Teachers Oppose Moves to Hand over Primary Education to Local Councils

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Solomon Elusoji

Teachers across the country have rejected the proposed hand over of the administration of primary school education to local councils through constitutional amendment.

Delta State teachers, last week, took to the streets in Asaba to protest the move. The aggrieved teachers, led by the state Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Mr. Jonathan Jemiriyigbe, said that even with the joint allocation account committee, payment of teachers’ salaries was still not smooth and wondered what would be their fate should the payment be handed over fully to local councils.

Similarly, primary school teachers in Bayelsa State also took to the streets to protest against the move. The teachers, who also denied the claim that they were against the ongoing constitutional amendment on local council autonomy, want their salaries and other obligations to be handled by federal and state governments.

The state’s Chairman, Mr. Kalama Tonpre and Principal Secretary, Nigerian Union of Teachers, Mr. Johnson Hector, said the local councils lacked the capacity to pay the teachers’ salaries, subventions and welfare packages. They lamented that they had been subjected to untold hardship by the local councils, which owed them various arrears of salaries.

The wave of protests also reached Oyo state, where members of the state’s NUT recently staged a peaceful protest against the move. They also said if local government autonomy was imperative for the federal and state governments, payment of primary school teachers, funding and management of the schools should not be the responsibility of the local councils.

The rally, which took-off at the Agodi Secretariat of the NLC, was led by the state chairman, Niyi Akano and the state Trade Unions Congress (TUC) chairman, Waheed Olojede, to deliver their protest letter to Governor Abiola Ajimobi.
The placards carrying teachers argued that granting political, financial or administrative autonomy to the local government, would mean transferring the management, equipping and funding of primary school education to the local government.

They said the burden would be too heavy for the third tier of government to bear. Some of the inscriptions on the placards read: “Nigeria Union of Teachers, Oyo State Wing says no to local government’s autonomy”; “Basic education is a right of every child”; “Local government councils do not have the capacity to pay primary school teachers salaries”; “Foundation of education in Nigeria under threat again,” among others.

Akano said that the rally was not a protest against salary arrears but a fight for the soul of primary education in the state and the country at large. Olojede maintained that allowing the local governments to take charge of the primary school education in the country was a good way of sending the sector back to the woods, saying that the teachers would not support local government autonomy in any way

Meanwhile, in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria, Ebonyi NUT chairman, Mr. Simon Ozo, also confirmed that the union was against the move.
According to him, the union’s opposition to the planned handover of payment of teachers’ salaries to local government administration is hinged on the Supreme Court decision, which granted payment of salary of primary school teachers to states.

“There is need for the federal government to respect the 2012 Supreme Court’s judgment on the responsibility of state and federal governments to primary school education in Nigeria,” he said.
He added: “The plan if allowed to sail through will pose serious threat to the foundation of education in Nigeria, and every genuine and bold attempt must be made by education loving Nigerians to rescue and save primary education from imminent collapse.

“We do not want the payment of salaries of our primary school teachers to be joined in the autonomy that will be granted the local government.
“The Supreme Court made it very clear that the management of primary school is in the hands of state governments and we stand on this verdict.

“We don’t know why anybody in his right thinking senses will want primary school teachers’ salaries to be joined with local government areas.
The Chairman of NULGE in Anambra, Mr. Jerry Nnubia recently told newsmen that the NUT demand did not contradict its call for political autonomy of the councils.
Nnubia said that it would be a great injustice to the nation’s education sector if primary education was left for the councils alone as the situation was already deteriorating.

He said primary education deserved priority, adding that its funding should be in the first line charge.
“Our demand for local government autonomy is clear as it concerns the funding of primary schools and payment of teachers,” he said.
He added: “Funding and management of primary schools as well as payment of teachers should be made a first line charge by the federal government even before the states’ share among the tiers of government.