You rose from being Kebbi State Chairman to National President of NUT. What has been your experience?
I served for eight years as the chairman of NUT in Kebbi state before I became the national treasurer. With God on our side, I was elected as the National President of our union. I am just one year old in office. The only difference now is that as the state chairman, you only control affairs of a state but as the National President, you are expected to champion the struggles of 36 states and FCT.
After our election, my office along with my executive embarked on serious efforts to improve on teachers welfare. We have many challenges like non- payment of primary schools teachers salaries across the federation. We felt, we cannot continue to fold our arms and watch our teachers denied of their entitlements. We have situations whereby some states are paying teachers salaries by percentages. Also, we have few states paying secondary schools teachers salaries by percentages. We concluded that these discrepancies can not continue. With God on our side, we have been able to correct these anomalies, it might not be 100 percent, but few states have adjusted due to our pressure. Our members have such problem in States like Osun, Zamfara, Abia and Benue.
You can imagine, while we are talking about falling standard of education, how could we improve the standard when teachers’ salaries are not paid? We confronted these states governors and we told them if they were not ready to pay teachers’ salaries, we shall shut down their states. We employed confrontation because our members who were on half or quarter salaries monthly couldn’t embark on industrial action because they see the students as their children. If they embarked on strike, their future might be in jeopardy. So, we reached an agreement with these governors and where we have disagreement, these areas are now being addressed.
What other measures is NUT taking to address other challenges in Nigerian schools?
We also observed that primary school has Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), which is taking care of primary school teachers. Therefore, there is a long agitation by the NUT that Federal Government must set up a Commission for secondary schools, which would be regulating its teachers. Just like we have NUC regulating universities, National Council of Colleges of Education and Polytechnics have their Commission.
So, we have been battling this issue until recently that President Buhari listened to us and approved Secondary Schools Commission. Both NUT and the Federal Government through the Federal Ministry of Education will continue to team up to achieve that nobody in the education sector is short – changed especially our secondary school teachers. Now, what we are trying to do is to ensure that by 2020, the Secondary Schools Commission will take off.
Again, we discovered that the Federal Government had approved extension of service years for Universities, Polytechnic lecturers to 65 years. Why not Secondary and Primary teachers? Many of our teachers are retiring without replacement, leaving a huge vacuum in teaching profession. We felt, if urgent action is not taken, our students will be in schools without enough teachers. We believe we deserve that gesture. Service years of teachers in Secondary and Primary schools must also be extended to about 65 years or above. We have embarked on that and a bill on such gesture had been sent to Mr. President for assent.
It is observed that some states are not recruiting new teachers. Is your union involved or taken along in the process?
About 20 states in Nigeria did not recruit teachers in the last five to ten years. If you go to our rural areas, villages across Nigeria, our classrooms are full of students without teachers. That is a big problem. We have met the affected state governors and they reasoned with us on the need to recruit new teachers. If they couldn’t recruit new teachers, the service years of retiring teachers should be extended.
How do you feel about the delay in the implementation of the N30,000 new minimum wage?
All the struggles on the realisation of new minimum wage were done alongside with NUT and NLC. There is no way we would allow our members to be suffering. We are awaiting the final circular on this new minimum wage of N30,000 and consequential adjustment. Once the circular is out, we shall sit down with states governors on how best to implement it.
How do you ensure strict adherence by state governments to recruitment of professional teachers? It was observed that many teachers were employed by government but they were not professional teachers.
We are members of Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN). The Council is the baby of NUT based on history because many of our members contributed to its establishment. We are disturbed about the development and this can not happen in other professions. You cannot be practising as a lawyer without being a member of NBA. The same thing with Medical Doctors, they can’t be practising without being licensed by Medical Council and being members of NMA. So, the questions now are; who licensed them to be practising as teachers? Who employed them and sent them to classrooms? We knew that they don’t just wake up one day and find themselves in classrooms. If they were quack teachers, then, governments know how to flush them out of the system.
We in NUT, we would never support any teacher without professional qualifications, and not registered teachers with TRCN. Thank God, the deadline for all teachers to be registered with TRCN is 31st December, 2019. Any teacher without license would be flushed out from the system. So, we are part of this decision and we stand by it. We have been engaging unqualified teachers to go for professional qualifications and register with TRCN for some years now. So, 31st December, 2019 is the deadline and whatever TRCN do thereafter, NUT would be solidly behind the Council.
What about proprietors of private schools? How would the Council, and the NUT enforce this deadline on them?
They are falling in- line with this deadline. TRCN discovered that over 77,000 who are unprofessional teachers in Nigeria are going to sit for professional qualification exam which would be conducted by the Council. Out of these figures, over 40 percent of them were from private schools. So, both private and public schools are complying with the directive.
Are you satisfied with the standard and the system of education in Nigeria?
Nobody will tell you he or she is satisfied with the current situation. Education issue has to be collective responsibility because government cannot do it alone. Right now, they told us that primary school education is the sole responsibility of Local Governments. But the Supreme Court judgement of 2002 pronounced that the responsibility of primary schools rests on the shoulder of State Governments, and that Local Governments should be participating. So, if they say Local Governments should be participating, they should not be shouldering the responsibilities. Just look at the manner ASUU has been struggling with the Federal Government. Today, they will agree, tomorrow, they will disagree. When it is time to implement the agreement, Federal Government will renege. That is why we are experiencing lingering crises in our universities and many parents are enrolling their children in foreign and private universities. No parent would be happy seeing their child spending seven to eight years in a university instead of four or five years. Therefore, the problems in our education sector could be resolved if individuals, corporate organizations and governments can come together, provide funds, facilities and other infrastructures to stabilize our education and ensure it’s the best on the African continent.
As a stakeholder in the education sector, what is your view on sex for marks in Nigerian’s universities and how do you think the menace could be curbed?
Both students and lecturers are to share the blames. This social vice has been there for long time because there was no concrete punishment for the culprits. Now that Federal Government through NUC and other regulating bodies are taking actions, the menace will be reduced. Now, the erring lecturers are being sacked, sentenced to prison. I believe, this will go a long way to instill discipline and sanity in our tertiary institutions.