Walk your talk – The Nation

  • It’s good some states have a policy of paying their students’ WAEC/NECO exam fees. But it is bad they owe arrears of such payments

The National Examinations Council (NECO) released the result of its May/June 2019 Senior Secondary School Examinations (SSCE) on August 27. But it is still holding on to the results of Niger State’s public schools because the state owes it N470 million.

That is bad, for it is causing the victim-students untold harm and psychological trauma.

For one, being in a limbo, not knowing whether you passed or failed an examination, is bad enough for a young mind. For another, that those who have passed stand the risk of losing tertiary spots they had earned, because they cannot access their results, as NECO and the Niger State government are quibbling over bills, is extremely distasteful.

Both bodies must sort out this problem. This is one grass that must not be allowed to suffer, simply because two elephants are feuding.

Still, the scenario is rather intriguing. NECO claims a N470 million outstanding bill. Niger State does not deny, insisting it just paid NECO N150 million, as it is wont to pay in bits, since it lacks the cash to pay the entire bill at a go. That leaves a balance of N320 million, out of this year’s NECO Bill.

Abubakar Aliyu, the permanent secretary in the Niger State Ministry of Education, therefore appealed to NECO for clemency: NECO should release the result on compassionate basis, while the state pushes the option of progressive part-payment, until the entire bill is defrayed. But should by Monday October 16 NECO still refused, the government would seek ways-and-means to settle the bill.

We can’t track how eventually it all panned out. But the permanent secretary’s pitch sounded not unreasonable, even if it came with a huge doze of emotive blackmail, which tries to shape NECO as some putative flint-hearted Shylock, unmoved by both the state government’s pleas and the young minds’ angst — nice try!

But there are some fundamental questions pushing to be answered. To start with, if the bill is for this year alone (and not some carry-over arrears over the years), why would NECO be so adamant, as not to buy the government’s payment-by-instalment scheme — which again appeared not unreasonable, given that both NECO and the government are ongoing concerns, and yearly customers?

The only logical deduction could well be that the government had, over the years, not stuck to its pledges; thus putting NECO in very uncompromising position to meet its own obligation to its other education consultants and logistic contractors, that put together the examinations.

That NECO went for the jugular — withholding the results as ultimate pressure, since the public outcry would somewhat force the government’s hand — is also heavily suggestive of a payment arrangement completely gone unhinged. In any case, if the government had an emergency ways-and-means to source money, why did it have to wait until NECO went public with the problem?

Whichever way you look at it, the Niger State government does not come out of this one smelling nice. All things considered, it would appear fairly and legitimately charged with some form of sloppiness, if not outright lack of seriousness, in its approach to settling this all-important bill.

First, it is commendable that Niger counts among the state governments that have adopted paying NECO and WAEC examination fees as pillars of state education policy. That is a vital step to supporting education and offering parents relief, as one of the rubrics of social democracy. But to fail to deliver, after that much promise, repudiates the very fundament of that very fine tradition of people-centred development.

Since no one put a gun to the heads of these states before adopting this policy, they should try at all times to walk their talk. Afterwards, what is worth doing at all is worth doing well. Even if the examination bodies offer credit lines in the course of the mutual transactions, such should not be abused to the extent that the students are the ultimate victims.

The Niger State government should therefore pay up, so that its public school students can get their results and move on with their lives. Also, it should ensure the debt crisis and threat to withhold results do not blow open again.

That is the only way it can earn due praise from an excellent developmental initiative.

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