The Kaduna state government is gaining a reputation for impunity and anti-worker policies, under the administration of Governor Nasir El-Rufai. When the Nigeria Labour Congress summoned workers to a national demonstration in Kaduna in the second week of January, Mr El-Rufai invoked an anti-democratic ban on public processions. The unions defied this, only to be attacked by thugs associated with one Mouktar Maigamo, El-Rufai’s special assistant on public affairs.
The demonstration was called to support teachers on strike against the sack of 22,000 members of the Nigeria Union of Teachers who had allegedly failed a competency test organised by the state. 10,000 workers including workers in Local Government Councils and the health services have also been sacked.
The trade unions took these questionable cases of dismissals to the National Industrial Court (NICN) where an interlocutory injunction was won pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit. But, the government which cheerfully implements “law and order” when this is directed against working-class people flouted the industrial court’s injunction.
It claims to be acting in the interest of “the people” and in defence of public education. According to the governor, his administration merely “weeded out teachers who didn’t have the requisite skills and qualifications to teach.” The preceding administration, he added, had given such teachers a five-year period of grace to acquire appropriate qualifications, and that period had lapsed.
This however begs the question. The supposed incompetence of the teachers is just the tip of an iceberg which covers the state of rottenness of the public education system. Years of poor funding, abysmal infrastructure and low morale of ill-motivated teachers have compromised the quality of education in general.
This is what President Buhari who supported the action of Governor El-Rufai failed to appreciate when lamenting over degeneration of the school system, compared to when he was in public boarding schools over half a century back.
There is a need to turn this worrisome situation around, with a comprehensive approach which includes the workers, pupils, parents and communities in its formulation and implementation. The focus of this approach must go beyond simply laying off workers. It has to include a demonstrated commitment to adequate funding and institution of democratic governance of the educational system.
All elected and appointed officials of state must as well be made to shun private schools for their children’s and ward’s education; from the primary to the tertiary level. It is instructive, as Senator Shehu Sani noted, that, while El-Rufai “promised the people of the state that he will enrol his children in public schools when he becomes governor. He has not only failed to do that, he is also destroying the educational future of those who chose to send their wards to public schools.”
As working-class people, it is also important to stress that, irrespective of the seeming justification for this mass sack, the Kaduna state government is dutybound to respect the interlocutory injunction awarded by the industrial court. And the attempt to muffle workers’ voices of protest is unequivocally condemnable.
by Yusuf Lawal