Unity Schools Teachers’ Strike Throws Pupils in Limbo

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Barely one month after resumption into the 107 unity schools across the country, pupils in 18 of the schools have been left in limbo because of the strike embarked upon by their teachers over issues related to unpaid salaries and other allowances. In this report, Raheem Akingbolu, Funmi Ogundare, Hammed Shittu in Ilorin and Yinka Kolawole in Osogbo, analyse the cause of the strike and call on Federal Ministry of Education to quickly intervene

These are not the best of times for students of Unity Colleges in the country. While their contemporaries in private and other government secondary schools have been undergoing intense learning and other school activities for close to a month, pupils from 18 federal government colleges are in limbo either in their schools or at home with their parents.
From the Federal Government College, Ilorin, to the Federal Government Girls College, Sagamu, down to FGGC, Omuaran and FGC, Ikirun, all in the North-central and the South-west, the situation is the same; nonexistence of academic and extra curriculum activities.

According to reports from our correspondents in Ilorin and Osogbo, the innocent pupils, who rushed to their various schools in Omu Aran, Ikirun and Ilorin few weeks ago are currently passing through hell. Ikirun’s case is a bit different from others as the teachers, though come to school on daily basis, choose to adopt what they call ‘sit down look’.

At Omu Aran, one Mr. Aliyu, a parent, who said he had to leave his Lokoja base to take his daughter home, pending the time the strike would be called off, expressed his regrets over the way the children were left uncared for.
“As people who own the future of our dear nation, I almost shed tears when I saw the bushy and unkempt environment our children have been living for weeks. Aside the fact that they are not being taught or receiving lectures, they are also being fed poorly, a situation which has compelled me to come down to pick my daughter. I appeal to government to look into the case of discriminatory salary payments in the schools, which the teachers are complaining about.”

How it all started
The endemic strike actions that have almost paralysed the federal institutions of higher learning appeared to have begun to deal with what remains of the nation’s unity schools. Like the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), an umbrella body of teachers in unity schools has in the last one year been complaining about irregularities in salaries and other allowances due for teachers in unity schools.
As a result of government nonchalant attitude to their demands and complaints, the leadership of the association decided to mobilise its members to embark on strike. To this end, the association, in April this year, sent letters, intimating the principals of Federal Government Girls College, Omu Aran, Federal Government Girls College, Sagamu, Federal Government College, Ilorin and Federal Government College, Ikirun, on the plan to embark on strike.

In the letter titled; ‘Notice of Industrial Action’, signed by the Secretary of the Kwara State chapter of the ASCSN, Comrade Tunde Joseph, to the principal of FGGC, Omu Aran, the association drew the attention of the principal to a letter dated March 13, 2017, where ASCSN informed the principal of the precarious situations in which members are subjected to at the unity school, due to nonpayment of September, 2016 salary, backlogs of first 28 days and promotion arrears which the government had released but was diverted by the management of Federal Ministry of Education.

The letter reads; “It is very disheartening to note that, this group of senior civil servants who have contributed their best in the service of their fatherland and the capacity building of our young citizen are been subjected to slavery without genuine reason. It is on record that, the triumphant efforts made by the union to get the unpaid salary and allowances settled all proved abortive. One can then imagine what happens to workers’ general well-being when their emoluments are not paid.”

The association went further to state that in view of the foregoing and the refusal of the management of the Federal Ministry of Education to release September, 2016 salary and allowances owed its members, teachers would embark on indefinite industrial actions commencing from May 1, 2017, as directed by the national headquarters of the association.
In a similar letter sent to the principal of FGGC, Sagamu, signed by the General Secretary of the ASCSN, Mr. Tony Masha and titled ‘Notice of Full-Blown Strike’ the association complained that all efforts by the union to get the federal government to pay December 2016 salaries owed members in the school have been treated with contempt.

Specifically, the letter pointed out that promotion arrears; some of which have been outstanding since 2007, first 28 days in lieu of hotel accommodation, duty tour allowance, mandatory training allowance due since 2010 and other related allowances, are still being owed certain categories of federal civil servants, adding that the association didn’t want salaries of members in Unity School system to suffer the same fate by falling into another set of arrears.

