Recently, about 5,000 private schools including nursery, primary and secondary were closed down by the Rivers State government as directed by the state governor, Nyesom Wike. The said closure was due to their failure to meet the basic requirements of operating the schools by their owners. This move instantly put close to five million school children across the state at home. It also sent close to 50,000 school owners, teachers and education support services providers in the State into jeopardy as their means of livelihood were shutdown.
Governor Wike had, in a statement by his media aide, Simeon Nwakaudu, attributed the closure to the “illegal activities of some proprietors of unapproved private schools.” He accused them of bribing top officials of the state ministry of education to have their schools re-certified without following due process, warning them of the futility of such moves as he alone reserves the authority to re-certify their schools.
The two main political parties in the state have been at each other's neck over the decision of the governor to close the schools. The APC has since accused the governor of contriving the drive to re-certify private schools in the state as a means of witch-hunting its members and supporters. It underscored the decision of the governor to usurp the responsibility of officials of the state ministry of education to re-certify the schools as giving credence to its position. There have also been insinuations in some quarters that proprietors of the private schools were being asked to pay N350,000 to have their schools re-certified. The PDP, however, fired back that the process was aimed at weeding out the activities of illegal schools and their owners and standardize the operations of the schools.
In the face of all this, it is important that caution is exercised in managing issues affecting the education sector in the state. While it was commendable for the government of the day to act to streamline the operations of private schools in the state, it would be counter-productive to the sector if the motives were unwholesome.
It is our view that the process of vetting the activities of schools remains the responsibility of the ministry of education and not that of the governor, especially where there was a commissioner for education. The governor's menu is replete with too many issues already to include recertification of schools.
But then, we also agree that as the chief accounting officer, the governor has the oversight responsibility of ensuring that things work well in all sectors of the state economy, including education.
It is also important that the process was not utilized to witch-hunt political opponents; indulge in unwholesome practices such as extortion and generally undermining the stability and progress of the educational system in the state. The academic progress of millions of children across the state should be an important consideration for all those involved.
We recommend, therefore, that serious consideration should also be given to the thousands of men and women whose jobs would be affected, should the exercise be abused. Add these to the livelihood of those providing support services such as minders, cleaners, janitors, security guards, transporters, etc who would be thrown into the unemployment market arbitrarily.
It is our view that the process of recertification should be with a view to streamlining and standardizing the academic curricula and operational integrity of the schools affected than shutting them down outrightly, even though we also blame owners of the schools for not doing enough to meet the conditions stipulated for the running of schools by the state ministry of education, as some of the proprietors chose to convert town halls and even their private homes to schools, subjecting the pupils to all kinds of negative exposures.
While the government is doing its best to rejig the education system in the state through the ban on the activities of illegal schools, we suggest that every other aspect of the educational system in the state should also be put back on track. The consideration would be to give Rivers State the edge in the education community across the country and make it more competitive in churning out high quality graduands that would go on to perform excellently in the tertiary institutions and better impact society positively upon graduation.