A WORD WITH PROFFESOR ATTAHIRU JEGA
There are few words to describe the determinative academician and one time INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega. His credibility and firmness among other distinc-tive qualities earned him an unforgettable reputation in the world. An icon recog-nized by many as the founder of free and fair election in Nigeria, will make one to think there would be nothing inspiring to talk about with him beside elections and politics, but I tell you, that’s not it. Our chat with him proves other wise, as the Prof shares with us about his life after appointment, teaching, learning and so much more.
Academic background: I have a BSc in Political Science, a single honors from Ahmadu Bello University, (ABU) Zaria. I graduated in 1978, from the Bayero University college of ABU, before it became a full col-lege University. I did my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in the old Cross Rivers State, be-tween 1978 and 1979,and I stat-ed teaching in BUK as a gradu-ate assistant in July of 1979. I did my masters in 1981 and my PHD in 1985 all from North Western University Illinois in USA. Since my return from post graduate studies from the U.S., I have been in the department of Political Science in BUK, until June 2010 when I was appointed the Chairman of INEC and after serving in INEC for a tenure of 5 years, I chose to go back to BUK rather than have the tenure re-newed. So am back in Bayero University to do what I like to do most which is teaching. And re-search.
How do you define good teaching?
Ability to prepare very well, to research the subject matter very well, to be able to impact knowledge to the student, in such a manner that they would understand what is being con-veyed to them, teaching I believe should be interactive between the teacher and student, and is supposed to be a mutually bene-ficially relationship so that the teacher can learn from the stu-dents at the same time the stu-dents learn from the teacher. I believe that the best teaching opportunity is when brilliant stu-dents challenge their lecturer, so that it forces them to research even more and prepare even more better before they come to class again. Teaching is worse when a lecturer has very dull and lazy students because what ever the teacher chooses to tell them whether it’s correct or not, they will just copy it, because they lack the capacity and com-petence to know the difference between what is right and what is wrong, teaching is a noble profession, and it’s suppose to be enjoyed by teachers and the conditions should be good, so that both students and staff can enjoy it.
Can you mention three major factors Nigeria should consid-er in the delivery of a standard education?
If the government provides free education from primary to ter-tiary levels as practiced in coun-tries like Switzerland, Sweden and so on, I think this could help the economic status of Nigeria as well as help the citizens of Nigeria? What advice do you have for the youth? I think Nigeria needs to pay a lot of attention to first of all, expand-ing access and educational op-portunities for all young men and women. Secondly, while access is expanded, a lot of attention should be placed on quality be-cause it is useless to expand access and not to have quality. In addition to that good and sat-isfied teaching, staff that has the capacity and zeal to teach as well as carry on research should not be overlooked. Teachers in the universities in particular are expected to teach, researched knowledge which is different from teaching in primary or secondary school. To teach researched knowledge, facilities and opportu-nities to do research are needed so that teachers can factor the output of the research in what they teach. These are three most important factors Nigerian Gov-ernment needs to pay attention to. But I regret to say, that many of our leaders in the past did not pay sufficient attention to this issue. There is need for expansion of access both at the primary level, as of now the percent of young children going to primary school would be seen that Nigeria is lagging be-hind many other countries in terms of the percentage of those who are in school. Basically, these are the three major factors I’d say in response to that ques-tion.
What do you think is the role of Government in terms of access to education especially among young people?
I’m a strong believer in govern-ment playing a major role in the provision of education. I also be-lieve if other countries can pro-vide free education then why can’t Nigeria?
But I’m realistic to realize that successive Nigerian government has squandered op-portunities to provide free and qualitative education. Education is free but not qualitative in Nige-ria. There are countries even in Africa that spend 40% of their budget on education and there are countries that spend more than six percent of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on edu-cation. Nigeria doesn’t spend up to 1%. Since independ-ence, Nigeria has not spent up to 17% on education. If focus is giv-en on education, then it is possi-ble to do what other countries have done in giving free and qualitative education. As for now government has been unable to do it and it is clear they can not do it overnight. Government can start and be very systematic first-ly by improving access, quality and opportunity, having also a good framework of cost sharing.
Have young people realize the importance of education in Ni-geria?
Young men and women need to recognize that education is one of the most important aspects of life. An illiterate regrettably has a wasted life although. Those who have the opportunity for educa-tion must take it seriously and do everything possible to acquire the knowledge and put it to good use because there’s a difference be-tween getting a certificate and being educated. There was a time in this country in the mid 80’s to the early 90’s to some extent even now in some places where illiterates are being certificated. Young men and women need to take advantage of education-al opportunities. Student should not just pass through school. I was inspired by a poem by Mu-hammad Ali in which he said ”go to college, get knowledge stay there until you are through for if they can make penicillin out of molded bread then, they sure can make something out of you”.
What’s your teaching philoso-phy?
To impact knowledge to my stu-dents so that they can expand their intellectual horizon and at-tain their potentials and my teaching philosophy is to teach people so that they will be even more knowledgeable than I, because I try to challenge them to do even more than I do. I know many students nowadays are very lazy, they think that teachers that put pressure on them don’t like them, I think a good teacher is one who put a lot of demands on his or her students and to ex-plore their potentials, by reading a lot and doing assignments, and by asking questions and making enquiries. What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were younger? I think I now know more about human relationship and how best to impact knowledge, to my stu-dents, something that I wish I knew when I started teaching 25, 30 years ago, certainly patience is very im-portant. I wish I was more patient when I was younger. More pa-tient to try to make my students understand more and also not to characterize them as lazy or not to shut them down because they sound stupid, in my younger days as a teacher, I was very exuberant, when I thought what I was saying was correct and sim-ple to understand, I could not understand why my students were not understanding what I was saying. I wish I knew that .
What drove you to acquire so much knowledge in the course of your life?
What inspired you? My father realized the value of education and he did not only educate his children but also en-sured that he educated his chil-dren’s children. That was a great inspiration. We pride ourselves from coming from a family of about three or four generations of educated people. In fact my grandfather was one of the first gradu-ates of the Katsina College. Apart from that I was also privileged to have fantastic and wonderful teachers in prima-ry school, secondary school and the university and I’ve always seen them as role models and they made me believe that teach-ing is indeed a noble profession. So when I graduated from the University and I was ready to take a job, I was so pleased that my alumni invited me without even an interview to come back as a staff in the university. I felt it was a great honor and privilege and that really motivated me to become a teacher. I also knew as a university lecturer you need to pursue higher education so I quickly seized the opportunity to do my masters and PhD. Since then I haven’t looked back.
No one would see you and will not want to talk about election and politics’ there are some of us that would want to venture in to politics after school, what piece of advise would u give?
My advise to youths is that poli-tics should be a noble under-taking and if they choose to go into politics, they should do it with integrity, with com-mitment to serve the people, and to ensure that they do not under estimate people or citizens. A lot of our politicians nowadays take things for granted and underrate citizens and the fact that they are not there to serve, but use politics as a profit making venture. So I advice young people who want to get into politics not to be carried away by what they now see as politics, as being practiced by our politicians. There are better ways to do politics and to serve people and to do it with integrity rather than to use money to buy votes.0