By Hammed Shittu inri
The recent sack of 2,414 teachers under the ara State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) has continued to cause disaffection among stakeholders in theate.
The sacked teachers were employed during the immediate past administration of Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed so as to address the inadequate number of teachers in basic and senior secondary schools in the state.
The immediate past administration had on September 18, 2018, approved the employment of 1,850 basic and senior secondary school teachers in the state to address the shortage of teachers in science subjects and create fresh employment in the state.
THISDAY gathered that the approval for the recruitment of the affected teachers was based on the separate requests by the SUBEB and the State Teaching Service Commission (TESCOM).
The two organisations it was learnt also based their requests on existing teacher shortages in the state, especially in English Language and science subjects.
The development made the then governor to approve the recruitment of 1,500 SUBEB teachers and 350 senior secondary school teachers and this was also as a result of persistent shortages of teachers that hit critical sector of education in the state.
Prior to the approval for the employment of teachers, the immediate past administration had engaged the services of some youths through its Kwara State Youth Empowerment Programme (KWAYEP) and the federal government’s NPower Scheme.
Ahmed also directed SUBEB and TSC to advertise the positions in the media and ensure that due process was followed in the recruitment while ensuring spread across the 193 wards in the state.
It would be noted that the former administration was mindful of the fund constraints confronting states and local governments at the time
The former administration intended to fund the new positions from resources freed up by natural attrition such as retirements, resignation and deaths.
THISDAY further gathered that the former government subsequently recruited qualified teachers from the pool of NCE graduates of the three colleges of education in the state in line with the existing executive approval and any reported deviation from the original approval lacked Ahmed’s assent.
Howevver, upon assumption of office as the eighth governor of the state on May 29, 2019, Alhaji AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq promised that the affected teachers would not be sacked, adding that they are sons and daughters of the state who are deemed fit to contribute to the educational advancement of the state.
The declaration was applauded by residents of the state. But as the teachers were going about their duties at their various schools, the administration took a new move by setting up a committee to look into how they were employed by the immediate past administration.
During the review period, the payment of some of the teachers’ salaries was stopped and this continued to give sleepless nights to the affected people as they didn’t know what will be their fate at the end of the day.
On December 24, 2020, the state government announced the nullification of the recruitment of the affected teachers, saying that it did not pas through due process.
The teachers’ disengagement was announced in a statement titled ‘Kwara Govt Takes Stand on 2019 SUBEB Workers, Offsets Pending Seven Months’ Salaries. New Employment Portal Opens January’.
The statement, signed by the Press Secretary, State Ministry of Education and Human Capital Development, Mr. Yakub Ali-Agan, indicated that the sacked teachers were recruited in the twilight of Ahmed’s administration.
The state government said although it had earlier screened the teachers and cleared 1,658 of them, it was later discovered that majority of them were not qualified to teach.
The statement read: “For instance, it was discovered that some of the 1,658 teachers purportedly adjudged to be qualified did not, in fact they don’t have the required teaching certificates.
“It was discovered that the teachers were engaged for subjects not covered in the executive approval, underscoring the unwholesome and impeachable nature of the entire process.
“Following from the above, the government has decided to start the employment process all over again in January 2021. The government will open a new application portal for all the 2,414 and any other eligible persons to apply for SUBEB teaching jobs in relevant subjects to be advertised. This effectively nullifies the controversial employment 2018/2019.”
The statement further explained that the decision to sack the teachers was built on justice and fairness to everyone, particularly taxpayers and children, whose future depend on the quality of teaching they receive at the elementary schools.
Meanwhile, Abdulrazaq has directed the immediate payment of seven months’ salaries earlier withheld from 594 SUBEB teachers since June 2020.
“The salaries were paid on Thursday December 24, 2020 on compassionate grounds as their employment status remains unofficial,” a government statement said.
Consequently, the statement released by the government was however turned into a sour pill to the sacked teachers as they decided to embark on a peaceful protest over the termination of their appointment by the state government.
The aggrieved teachers, who converged in multitude on the State Government House, were seen sitting on the floor, weeping under the scorching sun in agitation for their reinstatement.
Speaking with journalists, one of the teachers, who identified herself as Ateyobi Esther, appealed to the state government to tamper justice with mercy and revoke its decisions concerning their dismissal.
