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Teachers groan in Delta State

FOR several months now, teachers in public primary schools in Delta State have gone on without salaries. Those in the secondary schools are a little luckier in that they are being owed about three months cumulatively. For other civil servants in the state, the debt problem is also a major worry as salaries and allowances are being paid in bits and pieces.

The state government had decided to stagger the payment of salaries by either skipping some allowances, months or grade levels. Reports have it that workers on lower salary levels are being paid while those on higher grades are delayed. In July, academic and non-academic staff unions of the Delta State University, Abraka addressed a press conference where they claimed the government had not paid salaries to the university workers since May 2016. The Chairman of the university’s chapter of the Academic Staff Union of universities,ASUU, Professor Abel Diakparomre was quoted as saying that,”we wish to categorically state that in the event of members inability to participate in the examination or to discharge their responsibilities, the unions will protect their members against any attempt by either the university administration or government to prefer charges against them for dereliction of duty because nobody can work on an empty stomach and the Bible enjoins the employer to pay employees because the labourer deserves his wages.”

The summary is that life for the state’s public workers is dreary indeed, especially at a time when spiraling inflation has made nonsense of wages and salaries.

The state’s lethargy in meeting its obligation to workers has got the state branch of the Nigerian Union of Teachers,NUT, agitated. Last month the state NUT branch asked the governor to intervene, especially in the welfare of teachers at the primary level. In the communiqué signed by its chairman Comrade J.O. Jemerigbe, State Publicity Secretary, Comrade A.L. Okogba and the Principal Assistant Secretary-General Comrade Joe Iyalekhue, the union said apart from the non-payment of salaries, the government has not effected the 2014 and 2015 promotion arrears of teachers at the primary and secondary levels and is withholding the 2016 promotion of teachers in the state. If the Okowa regime fails to do the needful and meet the workers’ expectations there are fears that schools in Delta State will not resume for the 2016/17 School season due to take off this September.

The impact on the state will be bad enough. In the recently released 2016 WAEC School Certificate examinations, Delta State placed eighth after states with lesser resources such as Abia, which was first, Anambra at the second position, Edo State third and Bayelsa seventh position. For a state known for its learning ability , that was a new low for Delta and not being able to meet up with the basic needs of teachers would not help.

Explaining the state’s difficulty with meeting its obligations, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa said in July that the problem is due to dwindling revenue to the state from the federation account. The governor’s explanation came in the wake of the disruption and reduction of crude oil exports from oil fields in the state by militants. This has reduced the state’s share of the derivation income.

The state government says it has lost up to half of its income to the global oil price slump and reduced export volume but is hard put explaining why poorer states like Zamfara and Cross River are able to pay their workers. That argument in itself is difficult to understand, given that the 13 percent derivation income is for oil-bearing communities and not an income to the entire state. So, if Delta State had no oil, like Zamfara State, would it not be able to provide basic governance?

Cross River State is particularly impressive. The state is not reckoned as a major oil producing state and so gets very low federal income, despite being in the South-South region. Interestingly, Cross River does not owe salaries and Governor Ben Ayade, who is also of the Peoples Democratic Party ,PDP, as Okowa, made a statement of paying the public workers their May salaries on the 1st of May during the May Day public rally. In addition, Cross River has commenced an ambitious infrastructure project to change the face of the state. Its monorail in Calabar was completed in just about a year and a major highway has been started, flagged off by President Muhammadu Buhari last year. The glaring absence of ongoing government projects in Delta State has led many to believe that Governor Okowa needs to find a better excuse for why workers are owed salaries. What, if one may ask, does the state government do with its oil income and internal revenue, considering that in neighbouring Edo State, which has fewer oil wells, salaries have been raised and are paid promptly? It is something Governor Okowa must ponder, especially in the wake of his very large political cabinet of several commissioners, special advisers, senior special assistants and special assistants duplicating functions and offices. While the state government claims that its large army of political appointees is not adequately catered for, Deltans wonder what  informs such a massive duplication of political offices and engagement ofmyriad aides to the governor at a time of financial difficulties. Does this not say something of Okowa’s capacity to govern?

Governor Okowa will have a rough ride if he chooses to ignore paying public sector workers and if he continues to play with issues of governance.

That Delta State is one of the laggards in meeting its obligation to workers is definitely a letdown because right from the return of democracy in 1999, the state has been at the forefront of workers’ welfare. Through all the campaigns of the labour unions under the Nigerian Labour Congress from 1999 Delta was one of the very few states that paid the federal minimum wage. This was established in the administration of Governor James Ibori who governed the state from 1999 to 2007 and continued under Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan who was governor from 2007 to 2015 when Okowa took over. Interestingly, Governor Okowa was a member of both cabinets as commissioner and then as SSG. So what has gone so wrong in just one year and a half?

Governor Okowa must put on his thinking cap and learn from his predecessors.

The state government has to get down to handling issues of governance. The excuse of shortage of revenue is not enough, knowing that Delta State is oneofthe top earnersofInternally Generated Revenue (IGR) and gets one of the largest allocations from the federation account. For a state rated as one of the best in educational performance, sports and creativity among the states in the federation, going down the ladder is not an option.

Mr. Chukwuebuka Onyemenem, a teacher, wrote from Kwale, Delta State.

 


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