While informing the principal that teachers, from the school would proceed on a full-blown strike, it noted that; “besides, it is bad enough that, the meager salaries of civil servants can no longer take them to the bus stop, let alone take them home, but that the pittance which passes as wages are now, not being paid at all smacks of sheer wickedness.”

Steps taken before the strike
After several attempts to make government looked into their complaints failed, the South-west Unit Chairmen of Federal Unity Colleges met at the Bible Society of Nigeria Guest House in Ibadan on March 10, and took unanimous position over issues related to outstanding salaries and non-payment of other allowances.

In a communiqué issued after the meeting, the chairmen noted that, “the tales of woes and the litany of unpaid salaries for months in some schools, month(s) of salary skipped, selective payment in some instances etc, have now become a regular story. This is viewed as a distraction by the ministry and a way of evading all the problems facing the Federal Unity colleges. This is not just compounding the problems of members of staff but also a way of evading the evil plights against FUCs. It is also seen as a reason for bringing PPP back through the back door.”

To this end, members of ASCSN in the South-west strongly expressed their displeasure of the ASCSN national headquarters handling of the promotion arrears. They reasoned that this has not only dragged on for too long but it has also caused members untold hardship.
According to them, while so many officials had retired, many had died, thus permanently denying them the opportunities of benefitting from their rights.

In their resolution, the leadership of ASCSN was implored to call for the meeting of all the 107 FUCs, where stakeholders can critically analyse the issue of unpaid salaries and promotion arrears, begin the process of industrial dispute and give ultimatum and declare strike action as a result of unpaid salaries and promotional arrears that have caused a lot of damage in the lives of officers psychologically and emotionally.

It was therefore at the Ibadan meeting that the zone agreed that FUCs in the south-west would not resume for the third term session if all salaries and arrears were not paid. The communiqué was signed by the Lagos Zone Coordinator, Isa M.A, South-west Zonal Coordinator, Dr. G.E Adeniyi and the zone’s secretary, Ikuemelo B.P.

With what has suddenly become the fate of the schools after the Federal Ministry of Education under the current administration intervened in the activities of the Parent-Teacher Associations of Federal Government schools, one can now reconcile the situation with the fact that the PTA of Federal Government schools actually pay most of the teachers in the colleges.

The Chairman of Unity School Principals (South-west), Liman Amodu, had recently told the House of Representatives Committee on Basic Education during a meeting that the PTA pay salaries of about 80 percent of teachers in the colleges, adding that they also rely on the association to fill vacancies and pay teachers.
Amodu said the teachers were however laid off when the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, directed that PTA levies in the schools should not be higher than N5,000. She warned that the directive would affect the quality of teaching if the directive is allowed to stand.

“This is the situation in most of the schools, there may be a little exemption, but this is the general problem. In most cases, about 70 to 80 percent of the teaching staff was on the payroll of the PTA, but we try to comply because we cannot violate a directive from the minister,” she said, adding that as things are, if the strike that is gradually paralysing activities in some schools is not quickly nipped in the bud, it might, by next week, extend to all the federal colleges.

Reacting to the issue of unpaid salaries, the Honourable Minister of State for Education, Professor Anthony Anwukah told THISDAY that the category of the federal civil servants were those migrated from the ministry to the consolidated funds of the Unity colleges, adding that the delay in the payment of the arrears is from the ministry of finance.
According to him, “These are the people who were being paid before in the federal ministry of education, but were migrated. The delay is the business of the ministry of finance, they are slow in dispensing funds .”
He expressed regret that the state of the economy cannot cover for the lapses when they were migrated, saying that there was an area of omission in the budget.

“We have spoken to the ministry of finance as much as we can, if there is no money, then they can’t release. The economy is bad and they are trying to look for funds somewhere else to be able to take care of them . It is not their fault neither is it the ministry’s fault. It takes some time before sorting out the records. It is not easy. People should be realistic, things are not as it used to be. Things are tough and government is managing to keep the system financially afloat. Nobody is interested in keeping anybody’s money,” Anwukah stressed.