Alhaji Ahmed Joda died on 13th August and since his passage, there has been a remarkable outpouring of emotion at the loss of this great and endearing elder statesman. He was a skilled, experienced and well-respected public figure who spent almost his entire 91 years on earth devoted to building a better Nigeria. His life and engagement defined a concept whose meaning we no longer know – PUBLIC SERVANT. For him, it was service to his country and the entire citizenry. Self-service, personal aggrandizement, corruption, sectional or religious interests were anathema to him. His concern always was how to improve the lives and livelihoods of Nigerians.
Together with some of his colleagues referred to as super permanent secretaries, made huge contributions to rehabilitate the country following the 1967-1970 civil war. Their focus was to quickly rebuild confidence in Nigeria’s quest for national integration and advice, rather, guide the military rulers in the frugal and sensible use scarce resources in advancing the welfare of Nigerians. Ahmed Joda and other Super Permanent Secretaries, particularly – Philip Asiodu, Liman Ciroma and Alison Ayida prevailed in guiding Nigeria away from breaking up following the civil war. For many decades after his retirement from the public service, almost all succeeding regimes have called on him to continue to offer his commitment and expertise in the public service.
In terms of public policy, my understanding is that for him, the greatest challenge facing Nigeria since 1970 is that of rebuilding a high-quality educational system that could build knowledge, skills, civic education and critical thinking for our young ones. That would be the basis on which they could have confidence in a future that could provide jobs, opportunities and progress for the majority. It was Ahmed Joda who drew our attention to the National Pledge made by Nigeria in 1973. He explains that in that year, the then Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, called a Government Retreat and asked for one policy recommendation that would ensure Nigeria would never again run the risk of another civil war. The decision was a National Pledge that every Nigerian child born from the end of the civil war – January 1970, would be guaranteed free, qualitative and compulsory primary education. Subsequently, we extended the promise from primary to basic education – nine years of free and qualitative education for all Nigerian children. All governments were to ensure that each year, sufficient resources are made available by governments to ensure every child is in school.
I made this point at the Barewa Old Students Association Conference in Katsina in 2017. Ahmed Joda was at the conference and called me giving me a two-hour briefing on his struggles with State Governors, especially in Northern Nigeria, most of who neither understood nor were committed to providing the resources and leading the initiatives that would lead to actualizing the National Pledge. In fact, the week of the meeting, the Federal Government held another retreat on the crisis of education. In his speech, President Buhari lamented the Nigeria tragedy in which 13.2 million children of school going age are not in school (Trust, 14 November 2017). This is the largest number of out of school children in the world today and a collective shame to all of us Nigerians. Throughout his life, Ahmed Joda was an untiring advocate for universal and quality education for all Nigerians.
On 9th April 2014, Ahmed Joda published an article in Daily Trust on the almajiri issue in Northern Nigeria. He was responding to an article by one Anthony Ada Abraham in Leadership Newspaper of 1st April 2014 titled “Continued Plight of the Almajirai”. He pointed out that the actual meaning of the word almajiri (singular); almajirai (plural) is student and students. However, because of the way the system has come to be viewed, it conveys a meaning of “beggar children”, not its real meaning of children seeking knowledge. He addressed the core problematique:
“These children are not actually in Quranic schools learning Islam and imbibing its teachings. They are children born and abandoned by their parents. They are children, at their most tender and vulnerable stages of their lives uncared for by their parents, and unrecognized by the authorities and society. They grow to adulthood without the parental care or guidance that every child is entitled to. No one knows, or cares, where they sleep, with whom they interact or what kind of lives they lead.Their permanent abodes are in the motor parks, market stalls, brothels and drug and drinking joints. Few, if any, are actually in the so-called Quranic schools. This is the society we are breeding.” Ahmed Joda in his advocacy for education always makes it clear that our refusal in Northern Nigeria to prioritise education is responsible for the present crisis of terrorism, banditry and violence in society.
As he explained in the article: “If the universal education policies had been faithfully implemented, assuming that the budgetary provisions had been made, there would have been no almajirai walking around the streets with “plastic, begging bowls”, anywhere in Nigeria. It is not an educational problem. It is a fundamental society problem. There is no way we can continue to allow ourselves to lead this kind of life and expect a normal viable and responsible society and nation.” He adds that if we are to honestly face this issue, we must also acknowledge that this is not an issue which is applicable to all Northern societies. It prevails and applies largely to the Moslem Hausa Fulani societies of Northern Nigeria. For him, the parts of the North that are the most backward in education have no one but themselves to blame.
On September 9th 2020, (Trust), Ahmed Joda wrote Re: An Open Letter to the Federal Minister of Education recalling when he assumed duty as the Permanent Secretary Federal Ministry of Education. The first issue on his table was the selection and recommendation of awards of the Federal Scholarships and Bursaries for the 19171/72 Academic Year. Nigeria then had 12 states; the six northern states and six southern states. There were 3000 awards. These were shared about 2,750 to the six southern states and 250 to the six northern states. When further analysed, more than 500 went to the two North Central states of Kwara and Benue Plateau. There was an angry outburst at the “lop-sidedness of the Award” for the North. The anger was targeted at him because he was the Permanent Secretary who signed the “Release Document” and because as a northerner just having “crossed the Carter Bridge and drank the lagoon water”, I had forgotten my roots, he said. The Northern governors, the Kaduna press and radio were unanimous in calling for his immediate removal.
His response was that the defunct government of Northern Nigeria and the successor governments of the six Northern states bear the full responsibility for what they were now complaining about and not the Federal Government of Nigeria.
a) Under the Constitution of Nigeria, Primary and Secondary Education including Teachers education is the responsibility of the Regional/State Governments NOT that of the Federal Government. The class of students in consideration are candidates who have completed their secondary education
b) Only those who apply in response to invitation to apply for Federal Government scholarships and who qualify can be considered. In some of the Northern states only very few applications were received. In 1971, Lagos State was enrolling nearly 100% in primary schools, the Mid West was recording about 90%, the West well over 60% while the North West, North East and Kano were enrolling less than 5%. This is the responsibility Northern leaders must take up he declared. May Ahmed Joda’s soul rest in perfect peace and may his life work be a catalyst to encourage the current leaders become truly committed to educating the children of the masses, after all, they make sure that their own children get a good education.