU during his early journalistic career, his self-admitted lack of understanding of the deep issues confronting the education sector hindered any serious engagement with the protest and demands of ASUU.
As he disclosed in a speech in May 2023, “I didn’t know anything about education except superficially.” Thanking Buhari for the trust and responsibility, he acknowledged he was, “unprepared for such task.” This declaration comes at the end of his tumultuous eight-year tenure as the Minister of Education, during which the country suffered a spate of prolonged strikes by ASUU, rampant kidnapping of students in schools, 10 million-and-counting out-of-school children and the hiking of fees in the education sector.
He had also made similar comments in 2022 stating, “I came to office… to tackle the myriad of issues confronting the education system, … I failed to achieve all these expectations.” Amidst calls for his resignation, Professor Ademola Aremu, former ASUU National Treasurer commented, “The people ruling us are misfit. It is a shame that the education minister would admit he failed.” In the same year, Adamu was awarded the national honour of Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) by Buhari.
His career prior to the ministerial appointment was in the areas of journalism and accounting. In 1994 he served as Buhari’s Personal Assistant in the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF). It demonstrates that ultimately the actions of the ruling class, and each of its different factions, are for their enrichment, self-promotion and self-preservation. It is another example of the ruling class viewing positions in public service as rewards of loyalty rather than a call to serve the needs of the people. They dish out appointments on the basis of politics rather than expertise and the masses are left worse off.
In the wake of the signing of the Student Loan Bill which grants Nigerian students access to loans with either N500,000 fine or 2-year imprisonment as a penalty for defaulting on repayment, the education system is in a worsening quandary. The Minister of Education would be faced with many questions begging for swift answers.
The rapid decline in the country’s education system requires expertise, understanding and a commitment to the advancement of all Nigerians, particularly working-class people who cannot afford the commodification of education and their wards. It is difficult to imagine such values emerging from the ruling class.
Regardless of whatever divergence exists between the methods of Tinubu and his predecessor, it is clear that the relationship between the class of rich people and the poor masses will remain the same. However, we must continue in the struggle to ensure that the people’s interest no longer takes a back seat to the enrichment and self-preservation of Nigeria’s ruling class.
by Iretimide Esther OSUNYIKANMI