By Funmi Komolafe

The on-going strike by teachers in Kaduna State, which was a reaction to the termination of the appointment of not less than 20,000 teachers by the Kaduna State Government, has stirred up controversy on who is right and who is not.

Labour organised its protest to register its displeasure on the exercise and to put pressure on the Kaduna State Government to rescind its decision on the sack of the teachers while another group which claims to represent the interest of parents and other unnamed stakeholders, held a protest march against the striking teachers.

Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State

As a keen observer of Labour, one cannot but commend organised labour for the successful outing despite the intimidation from the state agents and the state government.

However, the issue remains unresolved.  An endless strike will not resolve the issue.

The origin of the labour dispute between the Kaduna State Government and the Nigeria Union of Teachers, NUT, is the competency test, which the state held for its teachers. No one, not even organised labour, can question the right of an employer to assess its employees. In this case, the Kaduna State Government as an employer of the teachers has every right to do so but the question is, how  was it done?

Was it right for the state government to assess the teachers without the input of the Teachers’ Institute, which is based in Kaduna? Were the assessors professional teachers? Was sack the only option for the state government?

These are the issues that led to the dispute, the climax of which was the sack of 21,000 teachers by the Kaduna State Government.

Organised labour’s grievance is also compounded by  the sack of 4,000 local government employees by the Kaduna State Government.

NLC president, Comrade Ayuba  Wabba not only criticised the action of the Kaduna State Governor but pointed out his failure to adhere to the legal procedures for declaring redundancy.

Wabba wrote: “The purported sack violates the provisions of all known labour laws and industrial relations practice as well as processes.”

He described the reasons given by the governor as “spurious and unfounded.”

The NLC president wrote: “Aside from this, the process is patently faulty and unlawful. For instance, redundancy cannot be carried out without following the provisions of the Labour Act.”

Kaduna state governor, Nasir El- Rufai on his part, has vowed that he would not restore the sacked teachers to the classroom. Rather, he said, he could train the sacked teachers to do something else but not teaching.

The governor said his aim was to “restore the quality of public education.”

Governor El-Rufai said that new teachers are already being recruited to replace the sacked teachers. So, does it mean the Governor has no respect for the arbitration process which has legal backing?

Not only that, he warned that all those who participated would be sanctioned.

Honestly, there is nothing wrong with putting in place a better education system but it appears that Governor Nasir el-Rufai has contempt for organised labour. I recall that during his days as minister of the Federal Capital Territory, workers in his ministry embarked on strike over some labour issues.

He invited the union leaders for a meeting and everyone thought he was ready for peace.

Once the labour leaders arrived in his office, he called in the police to arrest them.

Any keen observer of labour events in Kaduna State would ask, why Kaduna again?

The present Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Col. (retd) Hammed Ali had the unenviable record of sacking 21,000 workers from the Kaduna State civil service during his tenure as administrator of Kaduna State.

Governor el- Rufai’s statement that “trade unions protect their narrow interest and not national interest,” is to say the least not just untrue but an underestimation of organised labour’s input to the development of our nation. Without the contributions of organised labour, Nigeria would not have gotten her independence at the time she did.

Truly, no union can force an employee on an employer but the Kaduna State Government should have met with the NUT before it decided to sack the teachers.

However, some have observed that the competency test was not also competently conducted. There were claims that the test itself was error-ridden. Had professional teachers been involved in the exercise, the state government would have saved itself the current labour crisis.

Perhaps more worrisome is the assertion of the NLC president that the Kaduna State Government might have been forced to reduce its work force “in furtherance of dangerous neo-liberal policies.”

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