Between local goverment autonomy and salaries of teachers

Adamu Adamu, Minister of Education

With council areas granted full financial autonomy, the country’s primary school teachers fear for the worst and have vowed to resist any attempt to put their salaries in a local government’s purse, claiming such will jeopardise learning and their livelihood. Head, Education Desk, Iyabo Lawal, reports.

Their terms were unmistakable. In unison, they protested on the streets. They are not activists neither were they political agitators – they were those entrusted with the future of young impressionable children.

Men and women alike, young and old, they thronged the capital city of Anambra State, Awka, to make some demands that affect their very souls and profession.

They were trying to liberate themselves from an age-old stranglehold of unpaid salaries and being under the control of local government councils.

“We’re protesting over the funding and management of primary education under an autonomous local government system,” one of the protesters said.

“Yes, we don’t want primary and secondary school funding, including payment of our salaries to be put in the hands of local governments,” another disclosed.

“We’re not against the local government councils being autonomous. But their autonomy should not include having the powers or authority to pay teachers’ salaries,” yet another teacher said.

Addressing his members, the national president of Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), Michael Olukoya-Alogba, re-echoed all this agitation.

“The importance of education cannot be over-emphasised in any society, primary education in particular constitutes the fundamental. It is ironical and distressingly painful that this all-important stratum of our educational system has suffered untold neglect and under-funding without adequate motivation for teachers.

“The renewed agitation for local government autonomy has made it imperative for NUT to sensitise stakeholders and general public on the dangers inherent in handing over the affairs of primary education to local government councils,” Olukoya –Alogba said.

Prior to the protest in Awka, the Lagos State chapter of the NUT had also urged the government including the National Assembly to ensure that the planned autonomy for local governments does not include the payment of salaries and allowances of primary school teachers.

In their show of intent to resist any such step, they trekked from Oregun Senior High School to the Lagos State House of Assembly.

Expressing their reservations to the Chairman, House Committee on Education, Lanre Ogunyemi, and the Chairman, House Committee on Public Accounts, Bisi Yusuf, the teachers pointed out that local government councils will not be able to pay their salaries regularly and that may affect their job.

“Primary school education has its own budget and a percentage is meant for salaries and allowances. That percentage should be taken away from the local government tier. We are not against local government autonomy. But no local government can afford to pay salaries.

“The local government did not employ us because it can only employ officers up to grade level six. No teacher is below grade level seven.  Allowing local governments to pay salaries will take us back to 1992 when primary school teachers were owed salaries,” the Lagos NUT Chairman, Segun Raheem, explained.

Currently, more than half of the 36 states in the country have yet to pay salaries of their teachers.

Little wonder, Olukoya- Alogba and his union in mid-June issued a 30-day strike notice, following the NUT’s National Executive Council meeting in Ibadan.

Among the states, as of June, owing the teachers are: Benue (10 months); Ekiti (six months); Cross River (six months); Kogi (15 months); Ondo (five months); Taraba (four months); Niger (three months); Delta (three months); Oyo (three months); Abia (five months); Osun (23 months); and Nasarawa (18 months).

Others are: Plateau (72 months); Adamawa (four months); Bayelsa (eight and a half months); and Kwara (four months).

“We hereby give a 30-day ultimatum to all the above-mentioned states to pay all the outstanding salaries being owed the teachers. They will soon collect another Paris Club money and so we hope they will pay all the arrears. If any state fails to pay up within this stipulated time, we shall converge again and give a notice of action. There is going to be total disconnect between us and such governments,” the NUT boss warned.

Nigerian teachers seem stuck between a rock and a hard place: state governments owe them and they fear the reality of being handed over to local governments. Why do they dread the councils that much?

Many of them say the ‘ghost’ of the effects of primary schools left in the hands of the local governments in the past had continued to haunt the teachers, leading to its near-collapse in terms of personnel, funding and infrastructural development.

Education scholars have described primary education as the bedrock of a child’s development. The development of primary education in Nigeria was guided by the Ashby recommendations of 1960, which among other things advocated for careful planning, budgeting, coordination and control in order to ensure a healthy relationship between resource availability and educational expansion.

With the 1976 local government reform and 1979 federal constitution, the provision and maintenance of primary education came under the statutory delegation of local government councils. In order to assist local government councils in achieving this task, the Local Government Councils Education Authorities were established in each local government councils and as subsidiaries of National Primary Education Commission under decree 31 of 1988, and charged with several responsibilities related to primary education management and financing.

However, the councils have repeatedly failed to live up to its obligations and the NUT will not want its members to go that route again.

In May, the union had reiterated its demand, “We appeal to the Federal Government not to contemplate handing over primary education to local government councils under the guise of local government autonomy. If we attempt to put primary education under the purview of local government administration, we shall be going back to the analogue age. We will not allow that to happen.

“Education should be seen as a right enshrined in our constitution. We are not against local government autonomy, but if they say primary education should go to the local governments, it will lead to slavery. We will be breeding more illiterates than literates.”

In April 2016, members of the Edo State chapter of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria appealed to the Federal Government to take up the responsibility of payment of primary school teachers’ salaries.

The ALGON stated that it was impossible for them to pay the salaries in view of other obligations they had to fulfil.

Local governments’ failure to pay teachers’ salaries in the past had led to the creation of an account jointly controlled by state and local governments.  It is from this account that primary school teachers’ salaries are removed before the allocation is disbursed to various local governments.

In October 2014, the National Assembly amended Section 124 of the 1999 Constitution allowing local councils to function as a tier of government, independent of state government control, thus, granting the 774 local government councils full financial and administrative autonomy,

But Olukoya-Alogba had insisted, “We want to plead and re-emphasise that we shall be taking Nigeria back to the Stone Age if any attempt is made to return primary education to the local government administration. As I speak, there is no local government that can run primary schools effectively. Do your research. There is no local government in this country that can pay teachers’ salaries and do other things without collaborating with the state government.”

Going by the Edo chapter of ALGON, the funding of primary schools across the country may after all be between the Federal Government and state governments.

At the moment, there is a joint funding of primary education between the federal and state governments under the Universal Basic Education scheme. The UBE Act of 2004 allows the Federal Government to match whatever any state government allocates for primary education with two per cent of the Consolidated Revenue Fund. The money is disbursed for infrastructural development, instructional materials, staff training, but not used to pay salaries.

But an educationist, Prof Oyewumi Ibidapo-Obe believes that primary education should be the responsibility of local government councils. He reminded that one of the responsibilities of the local government is to ensure effective and efficient primary education.

He said there should be a clear -cut distinction between states and local governments in terms of responsibilities and functions.

“If things are done properly, local government councils should be in charge of primary education. I see no reason why states should be in charge of primary education.”

Similarly, an official in the Federal Ministry of Education who pleaded anonymity faulted the teachers’ position saying the constitution is clear about who is to oversee primary education.

The official noted that primary education is under basic education and local government councils, being closer to the people are under obligation to oversee the activities of primary school teachers, including payment of salaries.

As the controversy rages on, the state governments who are also bogged down by many unfulfilled financial obligations have not said whether they are willing to fully shoulder the responsibility of caring for primary schools in their respective domains.

If the issue is not resolved on time, it is Nigeria’s future leaders that will suffer.

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