This Day (Lagos)

Nigeria: Plateau State and Its Teachers

It is in the interest of the government and the teachers to resolve the crisis as soon as possible

For over seven months now, the entire primary school system in Plateau State has been shut down as a result of an industrial action embarked upon last March by the State's Council of Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), pressing for the implementation of the N18,000 national minimum wage. It therefore means that for almost an entire academic session primary school pupils have stayed out of class due largely to no fault of theirs. Unfortunately, there seems to be no end in sight.

With neither the state government nor the teachers union willing to yield ground, it is the pupils who now suffer the consequences of the face-off between the two sides. That explains why parents of the primary school pupils recently threatened to take to the streets to protest their displeasure at the lingering strike. The parents' hope being that their action would compel both the government and teachers' union to see reason and urgently resolve the impasse.

According to Mr. Sylvester Yakubu, Parent Teachers' Association (PTA) Chairman in the state, "It is sad that the primary teachers in Plateau have been on strike for months now and there is nothing concrete as to when the strike will be called off." Mr. Yakubu further declared: "As parents, we will not fold our hands and continue to wait until the two warring parties decide to call a truce while the future of our children is in jeopardy."

Unfortunately, as it seems, the government is not showing any serious commitment towards having an end to industrial action, except issuing ultimatums to teachers to return to school. The nearest the State Education Commissioner came to proposing a way out of the quagmire was his suggestion that parents whose children and wards are in primary six need not entertain any fear, because "all primary six pupils will be given automatic admission into JSS 1 during the current session."

We find the Commissioner's proposal totally unacceptable. We consider it an irresponsible approach which will do the pupils more harm than good. Packing children off into secondary schools without their sitting for common entrance examination, especially as they did no academic work for a whole session preceding their automatic admission, can only compound the problem at hand. We therefore suggest that the Plateau Ministry of Education should jettison the idea and instead enter into negotiation with the teachers.

After sitting at home for over half a year possibly watching corruptive movies or practicing one vice or the other, it is most likely that a good number of the children may lose interest in education all together. And the negative social consequences are only very dire. It is from the ranks of these frustrated children that criminals recruit accomplices. Even terrorist groups would find ready converts from among the distraught pupils. It is therefore a serious indictment on the government of Plateau State that it should remain indifferent while a serious and permanent damage is being done to the future of its children. What kind of future do the state authorities envision for this impressionable segment of its population when they allow primary schools to be shut for an academic year?

We would therefore like to appeal to both the government of Plateau State and the state's NUT to make more efforts at resolving the crisis, at least in the interest of the vulnerable population of primary school pupils. Let the two sides meet each other half-way and ensure that the children return to school as soon as practicable.

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