The recent presentation of 13 brand new cars to 13 outstanding teachers and school administrators by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State is commendable. The presentation was at the Year 2020 Teachers’ Merit Award organised by the Ministry of Education. According to Sanwo-Olu, the gesture was to “celebrate the remarkable teachers who leave no stone unturned in moulding lives, building character and preparing our students for a productive future.”
Sanwo-Olu’s gift was akin to what Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State did for teachers in his state at the celebration of the World Teachers’ Day in October 2019. He gave out car and cash rewards to 12 teachers for outstanding performance. The awardees included principals, head teachers and teachers of primary and secondary schools.
In line with this reward system, President Muhammadu Buhari, in October last year, announced a special salary scale for basic and secondary school teachers at the celebration of the World Teachers’ Day 2020. He also announced rural posting allowance, science teachers allowance and peculiar allowance. From 60 years, teachers’ retirement age was reviewed upward to 65 years and years of service from 35 to 40 years. Also approved were special pension scheme for the teachers, building of low-cost houses for them in rural areas, prompt payment of salaries, and so on. This typifies what is obtainable in some advanced countries where teachers have dignity and honour, where they are among the highest paid workers.
Nevertheless, it is not often that the teaching profession gets such patronage and recognition in Nigeria. Although the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria Act 31 of 1993 recognises teaching as a profession, it is often relegated to the background. People usually prefer other professions and only take to teaching as a last resort. This is despite the fact that every individual, including presidents of countries, passed through teachers and that the quality of education is dependent on the quality of teachers.
In many Nigerian states, teachers are owed arrears of salaries and allowances. Sometimes, they are the last to receive salary at the end of every month and even when the salary is paid, it is so meagre that they are unable to make ends meet. Also, when they retire, their pension and gratuities are either delayed or not paid at all. This is why the profession, especially in Nigeria, is seen as not being lucrative.
Part of the problem is that the Nigerian society worships money more than anything else. That is why politicians, despite their shortcomings, are still given more recognition but the teacher who deserves more of such recognition is treated with utter disdain.
Though they are seen as surrogate parents, teachers often get into trouble when they punish certain students for some misdemeanour. In July 2018, a secondary school teacher was reportedly beaten and detained for punishing two student-rapists at Nsukka in Enugu State. The two boys, said to be brothers, allegedly took turns to rape a 12-year-old fellow student and even recorded it with their camera phones. The teacher who allegedly caught them in action and disciplined them got severe beating from the parents of the boys. They later reported him at the Nsukka police station where he was detained.
Also, family members of a pupil, James Efeniye, allegedly beat a youth corps member known as Jeremiah at Comforter City International School in Pakuro town of Obafemi Owode Local Government Area of Ogun State, recently. Jeremiah reportedly incurred the wrath of the Efeniyes for punishing their son for acting rudely during assembly. When a female teacher, Grace Akinoso, started recording the incident on her phone, the antagonists allegedly descended on her also to the extent that she was hospitalised.
There is every need to institute measures to salvage the teaching profession. And no action taken to motivate teachers should be seen as too big. No doubt, the recent gesture of the Lagos State Government will serve as a morale booster for these teachers and a motivation for them to excel in the state. We urge the State to look for other ways to motivate teachers generally.
We call on other state governments to emulate the good deeds of Sanwo-Olu and give teachers their dues in the society. This will not only boost the morale of the teachers so they won’t feel neglected, it will also demonstrate the fact that the reward of teachers is no longer in heaven.
As Sanwo-Olu put it, in Lagos State, teaching was not a thankless job and the annual merit award was a proof that Lagos would always reward excellent, committed, and diligent teachers. We hasten to add that in the past, teachers had dignity. But that is not strictly the case today.
They need to regain this lost dignity and past glory in Nigeria. What the federal, state and local authorities should do is to offer competitive salaries and allowances to the teachers; equip them with the necessary teaching tools and provide avenues to help them sharpen their skills in teaching. With these, we believe the best brains will be attracted to the profession.