Looming teachers strike in Edo

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Edo State Wing Executive Council (SWEC) of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) issued a 21-day strike ultimatum to the State Government, with effect from 17th August. The teachers’ demands include: financial backing for the 2013-2015 promotion of primary school teachers; stoppage of illegal deductions from teachers’ salaries; employment of more teachers, and provision of working tools.

The teachers equally want the increase in salaries for public service workers effected in May 2016 with an increase in the minimum wage to N25,000 to be reflected in their take home pay.

Despite the celebrated building of a few supposedly modern schools, the fate of teachers and indeed the education sector in the state suffered immensely during the administration of Adams Oshiomhole. The sorry state of the learning environment has not improved over the last year, since Obaseki took over the reins of government.

Basic instructional materials that should be provided by the ministry of education are lacking in the schools. The teachers and school managements have had to draw resources from their lean pockets to make these available. But they will no longer tolerate this worrisome situation.

In the communique released after the SWEC meeting in July, the NUT clearly stated that:

“Edo State Public Primary and Secondary School heads and their teachers are tired of using their meagre salaries to provide instructional materials such chalk, markers, diaries, registers and many others for teaching and learning in schools, due to the failure of government to provide subventions to schools since the year 2012 and the recent near zero supply of such items to schools.”

Meanwhile, the state government has continued to deduct money for the National Housing Fund (NHF) from the meagre salaries of the teachers. Many years back, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) described the NHF as the National Housing Fraud. This was because monies deducted from the salaries of hundreds of thousands of workers hardly benefited any worker.

The Fund is merely a way of accumulating capital which the big bosses draw from. The few “workers” that have benefited from the fund are actually not workers, but senior directors and permanent secretaries who know how to pull the strings. The trade unions have also won the clarification that contributions to the fund is not compulsory. It is thus illegal for the Edo State Government to keep deducting such contributions without recourse to authorisation by the affected workers.

Teachers in Edo state face a double jeopardy. On one hand, they are underpaid and teach under terrible working conditions. On the other hand, they are stressed beyond their limits, because the teaching service is grossly understaffed.

This has adverse consequences for pupils who are jam packed into classrooms. There are 9,000 and 3,000 vacancies in Edo state primary and secondary schools, respectively. NUT demands immediate recruitment to fill these posts.

The state of the education sector in Edo State and how this has evolved tells us a lot about Adams Oshiomhole, a former trade union leader who is now the National Chair of the ruling APC and indeed the whole lot of politicians who represent the bosses’ class.

They use scenarios of teachers’ incompetence with the spectacle of a few who do not pass competency tests to demonize these long-suffering workers to layoff thousands without replacing them. They build a few “ultra-modern” schools in the cities to give the impression of education infrastructure development, while the schools in the rural areas remain dilapidated cows.

When the politicians feel comfortable with their hold on power, they pay stipends as workers’ wages so the minimum wage has not been increase for nearly eight years. But on the eve of elections, they either increase the minimum wage as Adams Oshiomhole did last year or start paying full salaries after years of paying workers half salaries, as Rauf Aregbesola is now doing in Osun State.  This is also the reason that there is talk of the Federal Government increasing the minimum wage to nearly N50,000 before the 2019 elections.

While the politicians and other rich people send they children to schools in Europe, many working people struggle to send their children to private schools at great personal expense.  This is why the Socialist Workers and Youth League stands with Edo state teachers and lends it voice to their demands for decent public schools.

by Lionel Akpoyivo

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