Sunday, 20 March 2016

We’re going to make teachers proud of their profession –Benue SUBEB boss

Dr. Philip Tachin is the chairman, State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), Makurdi, Benue State. Tachin told Sunday Mirror’s Henry Iyorkase that about 2,755 primary schools in Benue State have been earmarked for renovation and supply of equipment and warned that his leadership would not compromise on the project specifications.

He also spoke about the welfare of primary school teachers and other issues affecting basic education in the state. Excerpts:

Within the few days you have assumed duty as chairman, State Universal Basic Education Board, Makurdi, the Benue State Government has paid a counterpart fund of N3.8 billion at a time that other sections are not dreaming of any assistance of this nature.

Why is this so?

Thank you very much for that question. Let me begin by emphasizing what is very, very dear to the hearts of Governor Samuel Ortom and the President, His Excellency, Muhammadu Buhari. As far as I have read from the body language and the speeches of these two great leaders, you will see that education is paramount in their minds. They have seen education as an antidote against ignorance and all forms of crimes that are happening in this country. So, they have placed emphasis more on education. Now, when you come to Benue State, particularly, you will discover that primary school education that is supposed to be the foundation of education at the worst level. And you know that in any structure, when the foundation is not good enough, you can expect any terrible thing to happen and we have experienced this in our tertiary institutions.

You can see how young people in the universities and other colleges of education express themselves. Sometimes, it is something that you can just put your face down in shame. The problem is because the foundation has crumbled. When I came on board, I discovered that what has affected the foundation of education in the state is not just one problem; complex problems have contributed to bring our primary schools to where they are today. Number one, you look at the issue of infrastructure; it is so glaring. Any visitor that comes to Benue State and is passing and looking at some of the schools by the roadside or happens to go into the hinterland to see structures that are called our primary schools, will believe that this place is one of the most backward of human societies because the schools have been destroyed, they have crumbled, deteriorated and you can just use any kind of negative word to describe the state of infrastructure. Children will not find it very, very amusing or happy to sit under structures that have cobwebs and rats and lizards are walking here and there; there is no roof on them, and there are no seats. So, you can see that the situation is one of the most critical areas; that alone can have a psychological effect on the children. And not just the children, even teachers, because everyone wants to sit in a place that is very conducive in order to perform. So teachers won’’t find this very, very conducive to spend a lot of hours teaching these children. Therefore, it calls for a very quick arrest of the situation.

Having analysed all these, what do you think can be done to mitigate the situation?
I have said before that we have to construct, renovate and provide facilities in all our primary schools. I think the money the state has invested is N3.8 billion, while the Federal Government has already approved her N3.8 billion; we are going to use it judiciously. I mean no one is going to manipulate, no one is going to come out with a very clever way to corner any single money out of this fund. We have spelt out all the projects that will be done with this money and we will make sure that these funds are applied directly on these projects and accounted for, both to the state and to the Federal Government. Again, I want to also emphasise that we are insisting on quality delivery of these structures. When contractors get projects that they are going to do, they shouldn’’t see it as political money has come (to be eaten); it can never happen under my watch. We are going to follow due process in all our contracts and it is going to be very transparent for everybody to see. I am going to read the riot act to all the contractors, so that once you do your project, you make sure that you meet our specification before you are paid. When I came on board, I discovered that some of the projects that were done in the past never met specifications and yet, they were paid for. For instance, some boreholes that were paid for, if you go there they do not even exist; some of them are there without water, maybe, proper geophysical survey was not done or proper drainage was not done. And so, we are not going to allow that kind of thing to be done in our time. We will make sure that we see to the letter that all these projects are executed fully.

What situation did you meet as concerns welfare of teachers, so that when you invest infrastructure, teachers are motivated enough to give you the quality teaching that you need?
Actually, it is not as if this government is insensitive to the motivational aspect of teachers, in terms of their remuneration. I think we just want to see to the end of decay in infrastructure in our schools, which is very, very critical, very bad and laughable. If people are passing and taking pictures, that is the first thing that they would see. That one we have addressed and we are going to make sure that we address it very well. Concerning the remuneration of teachers, the government is very, very conscious of that. I have been discussing with His Excellency, on some of these issues. He has a plan to make sure that teachers feel so happy and so proud of their profession again in Benue State. What this means is that when money start coming in so well, when the budget is passed and the governor is able to get other sources of income, we are going to look at the situation of teachers. Actually, as I am speaking to you now, we have done a review of teachers ’’ promotion. I am not just waiting until the money comes; we have done the exercise and those political promotions that were done in 2011 that are not what I am talking about. We have really seen all the teachers that deserve to be promoted; we have worked that out and have a comprehensive list. When the governor gets money; in fact, when I spoke with him about it, he was very positive and assured that once money comes in well, we will implement those promotions. Once we implement these promotions, teachers will feel very happy. We are also giving them constant training so that they will continue to update their knowledge and teach so well; they will be very confident when they step into a classroom situation. And even, when a supervisor is standing there, the teacher wouldn’’t be shivering because he or she doesn’’t know what to teach because we have already mapped out some training programmes and strategies. Already the state government organised training that dealt with the attitudinal aspect of teachers. Once we get money, we are going to pay teachers salaries up to date and ensure that teachers are not lagging behind and then, we will implement the promotions so that they will feel so happy. Right now, if we just jump up and go and announce the promotions, we are actually putting a cart before the horse which will not be right because the money is not there to implement. So, we will be doing the same thing that was done yesterday in the previous government. We want to do something that is very realistic and people will believe in us that yes, we mean so well. Once the funds are there, we will do exactly what we are supposed to do with the teachers; we want the teachers to feel so happy.

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