The negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have continued to bite harder on Nigerians daily. Unarguably, the outbreak of the disease has brought massive disruptions on people’s sources of livelihoods.
In Nigeria, among the worst hit individuals, without a doubt, are teachers, particularly those who teach in private schools. Some of them who spoke to Daily Sun complained bitterly that starvation has become their uninvited companion due to closure of schools by the government and the inability of their employers to pay their salaries. The government had taken the decision to flatten the curve of the pandemic.
Following the directive of government that schools should remain closed, which has remained so for about four months, teachers and other workers in the academic environment have been at the receiving end of the decision. Many of them have virtually become beggars just to have food on their tables.
As the reporter sought how the affected teachers have been surviving the harsh reality, they held back nothing while pouring out their enduring anguish. According to them, their suffering has become unbearable even as they called on government and other concerned authorities to quickly intervene.
Most private school owners in Lagos and other states have not paid their staff any amount since April. There are other proprietors who chose to be paying their staff 50 per cent or less, while others simply give out some stipends and tagged them “palliatives.”
The proprietors’ reasons are easily explainable. Their defence is that so long as parents have not paid or seen any reason to pay school fees, the schools in turn cannot perform the magic of paying staffers. Some school owners have repeatedly said that they don’t run charitable organisations. Many people cannot but agree with the proprietors. But other analysts have argued that the teachers shouldn’t be left without being paid. Their argument is that the categories of workers that have diligently served their organisations for years should be paid for as many months as possible until normalcy returns to the country and the world.
Mrs. Esther Ekundayo has been a teacher for eight years at a private school in Lagos. She had always received her salary without delay, until COVID-19 came and changed the narrative.
Said she: “The continuous closure has really affected me in many ways. Staying home all day doing little or nothing is terrible, though I do online classes to keep body and soul together. I am struggling to meet my financial obligations because my school has stopped paying us.
“I am now gathering excessive weight despite everyday workout. Apart from teaching, I was also running a personal business after school hours. But there are so many debtors now because most of my customers are students, parents and colleagues at work.
“Waking up to the fact that the closure is indefinite is tiring. It shouldn’t be so. I hope government is aware that there could be psychological implications to what they are doing. Many students of these days need to be pampered before settling down to learn. Keeping them at home for this long might as well affect their academic focus.
“I would have preferred that government hold extensive meetings and consultations with the stakeholders in the education sector, and put some measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus in schools.
“The school is an organised institution; if reopened, all preventive measures will be put in place, especially in private schools. Government should know that these kids at home are vulnerable to more social vices and danger. I am sure that some of the students might now be thinking that academics are not that important anymore.”
Also, a teacher at a private school in Upper Sakponba, Benin City, the capital of Edo State, Mr. Amieghe Idahosa Emmanuel, said the closure of schools has dealt him and his household a demoralising blow.
He said, in as much as he was concerned about the safety of schoolchildren, the closure of schools was a serious indicator of how the nation values education in Nigeria. He said Nigerian leaders and the political institutions have no regard for teachers.
His words: “We know they said, for the sake of the young ones, that we should stay at home. I know that it is not peculiar to Nigeria. But Nigeria fails to realise that academic activities continued smoothly and uninterrupted in most countries. This is what we cannot achieve as a country due to so many factors.
“At the end, we the teachers are left to bear the brunt of their decisions. The period from March till this moment has been extremely tough for my colleagues and myself. We were complaining that what we were earning before now was meagre; it became totally hellish and more tormenting when nothing was being earned month in, month out.
“But I notice that other sectors outside education have resumed gradually, yet teachers are at home dying of hunger. The hottest part of the heat is on private school teachers, who have been told by their different proprietors to stay at home with a no-pay arrangement. Surviving has not been easy. To make everything worse, the prices of food items in the market have skyrocketed.”
Emmanuel added that the teaching profession is one job that unemployed youths kindly adjust to after the stress of failed interviews in desired sectors. He said that private education offers 75 per cent employment rate in Nigeria. He lamented that teachers are not valued and considered significant to nation-building in this part of the world.
“The continuous closure of school is quite abysmal and laughable. The government is confused about school resumption but still allows political activities of large gatherings.
“As a teacher, I have felt real suffering and setbacks. My plan was ruined. I had to go back to my table to plan afresh. With the stoppage of my meagre salary, now I can’t even feed my family and myself. I am not happy at all. Just imagine the endless delays.
“However, I have decided to learn new skills and other ways of making money. If the government will not help, I have to support myself by learning and relearning. With the COVID-19 pandemic still on ground, I guess things will not go back to normal in a long while,” he said.
