DR. MOHAMMED Nasir Idris was elected President of Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) late last year. In this interview, he listed his priorities for teachers.
Fred Ezeh, Abuja
What is the state of NUT under your leadership?
It has been a great journey so far. The new executives under my leadership are just few months in office but we have been doing great things to consolidate on the achievements of our past leaders. We need to justify the mandate and trust given to us by our members and that can only be done through commitment to the course of teachers and their welfare. We met several hurdles on ground that had to do with our members. Top on the list was the problem of non payment of salaries and allowances, deplorable state of public school system, poor working environment and other labour related issues in different states of the federation. Firstly, the new executives, upon assumption of office, took time to critically study and analyse the issues raised by members in different states and actions were taken to resolve the issues that needed immediate attention while others were being attended to. My primary responsibility as NUT president is to stand in the gap and fight for the good and welfare of my members.
Some state governors that owe teachers’ salaries contested recent elections and won. Do you have concerns with that?
It’s unfortunate that it happened that way. We have taken it as the will of God. Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), had prior to the election, warned Nigerian workers against re-electing debtor governors who took pleasure in living in affluence and impoverishing the workers. Howbeit, as affiliate of NLC, we are not partisan at all, but only demand for emergence of right leaders. One thing is that you can’t force people to do your wish. We did our own by exposing them to the consequences of their actions, but they chose to do theirs. It’s their right and we must respect that. Something must have informed their choices. However, shortly before the election, some of the debtor governors made serious attempts and succeeded in offsetting the debts. It might sound politically motivated to some people, but it was an indication that little progress was being made.
Did you have a prior discussion with the re-elected governors to get their commitment to regular salary payment of teachers?
We did something like that and we were able to secure their commitment to regular payment of teachers salary. Some of them apologised for the pains of months of unpaid salary. They said it wasn’t their wish but due to unavailable re- sources to pay. However, we have resolved to rise against any governor that choose to unleash misery on our members either by denying them salary or other allowances. For clarity purposes, NUT operates in two sectors, secondary and primary. And available records indicated that most states government are up to date with the payment of secondary school teachers’ salary. Our major concern is the primary sector. Some states government pay in percentage which is an insult to our members. That is wickedness and we won’t accept it anymore.
Talking about teachers’ salary, what is the state of Teachers Salary Scheme (TSS)?
We have made significant progress in that regard. Interestingly, the one we pursued were being implemented. But we are dusting our files to make another presentation to the Federal Government. We are pursuing the course of up- ward review of service year for our members, from 60 to 65 years. Nigerian teachers seem to be the only ones that were not covered in that review. We are obviously not being treated well as regards years of service. People are quick to forget that teachers does most of foundational work as far as education of child is concerned. We clean, dust, prepare the students before sending them to tertiary schools. We are however optimistic that the National Assembly members would support us in this fight.
Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN) has fixed December 2019 as deadline for teachers to get professional certification or leave the classroom.
Yes it true and we are 100 percent in support. We were part of the meeting where the decision was taken. We support the decision and other decisions that would bring quality and professionalism in the teaching profession, and we will continue to support TRCN whole-heartedly in any of their genuine course. TRCN is the product of the teachers. Remember that other professions have bodies that regulate their profession. So, we can’t fold our hands and watch unserious and unqualified people invade the noble profession of teaching. It’s time we sanitise the system and TRCN is committed and we are committed too to that course.
Do we have shortage of teachers in basic education system?
Yes! Huge one for that matter and government has failed to do the needful to address that. New people are discouraged from picking up a career in teaching because of obvious poor remuneration and attention given to the profession by government.
What could be the solution?
Upward review of years of service is one of ways it could be corrected. In addition to that, there should be massive recruitment of professionally qualified teachers across the states, to replace thousands that are being retired annually. Our population is on a serious growth and so is the number of children seeking education. So, teacher to student ratio is grossly inadequate, hence the loud call for more teachers to be recruited. When Federal Government introduced N.Power programme for the purpose of job creation, we suggested that it be done properly and not politically. There are thou- sands of NCE graduates that could be employed as teachers and they would close the obvious teachers’ gap in schools.
What are the key challenges being faced by the union?
It is the inability of the government to clearly define the role of the three tiers of government as regard who takes up what responsibility in the education sector. We are aware that the Federal Government is in charge of the tertiary education and 104 Federal Unity Colleges. States are supposed to take up the responsibility of managing the secondary schools while the local government handles the affairs of the primary education. Our argument is that the local government obviously lacks the capacity and capabilities to shoulder the responsibilities of primary education in Nigeria, and evidences are there to justify our position. Many local governments owe teachers months of salaries and allowances, and that could be attributed to poor management of resources. There was a Supreme Court judgement that ordered that states government should shoulder the responsibility of primary education while the local government participates. Regrettably, that hasn’t been implemented, and that has been responsible for the crisis in the system.
You can recall a dramatic sack of thousands of teachers for alleged incompetence by Kaduna state government last year. What is the situation now?
The action of Kaduna state governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, generated lots of criticisms by Nigerians including NUT. The governor should have known that the teachers sacked for alleged incompetence never employed themselves. They were employed by the state government either through right or wrong means. There is no justice in the actions of the government and we told them several times in our meetings with them. Shortly after the development, we engaged the government in serious dialogue and made several representations to the government to convince them that these teachers are not as bad as they are being painted by government. We were however consoled by the level of transparency and openness in the recruitment of teachers that followed the incident. The state threw the application open, and encouraged every qualified person to apply. You may wish to know that majority of the sacked teachers re- applied and they were taken by the same state government that claimed they were unqualified.
You mean the sacked teachers were reengaged during the recruitment exercise?
Yes. Larger numbers of the newly employed teachers were some of those affected in the recent mass sack of teachers by the state government. That was because of the level of transparency and openness adopted by the state government in the recruitment exercise and we commend them for that.
Exam bodies have complained that exams outcome doesn’t reflect the good quality and dili- gent teachers we have in Nigeria. What could be responsible?
I totally agree with them that there are qualities and dedicated teachers in Nigerian schools. But without instructional materials, enabling environment and motivation, there is limit to what they could do. And that could be evident in the performance of the students. You will be shocked to see that in 21st century, Nigerian children still sit under the tree and dilapidated structures to take lessons. The environment is totally discouraging and that could be one of the contributing factors.
But the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) was created to address these issues.
Yes and UBEC has done amazingly well in the provision of basic infrastructures, instructional mate- rials in basic school systems. But the problem is that infrastructures in public schools especially in rural or semi urban areas have been left without proper attention for long and quick fix will not solve it. It’s a serious concern that many states government seem uninterested or unable to pay their counterpart funds in order to access their matching grant. UBEC is making serious effort to convince states with backlogs of unaccessed funds to come for it for the benefit of the children. I was happy to hear that the Federal Government was considering deducting the counterpart fund for some states with backlogs of unaccessed UBEC fund from the Paris Fund.
Teachers across Nigeria regard you as father figure. What should they expect from your administration?
They should expect a better welfare and representation. We are extremely committed to the course of teachers’ welfare. Gone are days when teachers reward are said to be domiciled in heaven. We insist on getting the rewards here on earth, enjoy it maximally before we meet God in heaven for everlasting rewards. We have also assured them that if the President assents to the issue of minimum wage, they