By Amaka Abayomi, Gbenga Olarinoye, Daud Olatunji, Peter Duru, Bolu Obahopo & Marie-Therese Nanlong
TEACHERS’ take home pay actually used to take them home and they were paid as at when due. Then, the teaching profession was a noble one and teachers walked with pride wherever they went because of the important role they play in human and nation building.
The saying that teachers’ reward is in heaven seems to have taken literal meaning as teachers, who want their reward here on earth, are being owed salaries, and when they are paid, the money barely gets home with them as they have to settle the numerous debts they accrued while waiting for their salaries.
This is made worse by the backlog of unpaid salaries owed civil servants as 12 of the 36 states of the federation are owing their workers more than N110 billion, and worst hit are Osun, Rivers, Oyo, Ekiti, Kwara, Kogi, Ondo, Plateau, Benue and Bauchi states.
To make ends meet, teachers in most of these affected states have adopted different survival strategies, such as begging, seeking for loans, and handouts from charitable individuals and organisation, while most teachers have downed tools and are engaged in other ‘profitable’ ventures.
Jos teachers on half salaries
Teachers in Plateau State have been placed on half salaries for over three years now though most are yet to be captured in the biometric exercise which was initiated by the administration of the former Governor, Jonah Jang.
Primary teachers, whose salaries are paid by their respective Local Government Council, have received their salaries up to May, 2015, but some are being owed between seven to 15 months arrears, while teachers in secondary schools, who are being paid by the state government, are the worst hit as they have not been paid since November 2014.
Though Governor Simon Lalong has paid some of the backlog based on the agreement signed with the State Chapter, Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC which prompted the calling off of the strike action embarked upon by the workers, but teachers still lament that they are going through hard times and are earnestly looking forward to ‘genuine change’ which will better their lots.
According to a former Nigeria Union of Teachers, Jos North Chapter Chairman, Mr. Patrick Azi, “honestly, we are going through stress. We have been receiving this half salary for a long time. You can imagine what my family and I are going through. What we are collecting can’t meet our needs and we end up borrowing money we have difficulties repaying.”
Another teacher, Mrs. Halima Baraje said “I am passing through a lot but I am lucky I am getting this little as some of my colleagues are not getting any and we don’t even know the fate of those who are yet to be captured in the biometric. I can’t buy what I want and my children’s school fees are another headache as I am yet to complete the part payment I made.”
For a teacher with the St. Theresa’s Boys School, who doesn’t wants to be named said “we are going through hell. People will see teachers going to work yet we don’t achieve much because we are not well paid. This half salary is affecting us, this new government should look into the issue and address it.”
Osun teachers down tool
Teachers like other categories of workers in the state had in the last 8 weeks stayed off work in protest of several months unpaid salaries, allowances and issues bordering on contributory pension scheme. Since the state chairman, Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Comrade Jacob Adekomi, declared commencement of indefinite strike, activities in all public schools in the state have been grounded to a halt.
In a chat with our correspondent during a visit to a public school in Osogbo, some teachers said the strike had taken negative toll on them, saying as long as the industrial action persists, they are losing as much as their students.
A teacher in public school located in Testing Ground Area of Osogbo, said aside the economic loses, teachers are also losing academically as many teachers, because of the need for them to make ends meet, have to engage in other jobs, forcing them to relegate research work and academic activities to the background, a situation where both the teachers and students would bear the brunt.
Though a female teacher, Mrs. Olawoore, has been engaged in petty trading to keep her family going since the strike commenced, she, however expressed readiness to resume work, especially if the long vacation is canceled and third term extended till September to cover the lost ground.
Giving an overview of experience of teachers, the state chairman of Nigeria Union of Teachers, NUT, Comrade Wakeel Alade Amudah, said teachers are recording enormous loses because of the strike and the treasuries of many teachers have been emptied as co-operative societies are no longer functioning because salaries are not paid.
According to him, the prolonged industrial action would further affect poor performance of students in public examination, especially in the junior class as the senior secondary school students have completed the syllabus before the strike started.
While hoping for quick resolutions of the industrial unrest in the state, Amuda said “we are ready to teach whenever the strike is called off. Whether we are well treated or not, we owe the society the duty to pass knowledge and train young ones.”
Kogi teachers protest
Primary school teachers in Kogi State have been having a running battle with the state government over many months of salary arrears. Though the teachers are still in school, but there has been a lot of strike actions and mass protests by these teachers who keep threatening the state government to embark on another strike.
However, the State Universal Basic Education Board, SUBEB, has promised to settle the salary crisis of the basic teachers.
Benue teachers sell off property
The story is same in Benue State where civil servant and teachers are currently being owed about seven months salaries while the pensioners in the last ten months have also not received their monthly retirement benefits and this has grounded social, academic and economic activities in the state.
While the situation has led to the untimely deaths of yet to be ascertained number of civil servants and pensioners alike, many have resorted to selling off their property so as to make ends meet. A worker at the state Ministry of Education said most civil servants and teachers in the state are passing through the most difficult time of their lives in the history of the state.
He said “never in the history of the Benue State have we passed through this type of anguish due to the non payment of salaries. As you know, this is a civil service state which means that any delay in the payment of salaries would have far reaching implication on the economic live of the state.
“At the moment, businesses have all been grounded due to low patronage and most of our children are not going to school because we cannot afford to pay fees, though some private school owners have been magnanimous enough to allow our children attend school pending the payment of salaries.
“Public school teachers are not on strike over the matter but most of them report to work without any zeal to work thereby leaving our children unattended to, but no one can blame them for their actions.
“Most state owned tertiary institutions including the Benue State University are on strike as a result of this and our children are forced to remain at home. Some parents have also resorted to having their children hawk petty items on the streets as a means of survival. The most painful aspect of it all is that some of us are now selling off our property because you cannot keep such property while the needs of your family cannot be met.”
Reacting, the Benue state chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Comrade Godwin Anya, who said the governor has promised to pay salaries, added workers are facing the most difficult time of their lives and many have taken up some other activities to make ends meet.
Ogun teachers demoralised
Though the Ogun State government is not owing workers’ salaries, but hundreds of public school teachers in the state have been caught up in the eight months outstanding of deductions as the state government’s inability to pay the deductions and some other allowances, including unions dues, has inflicted serious pains on public school teachers in the state.
Some of the teachers said the non-payment has demoralised them and they have lost the zeal to teach as their plans to build their future have been distorted.
Explaining on condition of anonymity, some teachers had approached some cooperatives societies and obtained loans which are to be deducted from source, but their creditors are now on their necks to repay, a step which has become impossible as a result of the outstanding deductions.
According to a primary school teacher, “I applied for some loans from a cooperative society to settle some pressing needs but I am in a fixed now as the deductions are not being remitted to the Society. This has affected our performance and we don’t pay adequate attention to our students because we have to look for means of survival.
Meanwhile, the teachers have vowed to down tools until they are paid while the crippled NUT and Academic Staff Union of Secondary Schools, who are owing their staff, have suspended their activities until the union dues are paid from the deductions.
FG to the rescue
There is light at the end of the tunnel as the President, Muhammadu Buhari, has approved a comprehensive relief package to end the back-breaking burden of unpaid workers’ salaries in several states.
A Central Bank of Nigeria-packaged special intervention fund that will offer financing to the states, ranging from between N250bn and N300bn, would act as a soft loan states can access to pay the backlog of salaries.
By extending the commercial loans of the states, more funds would be made available to the state governments, which otherwise would have been claimed at source by the banks.