TEACHERS' ULTIMATUM TO GOVERNORS

RISING last week from its National Executive Council (NEC) meeting held at the Oluyole Teachers’ House in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) issued a 30-day ultimatum to the governors of the 19 states currently owing its members several months of salaries. Despite the discomfort that their rank and file must obviously be experiencing because of their situation, we find it remarkable that the NUT still managed to find room for civility and decorum. In its ultimatum, the body calmly appealed to the states involved to honour their financial commitments to the teachers within the stipulated time, failing which “we shall converge again and give a notice of action.”

We applaud the NUT for displaying the kind of verbal restraint and generosity of spirit that is sorely lacking in these sordid times. We do this cognizant of what its display of character means, considering what is currently at stake and the agony that teachers are being put though daily in different parts of the country. Here is a quick glimpse: currently, Benue State owes teachers in its public schools 10 months in back pay; Ekiti and Cross River owe six months each; Kogi has been paying half salary since 2013 and currently owes a total of 15 months. Ondo is in default to the tune of five months.

Furthermore, Abia owes five months; Osun has put its teachers on half salary for almost two years; Nasarawa has paid half salary for 18 months and Plateau has done the same since 2010. Adamawa and Bayelsa have paid half salary for the past four and eight and a half months respectively. Imo has been paying 70 per cent monthly salary, while Kwara owes its teachers four months in back salaries. Finally, Borno and Zamfara are yet to implement the national minimum wage.

This is a grim picture that speaks to something profoundly anomalous about the state of affairs in the country, and perhaps about Nigerians as a people. The real tragedy here concerns how what was once an aberration has been socially normalised almost seamlessly. Typically, the state governors blame their inability to discharge their fiscal responsibilities to teachers and other public servants on reduced income. For instance, they point to the continuing struggles of crude oil on the international market and how the reduction in federal allocation means that unpopular financial decisions have to be taken.

Yet, such appeals to understanding are immediately belied by the opulent lifestyles of the same executives, their wives, their close associates and their extended families. They live large (make that extra-large), while urging severe belt-tightening on the general public. They go abroad for medical checkups, yet drone on about the scarcity of funds. All this makes the plight of Nigerian teachers particularly hard to watch. It is hypocritical for state governors to demand commitment and service from their teachers whilst at the same time reducing them to total immiseration. How can a man or woman be expected to give his or her best to pupils when he or she has not been paid for months, and when the very attitude of the government unfailingly signals that he or she does not matter?

If something does not change, and soon, the entire edifice of public education in Nigeria will collapse. It is time state governors started taking teachers seriously. If education is the pillar of citizenship, teachers are the bedrock. We give our full and unqualified support to the NUT, and demand that the affected governors discharge their obligations to the teachers post haste.
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