Plight of Nigerian teachers
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.