In the months that have been paid, that is up to November 2016, most of the teachers spent the money to settle debts from cooperatives and others. On most occasions, the salaries are deducted from source and what comes to them barely takes care of their needs for a week. Their situation would not have been worse as such if the salaries were coming as other members of the state civil service.
The salary challenge of the primary school teachers has been an issue for years. While other civil servants in the ministries, parastatals and agencies receive their salaries, at times two weeks into the new month, primary school teachers can only pray for their salaries to come at the end of may be four or five months in Delta state. This has been the recurrent issue over the years and there seems to be no solution to the long time challenge.
Although Delta is seen as the third richest state in Nigeria, there are continuous complaints from the government that there is shortage of funds to pay workers and the primary school teachers are the worse hit among civil servants in the oil rich state. They have never received salaries at the end of the month. This is even as they are the foundation of education in Nigeria.
Mrs. Rose Ughegbe, a teacher in Egburie Primary school in Ozoro, Isoko North local government area of the state, is unhappy over the non-payment of their salaries by the Delta state government. Mrs. Ughegbe, who has put in over 20 years in the state primary education, has expressed disgust over the attitude of the state government towards the welfare of teachers.
For her, it is a painful experience, she would have opted for another job but for the lack of it in the state. Also, her family is settled in the state and it would be a problem relocating to other cities to begin life afresh. For all these reasons, she has decided to take the bull by the horn and forge on irrespective of government attitude to their service to the state.
According to her: “There is no money with us. We are not happy with the way the state government is treating the issue of primary school teachers in the state. Government is very ungrateful to teachers. Many of us supported the governor when he was coming as governor in 2015 but it’s unfortunate that Governor Okowa is rewarding us with debts and unfulfilled promises.”
A teacher in Ajenesan Primary School, Oghara, Ethiope east council area of the state, Mary Ogorode, is also not finding life rosy. For her, the way government is carrying teachers’ issues is bad. “That is why every one of us is now at home. The extent of the impact of government owing teachers depends on the occupation of teachers and their spouses.
“There are some teachers who are married to people in other professions; in that case, they have to depend on their partners for their daily living. But for those husbands and wives who are both teachers, the situation is worse for them. This is because they receive salary from the same source and when the salaries fail to come the way it is now, you can imagine what the family will look like.
“Since government stopped paying us, teachers have been running from one place to the other doing one small business or other to keep life going. Some go to the market to sell food stuff just to get what they can eat. Some have also gone into farming just to raise money for their children’s education and the family upkeep,” Mrs. Ogorode pointed out.
She said the non-payment of salaries is the major reason the schools are not doing well. “You will see that before we will resume from this strike, many parents may have withdrawn their children from public schools to private schools where is nothing like strike.
Mrs. Janet Ogorugba, a teacher in Uzoigwe Primary school in Asaba, the Delta state capital, has resorted to selling electronics. She said she is into networking and marketing of electronics. According to her, when the schools were in session, she sells the products during school hours to her colleagues and other friends but now that NUT has declared strike action, she now runs a mini shop in her home.
For Emmanuel Oyonbru, also a primary school teacher in Ethiope Primary school, Sapele, he has been a farmer even while still a teacher. And since the commencement of the strike, he has become almost a full time farmer in Sapele. Having been brought up by farming parents, Oyonbru has no problem becoming a good farmer.
“I have been a farmer before now. The strike simply availed me the opportunity to focus on my farm. I grow cassava and that is what I live on. My wife sells in the market and we join resources together to fend for ourselves and our three children.
“I must say it has not been easy since December 2016 no salary. Imagine, we worked for four straight months without any dime from the government; that is wickedness. They claim that there is no money, that there is recession in the country, yet they still drive big cars. What they are doing to teachers in the state is more of wickedness than economic problem.”
The foregoing explains the pain primary school teachers are passing through in Delta state. This is why they are unhappy with the state government. Following the development and the government ineptitude to their plights, the rift between the state government and teachers has taken a fearful dimension.