“We have been on this job for the past two years. At first, we thought we were going to be disengaged, but the governor promised us that he would not disengage us. Most of us were single before but later got married after getting the appointment. The governor should please help us, our means of livelihood rely on this appointment, they should please have mercy on us.”
The Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Rafiu Ajakaye, while addressing the protesters, explained that the decision of the government is aimed at reforming the education system through the recruitment of outstanding teachers. He said the government will soon roll out a fresh advert, which will be merit-based and technologically-driven.
In its reaction, the state chapter of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) charged the state government to rescind its decision of disengaging the “sunset” SUBEB teachers employed by the immediate past administration in the state.
In a statement issued in Ilorin, jointly signed by the state Chairman, Olú Adewara and acting Secretary, Rasheed Mayaki, the union however commended the state government for paying the seven month salary of all the affected teachers.
The union pointed out that the teachers represent the driving forces needed in schools across the 16 local government areas of the state.
The union stated that education revolves around a set of principles and mechanism common to all cultures and faith and as such every decision should be critically assessed.
Also, the state wing of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) appealed to the state government to rescind its decision over the sack of the teachers.
In a statement signed by the Chairman, Alhaji Issa Ore, the union said the decision to sack that large number of workers was too harsh on the affected people, their families and dependents.
It said the situation would make life unbearable for them and their families; more so that their sack had already created a vacuum in the classrooms, which was also not good for the development of education.
“We wish to stress further that a decision that government will have to re-engage new hands with shallow field experience may have a big setback on the students.”
In its reaction, a group of youth professionals in the state, Kwara Emerging Leaders (KEL) called on the governor to reabsorb the sacked 1,658 teachers that were already audited and deemed qualified by the government.
KEL in a statement by its Head of Media Relations, Mr. Adekunle Oyedepo, observed that the sack of the teachers, especially those already adjudged qualified, was nothing but insincerity on the part of the government and obvious lack of empathy.
“We consider the government insincere and dishonest to have gone ahead to order the dismissal of the teachers after it declared 1,658 of them as duly employed.
“Is the government aware of the implication of such mass termination? The present economic situation has been bad enough for several families, particularly the sacked teachers. Did the government even consider that the teachers whose appointments were summarily terminated were a source of financial security for many families and dependents?
“The government disengaged them and ordered for a fresh employment without assuring them of the right of first refusal.”
The statement added: “Since government is a continuum, we consider such action as a bad politics and unfair victimisation considering that they were all employed under a contractual agreement and are now being targeted for no fault of theirs.
“Aside the fact that there was no known needs assessment that was conducted to arrive at the planned recruitment of 4,701 teachers, it is certain that employing that number at a time government’s revenue has dropped is nothing but posturing and showmanship.
“We recall that in 2008/2009 that the last known state-wide school census and needs assessment was conducted, it was estimated that the total number of students in public primary and secondary schools was about 285,000, while teachers at the time were estimated at about 21,000.
“At the time, Kwara had a student to teacher ratio of about 15 students to one teacher which was far within the UNESCO estimate of 40 students to one teacher.
“We are all aware that because of the decline in the quality of education in government owned schools, enrolment in public primary and secondary schools has dropped, a situation that is nothing but a failure of previous governments in this regard.
“Based on this knowledge, we cannot reconcile how the government came to the conclusion of 4,701. Indeed, what is the justification for prioritising the recruitment of more teachers at the expense of a bigger investment in facility upgrade and the retraining of existing teachers.
“Government’s revenue at all level has dropped, particularly because of the impact of COVID-19.
Therefore, for a public service that the government itself agrees is bloated, what is the payment plan for the teachers that will be recruited? Or would they do the work for free?”
“If the government insist on carrying on with a plan that is clearly a sham and not well thought out, when did it conduct the said needs assessment? When did it carry out the student/teacher census? What is the teacher/student ratio in Kwara at the moment?”
“We believe that the issue of education is too fundamental to be politicised or given any coloration that is close to that. We maintain that education is not only about building the outcome of the future from today, but most importantly the foundation of a better, secured and prosperous Kwara”
The group also expressed worry over the obvious lack of due process in the entire recruitment process, noting that it is the duty of SUBEB in liaison with local government to have initiated a request for the recruitment of teachers at the basic education level, since it is within their purview.