Plight of Nige­rian teach­ers

Daily Trust - - OPINION -

Teach­ers in Nige­ria re­cently joined their coun­ter­parts in other parts of the world to mark the World Teach­ers’ Day. Nige­rian teach­ers used the oc­ca­sion to re­new sev­eral of their de­mands from gov­ern­ment par­tic­u­larly on wel­fare and con­di­tions of ser­vice. To com­mem­o­rate the oc­ca­sion, Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari called for a fun­da­men­tal change in at­ti­tude, ori­en­ta­tion and be­hav­ior of teach­ers. This, he said, is in or­der to achieve greater value, ideal and prac­tices if gov­ern­ment ef­forts at im­prov­ing the stan­dard of teach­ing are to be suc­cess­ful. The Pres­i­dent’s charge was pre­sented by his rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Sec­re­tary to the Gov­ern­ment of the Fed­er­a­tion Engr. Babachir Lawal, at a rally in Abuja to mark the day which had the theme: ‘Em­pow­er­ing Teach­ers and Build­ing Sus­tain­able So­ci­eties.’

Pres­i­dent of the Nige­rian Union of Teach­ers (NUT) Michael Olukoya used the oc­ca­sion to draw Pres­i­dent Buhari’s at­ten­tion to some of the crit­i­cal is­sues af­fect­ing ed­u­ca­tion and the teach­ing pro­fes­sion in Nige­ria. He said over 600 teach­ers have been killed in Nige­ria’s North East re­gion since the Boko Haram in­sur­gency started six years ago. Olukoya also said that 19,000 teach­ers are among the In­ter­nally Dis­placed Per­sons (IDPs) in the rav­aged North­east re­gion, and he urged gov­ern­ment at all lev­els to tighten se­cu­rity in and around schools.

Kwara State NUT Chair­man Com­rade Musa Abubakar also af­firmed their readi­ness to re­sist any at­tempt to place pri­mary schools un­der lo­cal gov­ern­ment author­i­ties. He in­stead urged the Fed­eral gov­ern­ment to es­tab­lish a sec­ondary schools com­mis­sion for ef­fec­tive and ef­fi­cient ad­min­is­tra­tion of its sec­ondary schools. These two de­mands of Com­rade Abubakar are both prob­lem­atic. Pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion is the con­sti­tu­tional re­spon­si­bil­ity of lo­cal gov­ern­ments, which lim­its the role of other tiers of gov­ern­ment in it. As for his call for a sec­ondary schools com­mis­sion, it is also prob­lem­atic be­cause, in con­trast to state gov­ern­ments that own hun­dreds of such schools, the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment owns only 109 sec­ondary schools, the ones called Fed­eral Unity Col­leges. Be­sides, nearly ev­ery­one agrees that the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment has too many agen­cies and the Steve Oron­saye com­mit­tee has al­ready iden­ti­fied many of them as fit for merg­ers and scrap­ings.

The most se­ri­ous plight of the Nige­rian teacher to­day is the ir­reg­u­lar pay­ment of his monthly wages. In his speech on the oc­ca­sion of the 2015 Teach­ers’ Day, Com­rade Olukoya de­scribed the non-pay­ment of monthly salaries to teach­ers as not only crim­i­nal but also in­hu­man. In some states, teach­ers are be­ing paid only fifty per­cent of their monthly salary. In oth­ers, they are owed ar­rears of salaries for sev­eral months in ad­di­tion to out­stand­ing an­nual leave al­lowances that have re­mained un­paid for many years.

Most of the chal­lenges as­so­ci­ated to­day with the pay­ment of teach­ers’ salaries and al­lowances were not known in the days when the Na­tional Pri­mary Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sion (NPEC) es­tab­lished by for­mer Pres­i­dent Ibrahim Ba­bangida ex­isted. Then, what was due to ev­ery lo­cal gov­ern­ment for the pay­ment of teach­ers’ salaries was de­ducted from source and paid di­rectly to NPEC; in which case nei­ther state gover­nors who op­er­ated joint ac­counts nor LG chair­men had any chance to mis­ap­pro­pri­ate the funds. NPEC would dis­burse the funds to re­spec­tive State Pri­mary Ed­u­ca­tion Boards (SPEBs) which in turn dis­bursed di­rectly to Lo­cal Ed­u­ca­tion Author­i­ties (LEAs), mak­ing it pos­si­ble to promptly set­tle teach­ers’ salaries and al­lowances with­out any un­due in­ter­fer­ence from gover­nors and LG chair­men.

Cri­sis be­gan when the de­cree that es­tab­lished NPEC was mod­i­fied to ap­pease gover­nors and LG chair­men who com­plained of lim­ited au­thor­ity over the fi­nances of LEAs. The sit­u­a­tion wors­ened with the es­tab­lish­ment of the Uni­ver­sal Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sion (UBEC) by which ar­range­ment state gov­ern­ments through joint ac­counts use the funds meant for teach­ers’ wages to ei­ther set­tle con­trac­tors or di­vert the funds to other ar­eas. When state gov­ern­ments siphon off lo­cal gov­ern­ment funds that in­clude teach­ers’ salaries through the joint ac­counts, they sub­ject teach­ers to un­end­ing screen­ing and au­dit ex­er­cises for pay­ments that were never made.

Given the pro­tracted cri­sis of un­paid teach­ers’ wages, gov­ern­ment is ad­vised to con­sider repo­si­tion­ing the ex­ist­ing UBEC in the form in which the erst­while NPEC op­er­ated.

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