Beginning from Thursday, March 9, 2017, the two bodies, the government and the NUT are locked up in titanic war over the salary of primary school teachers and the promotion and implementation of same to teachers in the post primary institutions.
The teachers under the aegis of Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) embarked on the strike action on Thursday, March 9, 2017. The teachers’ grouse lies on non-payment of primary school teachers’ salaries for up to four months with last payment being November 2016. From November 2016 till date, primary school teachers have not been paid salaries, a development which means the teachers spent their Christmas and New Year without salaries.
Series of meeting have been held between government officials and members of the union, many of which ended in deadlock as the union members had turned down the plea and promises of the government, led by Governor Ifeanyi Okowa. The teachers are of the view that the government is showing high level of insincerity to the challenges of the teachers, hence, they are unwilling to bend to the desires of the state government until their demands are met.
The NUT state chairman, Jonathan Jemirieyigbe, gave series of reasons why the teachers are unwilling to go back to school. According to him, the government is refusing to meet the demands of teachers of both primary and secondary schools.
He condemned the lackadaisical attitude of the government to the welfare of the teachers. His reasons are not far-fetched. He said: “Our primary school teachers’ salaries from December, January and February have not been paid till date. We also have the issue of non -implementation of promotions released for primary and secondary schools.
“Others include non-implementation of JAC’s decision to pay primary school teachers, non-payment of minimum wage for several years as well as illegal deductions of teachers’ salaries on the excuse of infotech biometric data report, among others.”
Following the unwillingness of government to address the issues raised by the NUT, the union members have agreed that the strike will continue until government bows to their needs. But government, represented by the commissioner for basic and secondary education, Chiedu Ebie, said it has met certain demands of the teachers, hence the teachers should go back to the classroom and resume work.
On Saturday, March 18, 2017, the state government went furious, issuing threat to secondary school teachers to either go back to school or forfeit their salaries. The threat which it codenamed “No work, no pay” directed all secondary school teachers to go back to school today, Monday March 20, as failure to do so will mean forfeiting their pay, describing their strike action as being in solidarity with their primary counterparts.
The government said it has met all the demands of the secondary school teachers under the post primary education board. Consequently, it said the continued sympathy strike with their primary school counterparts has become unreasonable as all matters concerning promotions have been approved and implemented by the state government.
It thereafter said the government will no longer tolerate strike actions that would jeopardise the smooth conduct of teaching and learning in public schools. It added: “For the avoidance of doubt, the state government will henceforth apply the policy of “No work, No pay” on any school principal or teacher who fails to resume work on Monday, March 20, 2017.”
But chairman of the NUT, Jonathan Jemirieyigbe, said the action of the state government was uncalled for. He told NAIJ.com that Governor Okowa’s threat cannot hold water. For him, Okowa cannot do what he is threatening to do. He said the strike was embarked upon by the NUT and it is only the NUT that has the constitutional right to suspend the strike.
According to him: “Okowa no fit. Secondary school teachers did not call for strike, it is NUT that called for strike. And since, it was the NUT that called for strike, it is the NUT that has right to call off the strike. Okowa’s threat cannot hold water. He is the one just taken the issue beyond where it is supposed to be.
“We will be very happy if he applies the policy of no work no salary. Let him not pay, let him add secondary school teachers to the struggle. Has he paid the arrears of the secondary school teachers he is saying he has settled? Has our promotions been implemented? He has not settled anything. I’m the one you are talking with and not anybody else.”
He added that even if the state government has settled the issues with the NUT, it is not within the power of the governor to call off strike. He told NAIJ.com that though the teachers are hungry but they could afford to sacrifice the next months for Delta state government, provided the teachers’ needs are met.
But if the needs are not met, he said: “We will not go back to school. Even at gunpoint, we will not resume school. All that the government of Delta state needs do is to attend to our needs. We need results and not promises. We have been receiving these promises since 2014 when I came on board as NUT chairman.
“Up till today, the promises are still there unmet. The promises have remained unredeemable, other problems have been added. We are tired, we are even hungry. If need be let him sack everyone and do fresh employment. We are ready to take the bull by the horn.”