Anthony Cardinal Okogie is the founding president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and Archbishop Emeritus of the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos. In this interview with IRETO TEMOFEH, he states that the Kaduna State government is being neither fair nor sincere in its plan to sack 22,000 teachers, insisting that the Kaduna State governor has an ulterior motive.
President Muhammadu Buhari is reported to have expressed his support for the reported sack of 22,000 teachers by the Kaduna State government on the grounds that they are unqualified. What is your take on this rather controversial support coming from the president for the mass sack of Nigerians, especially considering the fact that the federal government has not fulfilled its promise of massive job creation for unemployed Nigerians and also that the country is in recession?
I find it hard to believe that President Muhammadu Buhari as the father of the nation will give his support for Governor Nasir El-Rufai to sack 22,000 teachers in Kaduna State, knowing full well the implications of such a mass sack on both the families of those 22,000 people and also the impact on the economy.
Number one, what are they going to do with their salaries? Number two, it simply means the government is faulty. They ought to have checked whether the teachers were qualified to go into the classroom to teach, because they must have scrutinized them. They must have presented a certificate. You can’t just go to the bush and say come and teach.
Do you actually believe those figures or do you think that Governor Nasir el-Rufai has hidden agenda in all of this?
It means there is something wrong with the government, those who employed them; which even touches the governor el-Rufai himself. It’s not just a matter of saying you are testing the teachers to know whether they are good or bad. I suspect the governor has an ulterior motive.
How did they come about the figure of 22,000 useless teachers? That figure is suspicious. Even The Guardian newspaper put the figure of 22,000 in inverted commas.
So what do you think is going to happen after the 22,000 teachers are sacked?
What I suspect is going to happen now is that the governor is going to put about 22,000 Muslim teachers, that is, those who are going to be sympathetic to the Islamic religion there in Kaduna to take the places of the sacked teachers. Governor el-Rufai is pursuing an Islamic agenda in Kaduna State. That’s my suspicion. I say so because where is he going to get 22,000 people to take the place of those teachers? What will become of the students?
What are the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) and the Nigerian Labour Congress doing about it? Why are they allowing this kind of thing to happen? And is Kaduna State the only state where this kind of thing about unqualified teachers has happened?
Do you fear that this mass sack of 22,000 teachers that the Kaduna State government is carrying out might lead to another religious crisis in Kaduna State and indeed in Nigeria in general if majority of those teachers who will be sacked are Christians?
We have to recall when Christians were being killed in Kaduna and this man (the governor) said he wasn’t aware of it, that it’s not true, before the thing boomeranged. And even the Sultan of Sokoto had to put in a word about it; that it is unlawful for Muslims to kill Christians because the Koran doesn’t say that.
Could the federal government led by President Muhammadu Buhari be culpable or have some complicity in this matter?
This is very serious. What are they turning Nigeria into? What kind of image are they presenting about Nigeria to the outside world? If you go through their budget, they give us false figures. The federal government will say that the exchange rate of the naira to the dollar is so and so, but if you go out or sit down to calculate it, you will find that it is not true. They are liars. This is not fair to Nigerians. Because Nigerians keep quiet so the people in government feel that they can take them for a ride. It is not good. I don’t care if they feel offended that I’m criticizing them. I have to speak out for the sake of innocent Nigerians and tell those in government the truth, because a man dies but once, not twice.
Do you believe that this is part of the alleged plot to Islamize Nigeria?
When the issue of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) initially came up, I was then the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and I took up the issue with General Ibrahim Babangida (IBB). But, they are now bringing back the issue of OIC again. We told them about Islamic Bank but they have brought Islamic Bank too. There was another time they said that the Minister of Petroluem and the Minister of Education must be Muslim. And unfortunately, we had some useless Christians who were supporting Aminu, the Minister of Education at that time.
Is this matter of sacking 22,000 teachers capable of changing the way Nigerians view the APC government of Kaduna State and the governor Nasir el-Rufai?
The Kaduna State government is talking about 22,000 people. Are they 22,000 cows? So, what was the government doing when they were employing them? What will happen to the families of those 22,000 people? This means that the government is fake. So, what Governor Nasir el-Rufai is telling the outside world is that his government is fake.
Do you trust the Kaduna State governor or do you think Governor Nasir el-Rufai is part of the problem in Kaduna State?
You cannot even trust the government. Since he (el Rufai) got into Kaduna, there has been a lot of trouble. It is the same Kaduna that was peaceful before he came.
But agents of the Kaduna State government have reportedly said that many of those 22,000 “unqualified” teachers were thugs employed by the previous PDP government of Kaduna State, which means that they should not have been employed in the first place. How do you react to that?
My answer to that is that those (previous Kaduna State PDP government officials) who employed them are the ones who should in fact be punished. Again, how sure is the Kaduna State government that those people are thugs? How can the Kaduna State government prove that they are thugs? They said that because they set exam for the teachers and they couldn’t pass. I don’t believe them. The next thing they will do now is that they will flood the place (Kaduna educational system) with Islamic teachers and Islamic religion and all what not. And that is what we have been fighting against.