Nineteen states in the country owe teachers in public primary and secondary schools several months of unpaid salaries and allowances, according to the Nigeria Union of Teachers [NUT], the umbrella union of teachers in this country. Rising from its National Executive Council [NEC] meeting at the Teachers' House, Oluyole, Ibadan, Oyo State last week, NUT's National President Comrade Michael Alogba Olukoya issued a 30-day ultimatum to governors of the affected states to pay all outstanding salary arrears or face "an aggressively- driven indefinite and total strike action."
The NUT leader listed the states and what they respectively owe teachers to include Benue (10months); Ekiti (6 months); Cross River (6 months); Kogi (15 months with teachers being paid half salary since 2013); Ondo (5 months); Taraba (4 months); Niger (3 months); Delta (4 months); and Oyo (3 months). Others are Abia (5 months); Osun (which has been paying half salary for the past 23 months); Nasarawa (where teachers have been on half salary for 18 months); Plateau (which has been paying half salary since 2010); Adamawa (4 months); Bayelsa (eight and half months); Imo (which has been paying 70% of monthly salary to teachers); and Kwara (4 months). Comrade Olukoya added that Borno and Zamfara States are yet to implement the existing national minimum wage.
Lamenting on this unfortunate situation, the NUT President regretted how many state governors failed to honour the agreements reached with the teachers' union in the past. He said the ultimatum became necessary because the governors will soon collect another instalment of Paris Club Refund.
Olukoya said "if any state government fails to pay up within this stipulated time, we shall converge again to give a notice of strike action."
Teachers' welfare, which basic elements include adequate remuneration as well as prompt payment of salaries, is not only crucial to the quality of teaching in schools but also to the general output of teachers. Prompt payment of salaries to teachers is one of the strong motivating factors that inspire teachers to perform better in their job. This is why the non- payment of teachers' salaries as demonstrated by the 19 state governors in Nigeria has damning consequences on the entire education sector.
No wonder reports say that teachers in the affected states have not been regular in their teaching job. This absenteeism usually reflects in low-quality- teaching, poor learning outcomes in pupils, high failure rate in examinations, and sometimes moral laxity in the pupils due to inefficient monitoring by teachers. Yet, we expect pupils and students from these 19 states to compete with not only their counterparts in other parts of the country but also with schoolboys and girls in other parts of the world where teachers are neither underpaid nor unpaid.
Welfare of teachers is a significant determinant of quality education. Besides, downplaying the well-being of a person in whose care the training of the country's future leaders has been entrusted amounts to ruining Nigeria's posterity. It is therefore criminal that governors in the affected states allowed teachers' unpaid salaries to accumulate to their current level.
The teachers' union is right to call on governors to use the next round of Paris Club Refund to settle all the arrears of salaries and allowances owed teachers. It would be recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari in December 2016 requested state governors to settle outstanding salaries and entitlements of their workers with at least 25 percent of the refunds made to them from excess deduction for external debt service. In spite of this refund as well as the bailout loans received by states, many failed to utilize these monies to pay up arrears of salaries and pensions owed workers, including teachers.
In order to save education from sinking further, we appeal to state governors to honour the ultimatum issued by teachers, and thus match their pledge to settle outstanding salaries with action. We also urge the federal government through the federal ministry of finance to monitor the utilisation by states of the next release of Paris Club refund.