BusinessDay

WTD 2022: Buhari’s promises to teachers yet to materialise

Primary and secondary school teachers across the country are yet to enjoy the improved welfare packages President Muhammadu Buhari promised and approved two years ago, as findings show that implementation has continued to drag.

At an event to mark World Teachers Day (WTD) in October 2020, President Buhari announced new incentives to reward teachers, including a special salary structure, allowances, an upward review of their retirement age from 60 to 65 and service years from 35 to 40, payment of fees of teachers’ children, and low-cost houses for them.

Buhari had approved these packages after over two decades of struggle, agitations, and strike actions for improved welfare by teachers.

Last year, the Nigerian government assured teachers at the 2021 WTD that they were ready to start implementing the packages by January this year, but has yet to do so.

As Nigeria joins the world in marking the 2022 WTD today, themed ‘The Transformation of Education Begins with Teachers’, teachers who spoke to BusinessDay lamented their long wait and doubt whether the long-awaited incentives would ever materialise.

The teachers are particularly worried that if implementation fails to kick off before the Buhari-led administration winds up, it could result in another round of struggle and agitations, owing to the age-long problem of lack of continuity in governance.

The federal government said it had commenced the implementation of the upward review of service years and retirement age for teachers.

But BusinessDay gathered that despite the passage of the Harmonised Retirement Age for Teachers Act, 2022, teachers are still being retired at the age of 60 and after 35 years of service.

Mike Ike Ene, secretary-general of the Nigerian Union Teachers (NUT), in an interview with BusinessDay, said both the retirement age and duration of service had not been implemented because the Act has not been gazetted by the federal government. According to him, gazetting the bill is the only way to compel states to implement the law.

The secretary-general lamented that bureaucracy and the lack of political will have remained the major stumbling blocks.

He said: “This administration is winding up, not much has been made based on the promises. The gazette is to give a number so that it can become a law of the federation. But, unfortunately, it’s the bureaucracy of the government. Gazetting is done by the federal ministry of justice, so we are appealing to them to do the gazetting.

“Once it is gazetted, a circular can follow it where we can send it to all state governments. At that point, it becomes a law of the federation and nobody can begin to drag his or her leg on implementation.”

On the special salary, the federal government inaugurated what it called ‘National Implementation Committee on the revitalisation and repositioning of the teaching profession in Nigeria’ to work out the special salary scale and other incentives for teachers in basic and secondary schools.

With the new salary structure, the minimum salary for teachers was pegged between N150,000 and N300,00 monthly as against the current salary of about N49,000.

The NUT secretary general disclosed that the committee last met in 2021 and had yet to come up with its resolution which would then form the legislation to drive the implementation of the salary scale. According to him, the process of getting the legislation is still a long way as it would have to pass through the legislative process.

On progress made so far, he said: “When the committee last met, we sent people to all the states to collect the salary structure of every state because we took into cognizance the high, mid and low to get an average. We considered the inequality of states.”

Ene said the Wages and Salaries Commission, which is a member of the committee, is expected to present the final agreements before further progress can be made.

“Again, this administration is winding down, and if we don’t take time, that aspect will slip over this administration and we have to start afresh. The underlying word is political will,” he said.

He said the union was initially pushing for the building of teachers’ quarters in schools but decided to shelve it due to the prevailing insecurity in the country.

“Days are gone when building teachers quarters is noble because of the kidnappings in our various schools, where bandits will enter and kidnap pupils as well as teachers. So it is no longer popular; we are playing down on that one,” Ene said.

Lubabatu Sani, a primary school teacher in a government school in Abuja, raised concern about the poor working conditions which she and her colleagues have had to face.

“Nothing has changed; it’s the same thing. The salary is still very poor and we don’t have any allowances. Nothing has changed; the government just raised our hopes for nothing. Education is nothing to them. It is unfortunate because if teachers are not taken care of, how can they impart quality knowledge on the children? Government must start taking us seriously because without knowledge, countries will be in darkness,” she said.

Read also: Teachers hail Obaseki, SUBEB for investment in education

While the processes of implementation of Buhari’s promises have continued to drag, data from the NUT show that teachers in primary and secondary schools across 21 states are still earning below N30,000 due to the failure of state governments to implement the national minimum the President signed into law three years ago.

Other incentives promised by Buhari include: increase in rural posting allowance, science teachers’ allowance, peculiar allowance, automatic employment of Nigerian Certificate in Education (NCE) and Bachelor of Education (B.Ed) students upon graduation, prompt payment of salaries and timely promotion to eliminate stagnation, and sponsorship of teachers.

Princewill Anyalewechi, a former director at the ministry of education, expressed concern that the packages promised teachers may suffer the same fate as the national minimum wage.

He also worried that even if these incentives were successfully implemented, only federal government workers were likely to enjoy it and not teachers in states.

Also, Stephen Knabayi, chairman of the Federal Capital Territory branch of the NUT, said if implementation could drag this much at the national level, it may suffer worse fate at the state level.

The chairman, at a press briefing ahead of the 2022 WTD in Abuja, urged the government to ensure supervision so that implementation would be done at the state level.

At the 77th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), Buhari told world leaders that no country can develop beyond the capacity of its educational system. He said it would be difficult to have a meaningful conversation around transforming the national education systems without transforming the teaching profession.

He spoke while delivering Nigeria’s statement at the Transforming Education Summit organised on the margins of UNGA.

“As we are aware, improving equitable and inclusive access to quality educational opportunities is germane to ensuring the full development of our societies,” he had said.

While approving the packages for teachers in 2020, Buhari said only great teachers could produce excellent people and students that would make the future of Nigeria great.

“I am aware that the status and stature of teachers in Nigeria are currently at their lowest ebb. The government notes the emergency situation in our educational system with particular reference to the dearth of qualified and dedicated teachers to enhance the quality of teaching and learning at all levels of our educational system and the need to ensure that our graduates are globally competitive have become more compelling in the circumstance,” he had said.

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