By Adesina Wahab
This year’s Teachers’ Day cel-ebration in Nigeria was a different one, as the celebration witnessed the pronouncement by President Muhammadu Buhari of some policies designed to enhance teachers’ welfare and make their job attractive, and to also retain good hands in the profession.
The policies enunciated by the President included raising the retirement age of teachers from 60 to 65, years of service from 35 to 40, implementation of Teachers Salary Scale, payment of bursary to education students, funding of teaching practice by TETFund, special teachers’ pensions scheme, low cost housing schemes for teachers in rural areas, among others.
However, education being on the Concurrent List in the 1999 Constitution, is threatening to make the implementation of the policies a one-sided affair, that is, only teachers in the employ of the Federal Government are sure to benefit from the goodies, as states appear reluctant to implement same.
The FG seems poised to implement the policies for its teachers and getting the 36 state governors to key in is an herculean task.
Responses from across the states, when the President announced the goodies varied, but showed that it could be difficult to convince some states.
The Kano State Commissioner for Education, Muhammad Sanusi Kiru, said the state government would look at the new policies critically before deciding on what to do.
The Delta State Commissioner for Basic and Secondary Education, Chief Patrick Ukah, said the state would also study the development.
The Edo State Commissioner for Education, Jimoh Igiegbai, said the state already had Edobest Programme and would even do better than the FG.
Hiding under Concurrent List constitutional status
Like the implementation of tne new Mimimum Wage, some states are insisting that the FG cannot dictate how much they pay their workers. Sensing this, the Nigeria Union of Teachers, NUT, is not resting on its oars. The National Secretary-General, Comrade Mike Ene, told our correspodent that the implementation of the TSS would be across all the states of the federation.
He said the union would not take any excuse from state governors who have been saying that the Federal Government could not tell them what to do regarding education as the states too have constitutional rights to legislate or draw policies regarding education without recourse to whatever the FG would do or plans to do.
Ene noted that going by available data, teachers in the employ of state governments more than triple the figures of those working in federal schools, saying if states fail to implement the new policies, majority of his members would lose out.
“President Muhammadu Buhari has fired the first bullet. When it comes to implementing the payment of the new salary structure, we know what to do. Then we will know how concurrent the Concurrent List is. The President spoke to all during the World Teachers’ Day and teachers, whether in the employ of state or Federal Government are involved. Nobody should come up with the excuse of ‘no money to pay’. There is money in this country, people are only afraid to use their intellect and get the needed results. Nigerians do excel outside the country because they are motivated to put on their thinking caps. Education remains the key to the development of our country.
“The present situation whereby some states are defaulting in paying the N30,000 minimum wage to teachers will not be allowed this time around. Already, we are beginning to engage state governors using social dialogue, but if they prove recalcitrant, we know what to do,” he said.
Asked where the union expected the state and federal governments to raise funds to meet this new obligation, Ene said it was a matter of priority.
“From cradle to death, life is full of struggles. As a person, if you structure what you want to do in life, you will find out that some of your ambitions will not mean anything in the face of scarce resources and that will lead you to set priority. There is a lot of wastage in the public sector, the government should block such and accord the necessary priority to education. We are lagging behind as a nation because of the poor attention given to education,” he added.
The NUT national scribe explained that the FG was yet to come out with details of the new policies announced by the President, but suggested that the National Assembly should help give legal backing to the pronouncement made by Buhari.
“The eighth National Assembly passed a bill on the TSS and the retirement age for teachers, but it was not assented to by the President. The current National Assembly can expand the Act setting up the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria, TRCN, to ensure that it is only teachers registered by the Council that can benefit from the TSS and the new retirement age.
“Also, the National Assembly can hasten the process by giving that passed bill a concurrent hearing which will not make the bill to go through first and second readings,” he said.
The role of TRCN
The National Treasurer of the NUT, Comrade Segun Raheem, said the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria, TRCN, is helping to make teaching really professional. “Professionalism is what we want. Teaching has passed through a lot. Act 31 of 1993 set up the TRCN and teaching became a profession in the real sense of it. All these goodies we are talking about are for a teacher that is registered and licensed by the TRCN. Even the memo presented to the Presidency that got us these goodies was put together by the NUT, TRCN, National Teachers Institute, the Federal Ministry of Education among others,” he said.
As part of the efforts at sanitising the teaching profession, the TRCN stepped up its weeding out of unlicensed and unqualified teachers early this year before the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic. led to the closure of schools.
Why teachers’ welfare is important
In a recent interview with Vanguard, the National President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, said education is more than a social service, describing it as an investment. He noted that not until adequate attention is given the sector, would the nation be able to develop.
“We should provide good and adequate facilities for teachers and learners. In those days, we used to attract foreign students and lecturers into our universities, but now the reverse is the case. If the teachers are not well taken care of, who will come here to teach? Just as if the atmosphere for learning is also not conducive, who will come here to learn? Our level of development is tied to what happens in the education sector,” he said.
A parent, Mr Funso Olakunle, opined that federal and state governments must not play politics with the implementation of the TSS and other recently-announced policies. “The recent #EndSARS protest has even shown us the gains in being educated. The protest ran for over a week without any violence because those involved were educated. The protesters did many things never seen before in the country. They cleaned up their venues, were well-organised and behaved as their brothers’ keepers.
“Things changed when hoodlums and the not-so-educated hijacked the process. Look at those who went looting and what some of them looted. Education played a part and teachers are pivotal in that sector. No federal or state government official should handle education and teachers’ welfare with levity if we want peace and progress in Nigeria,” he said.