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Nationwide teachers' strike: Matters arising

Started by bamalli, March 09, 2009, 01:15:06 PM

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Nationwide teachers' strike: Matters arising

THE resumption of a nationwide industrial action by public primary and secondary school teachers under the umbrella of the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) over non-implementation of the Teachers' Salary Scale (TSS) in some states is most disheartening. It shows the hypocrisy of the concerned state governors who have refused to honour an agreement they willingly signed with the teachers. The teachers had ended a five-week strike that paralysed the entire public school system barely six months ago, precisely in August last year after the governors agreed to pay the contentious salary scale.

Over the period, appropriate measures should have been taken by the state governments to ensure that the promise was fulfilled to avert another strike on the same issue. The insincerity of the states in this regard has precipitated another round of industrial action that would further worsen the plight of the already beleaguered schools. The nation's school system is in ruins. Both the Federal and state governments should stop playing politics with the education of Nigerian children.

As usual, the strike has wrecked havoc in the affected schools. Students and pupils are roaming the streets aimlessly. The teachers are idle while scheduled school activities have been disrupted. The National Examinations Council (NECO) and WAEC Senior School Certificate Examinations are once again threatened. The cost of the strike is high. Certainly, this is not the best of times for public schools.

The National Executive Council (NEC) of the NUT had ordered about 25 states across the federation where the TSS has not been implemented by the expiration date of February 2009 to embark on an indefinite strike action from March 1. Since then, instead of exploring ways and means to settle the matter, the state governments have chosen to intimidate the teachers with threats of mass sack and retrenchment. The states should note that this line of action has never resolved a similar dispute in the past neither would it this time around.

Last July, public school teachers across the federation embarked on a crippling industrial action to press for the payment of the same salary scale. The teachers had demanded that the Federal Government should issue a circular to the states to enable them negotiate with the teachers in the states. But the Federal Government flatly refused on the grounds that the responsibility for public primary and secondary schools is vested in the state governments by virtue of the Constitutional provision that puts the schools in the concurrent legislative list.

Following protracted paralysis of the public school for roughly five weeks, the state governors under the aegis of the Governors Forum intervened. They reached an agreement with the NUT to pay the new salary scale in their respective states. The teachers responded in good faith by suspending the strike. Under the terms of the agreement, the governors, with no exception, promised to meet the teachers' demand by paying the controversial Teachers' Salary Scale latest by the end of January 2009. It was a deal that was hailed by all and sundry as it portrayed the governors in good light as being sensitive and alive to their responsibilities.

Having reached that solemn agreement, the governors should be responsible enough by fulfilling their promise. Agreements are meant to be honoured. While about 11 states have implemented the salary scale, the remaining 25 have apparently disregarded the agreement. This is the cause of the current crisis. Some of the states claim that they are cash-strapped due to the global economic crisis, if so, they should return to the negotiating table with the teachers, and refrain from the tactics of intimidation and harassment.

We call on the affected state governments to save the nation, pupils and their parents the trauma of another round of prolonged industrial action. The teachers have been most resilient and their pay is nothing compared to the huge salary and allowances collected by political office holders.