Also, Mr. Olumide Dotun, who teaches Physics and Chemistry at a private school in Alimosho Local Government Area (LGA) of Lagos, told the reporter that the situation had become frightening as no one could tell exactly when schools would reopen in Nigeria. He said it was clear that the unplanned holiday was not a sprint race, but a marathon.
“I have a wife and three children who depend on my salary that has been stopped since April. It is not funny. I hate begging for things I could ordinary achieve on my own. But feeding is no longer possible in my household without seeking assistance from family members and friends. How long can this continue?
“The last payment I received from my school in May was N10,000. They called it palliative. I cannot blame my employer because not even one student in my class has paid school fees despite the fact that we gave them online lectures for about one month. I know that private schools survive primarily on earnings from their customers.
“I have three friends and a relative who are teaching in government-owned schools. They have been collecting their salaries in full. We are living in the same country and are in the same profession. The government needs to do something about the whole thing to prevent people from taking absurd decisions out of frustration,” Dotun said.
Mrs. Glory O. Eghowanre was apparently sad. She said, since the closure, her monthly salary has been stopped, thereby making it difficult for her to fend for herself.
Tired of waiting for schools to resume, she had to resort to doing odds jobs to keep body and soul together. She needed to do so because she was not used to idleness.
“I couldn’t bear a situation whereby family members and friends now look at you as a beggar any time they see your call. May God help me even as I endure the hardship of school closure.
“The pupils are not left out in this suffering. Most of them are now hawkers of different articles for their parents. Some of the young ladies have become victims of rape in the course of hawking. Academically, the pupils are back to square one. They have forgotten the little they have learnt before the closure,” Eghowanre said.
But Mrs. Kikelomo Dare, who is also a teacher in a private school, differed in her submission. She said that the country shouldn’t endanger the lives of children or teachers and other individuals who work in schools for whatever economic reason.
When asked how she has been coping since March, she said that her school was paying all the teaching staff 50 per cent of their salary while they work from home with the help of the online platform.
Agreeing with Dare’s position, Toyin Omotoso said: “It is pertinent that government should continue the closure of schools. This is not because it doesn’t affect me negatively as a private school teacher though. For the past few months now, I have not received one kobo as salary.
“The closure must continue in order to protect both the teachers and students until the virus is curtailed. We cannot force the government to open schools because of our biased mind and greed. We should consider mostly the nursery and primary pupils. What do they know about social distancing?”
As the suffering and groaning continue unabated for months, many teachers have to resign to try their hands at menial jobs and quick turnover businesses that can put food on their tables.
Some teachers, particularly those with big private schools, have accused their employers of using the opportunity of the closure to deny them their salaries. They are grumbling that they could be paid some percentage of their salary, against leaving them with nothing to survive on.
Many schools have reportedly advised teachers and other workers to stay at home and expect no pay till school reopens. Some teachers who render skeletal online teaching to keep the students busy, are not paid either.
Mrs. Fatimah Hassan, who lives in Iju, on the outskirts of Lagos, said she started home lessons for students in front of her house for a fee as a way of survival. She thanked God for being able to get some stipends to feed her family since her proprietor stopped paying in April.
She said that she receives about 25 pupils who pay N100 each per day. At the end of every week, she boasts of N12,500, which she said could go a long way in meeting some of her crucial needs.
Also heeding survival instincts are Mr. Ademola Adetomiwa and his wife, Florence, who are both teachers in different private schools in Meiran community in Agbado Oke-Odo Local Council Development Area of Lagos.
Not waiting until they were completely devastated by the attendant hunger due to stoppage of their salaries since March, they quickly set up home lessons at a football viewing centre near their house. The husband teaches secondary school students while his wife handles pupils in nursery and primary classes.
“All that matter to us at the moment is to feed while every other thing has been suspended indefinitely. The money we are making here is not much but we don’t have to beg before we eat. My house rent expired last month. I thank God that my landlord, out of understanding or pity, gave us three months of grace to figure out how to pay the money,” Adetomiwa told Daily Sun.
In a chat with the reporter, the national president of National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS), Chief Yomi Otubela, appreciated the efforts of both the Federal Government and various state governments in their bid to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
To stop the suffering that is being experienced by the teachers, he assured everyone that private schools were fully prepared for school reopening with various safety materials to safeguard the health of individuals within the school environments coupled with strict adherence to safety guidelines.
On government’s intervention, he said: “NAPPS has engaged the Federal Government through the Economic Sustainability Committee on the need to support private schools to cushion the effect of COVID-19 pandemic on us. Our justification for requesting palliatives from Federal Government was born out of the fact that the abrupt closure of schools, unfortunately, brought a lot of untold hardship to private school owners who rely heavily on school fees to meet up with obligations.”