Prof. Wilfred Uji, is the Executive Secretary, Benue State Teaching Service Board (TSB). In this interview with JOSEPH UNDU, he called on President Muhammadu Buhari to defend all ethnic groups in Nigeria, even as he bemoans the neglect of Benue State by the FG. Except.
Why did you leave your job with FG to take up appointment with Benue State government?
The call to national service by the Benue State government, a rare offer and opportunity in life, is the reason for the leave of absence to serve the people of the state and Nigeria. Thus, I have not left my job. I am still under the field of education, which is relevant to my calling. I am now serving as the Executive Secretary of Benue State Teaching Service Board (TSB), Makurdi.
What is your success story at TSB?
On assumption as the Executive Secretary, Benue State Teaching Service Board, Makurdi, Senior Secondary School Education in Benue State was analogue in both the Teaching Learning situation in schools as well as the board’s administrative running. The secondary school sector in the state was below the best 100 schools in Nigeria, students performance in external examinations was below expectations.
In two years, we have achieved the transformation of the Teaching Learning process from analogue to digital through education information technology. All schools have viable ICT centres. We have a functional website and portal for the board to facilitate digital administration. We introduced a reading culture through afternoon and night preps, as well as literally and debate societies to improve students’ performance. We insist on teachers’ professional ethics through lesson plans and notes to improve on the performance of students. The results are good as schools in Benue State are now the best in central Nigeria, our students compete in national and international competitions, less percentage failure in external examinations, as well as near reduction of cases of examination malpractices.
What are the challenges affecting secondary school education in Benue?
The critical challenge is that of sustainability of funding by the state, especially Federal Government interventions as well as international donor education agencies and a strong sense of public-private partnership in the sustenance of the senior secondary school sector. For now, the sector is an orphan. This is not peculiar to Benue State. It is a reflection of the whole nation. There is need by the Federal Government to establish a Senior Secondary School Commission like the Universal Basic Education Board.
How would you rate the administration of Gov. Samuel Ortom?
In superlative and comparative, looking at how federal politics have neglected Benue State, how the godfather system has impoverished the state, the general state of in security occasioned by Fulani herdsmen attacks on agrarian society in Benue State, Governor Ortom has performed well within the performance scale of states in Nigeria. We need a massive federal presence in Benue State in terms of development, which has never been since 1999. It is a shame that since 1999, no sitting President, including President Muhammadu Buhari, has commissioned one single project in the state.
What do you think Gov. Samuel Ortom’s re-election would portend for educational system in the state?
President Buhari has allowed his kinsmen, the Fulani herdsmen, to destroy educational infrastructure in Benue State. There is no compensation by the Federal Government for schools destroyed by herdsmen invasion, out of school children displaced by the crisis, teachers lost in the crisis. Benue State is fast becoming like the North East of Nigeria where basic and secondary school education have collapsed. This has led to the decline of education in the North as compared to Southern Nigeria. Whatever gains we have made in the secondary school sector is a direct outcome of Governor Ortom’s love and investment in the secondary school sector. In the development plan of Benue State, the top priority of the Governor Ortom administration is STEAM-based education. The focus is on science and technical education as the bedrock for the development of Benue State. We have taken a cue from the developed nation’s of the west that science and technological based education is the key to national transformation.
The re-election of Samuel Ortom for a second term will consolidate on the performance and achievements of his first term in the education industry. The governor has performed a lot in the education sector, infrastructural development of schools, accreditation of programme’s of tertiary institutions, welfare of the teaching service, staff development and training, and so many others. I look forward to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declaring Ortom as the Governor-elect of Benue State.
Are you saying that President Buhari has not been doing enough to protect Nigerians?
Yes, his body language clearly shows that. President Buhari should respect ethnic minority rights in Nigeria. He should rise to his constitutional responsibility to defend all ethnic groups of Nigeria, especially in the Northern part of the country. We are all created equal by God with certain rights alienable to all men, irrespective of their ethnicity and gender. The basic right is that of the freedom of life and the pursuit of human happiness. Every irredentist movement threatening to human life, including Boko Haram, Fulani herdsmen terrorists, the ISIS of West Africa, must be stopped and wiped out.
If he fails, he should know we once fought a civil war to keep Nigeria free of ethnic genocide. We are to fight yet another war to stamp out ethnic cleansing in Nigeria, to keep Nigeria one. Nigeria is too big for the clandestine interest of an ethnic group to wipe out the other. We are prepared to die for our lives and human freedom.
Could you identify and proffer solutions on some of the challenges confronting the state?
The fundamental challenge of the Nigerian nation state and how that impacts on the development of states is rooted in the framework of how the nation was and has been defined since the colonial era. Nigeria was conceived as a tripartite system made of three major ethnic groups. This framework of Nigeria was carried over to the post-colonial era and consolidated upon by the nation’s political class. This framework has come to be the bedrock upon which political power and National resources are often shared and distributed in Nigeria. In Northern Nigeria, this framework supposes the hegemonic domination of the Fulani ethnic group over so-called minority ethnic groups like the Tiv. This is the fundamental challenge of development in Benue State. The developmental challenges of the state are tied to the kind of external control and imperialistic design of the Fulani political class in Nigeria. There is nothing to show, in terms of concrete investment of the Fulani political and economic class in Benue State. What exists is the herdsmen attacks on the agricultural economy of Benue State as well as the crude exploitation of the Benue economic resource, limestone at Gboko, called the Benue Cement, and now Dangote Cement.
Benue State is over dependent on Federal Revenue allocation as the major revenue source for the development of the state. In addition, there is poor foreign capital flow to the state in terms of foreign investment. Futhermore, the state has no access to direct international trade through the export and import economics dynamics.
So, what do you think is the way forward for Benue State?
Benue State can address her development challenges in several ways. The state, through robust leadership, can explore a more constructive economic partnership with the Fulani ethnic group and other ethnic groups in the development of the state. The Benue State Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranching Establishment Law provides the opportunity for the Fulani pastoral class to invest in the economy of the state. Already, other groups like the Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa, have good investments in the state, with the exception of the Fulani who are more interested in the forceful conscription of land in Central Nigeria. Benue State government, with foreign bank partners, must develop inland ports and a cargo airport for an export economy to tap into the international economic system.
The state must diversify sources of revenue to avoid over reliance on Federal Revenue Allocation as a source of funding state projects. There is every need to modernise the agricultural sector to make it less depending on crude forces of production. This will eliminate the farmers- herdsmen conflict by providing large economics of scale. There is also need for good governance and public accountability to check or forestall public corruption and stealing of public money by civil servants and the political class in the state.