Stakeholders in the education sector as well as some Nigerians have applauded President Muhammadu Buhari for approving pay rise and extension of retirement age for teachers in the country.
As Nigerian teachers yesterday joined their counterparts worldwide to commemorate this year's Teachers Day, President Buhari gave them a surprise package of a special salary scale.
The president also extended teachers' retirement age to 65 years and the duration of service years from 35 to 40 years.
These, he said, were part of ongoing moves by the federal government to revitalise and reposition the teaching profession in the country by introducing what he described as "fundamental and far reaching changes."
Nigerian teachers over the years had been agitating for a review of their retirement and welfare packages.
Buhari who was represented by the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, at an event to commemorate 2020 World Teachers Day in Abuja yesterday said a review of teachers' development policies had revealed huge gaps in the quantity and quality of teachers at all levels of the nation's education system.
This year's World Teachers Day with the theme, "Teachers: Leading In Crisis, Reimagining The Future", seeks to draw public attention to the expanding role of teachers in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on education.
Speaking on the theme, Buhari commended the resilience of the Nigerian teachers particularly at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, imploring all members of the public to take a moment and appreciate the task of teachers who he described as true heroes in the fight against ignorance and under development.
"Without the commitment efforts, passion and dedication of our teachers, our society would not have fared well at all," the president noted.
To address these challenges confronting teachers, the president approved the reintroduction of bursary award to education students in Universities and College of Education with assurance of automatic employment upon graduation, payment of stipends to Bachelor of Education students as well as granting them automatic employment after graduation which he said was now a government policy.
The president stated: "The Tertiary Education Fund (TETFUND) will now fund teaching practice in Universities and Colleges of Education, special salary scale for teachers in basic and secondary schools including provisions for rural posting allowance, science teachers allowance and peculiar allowance.
"Special teacher pension scheme to enable the teaching profession retain its experienced talent as well as extend teachers retirement age to 65 years and teachers service years to 40, create a career path policy for teaching profession in Nigeria and, teachers conversion programme and ICT training to mitigate the current dearth of qualified teachers in the school system."
Buhari also instructed the ministry to facilitate the implementation of the new teachers' salary scheme, saying this will encourage the teachers in delivering better service as the future of Nigeria depends on the quality of teachers the country produces.
According to him, teachers have the power to shape and reshape the lives of young people and help learners to enhance their potential.
He continued: "Only great teachers can produce excellent people and students that will make the future of our country great.
"A positive or negative influence of a teacher on any child will have an effect on that child. Therefore the federal government is ensuring quality education to access. My administration has resolved that quality education of teachers in terms of engagement of continued professional development has to be given priority.
"The future of this country will be a function of quality education delivered to our children today and this depends on the quality of our teachers and the quality of our teachers depends on the motivation and their motivation depends on how happy they are doing what they are doing.
"To address these challenges, my administration has approved the following for teachers and the teaching profession. That in order to attract investment in the teaching profession, the quality of the introduction of bursary awards has been restored. There will be a special pension scheme to enable the teaching profession retain its experienced talent as well as extend teachers' retirement age to 65 years and the duration of teachers years to 40 years."
Earlier, the national president of Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), Dr Nasir Idris, applauded the efforts of the federal government towards the welfare of teachers.
He pledged commitment of teachers to the ideals of the profession as they strive to do their best to update the professional skills and knowledge, and to work with government and relevant stakeholders to ensure that global best practices in teaching and learning are brought to bear in the nation's education system.
He said the impact of COVID-19 on education around the world is quite devastating as more than 1.5billion students and 63million primary and secondary school teachers were reportedly affected by the closure of schools worldwide.
He said, "In Nigeria, available records indicate that over 39 million youngsters were affected by the schools' closure. The closure of schools propelled the use of Distance Learning or Online Learning platforms to keep education ongoing.
"This has also generated the notion that Information Communication Technology (ICT) can take over the work of teachers. While we must all appreciate the "new normal" and the responsibility it places on us to encourage and embrace the use of technology in education as an aid to teaching and learning, we are constrained to observe that the distance learning or online learning programmes fail to meet the learning needs of many less-privileged, disadvantaged and vulnerable children, especially those with disabilities and those living in rural areas.
"It must be emphasized that the use of technology including distance learning or online learning cannot replace the school community and the face to face interaction between the teacher and the learner which is crucial to the learning and development process."
The NUT boss noted that the theme of the year's celebration highlights the greater burden the COVID-19 crisis placed on teachers to build their capabilities and to be resilient, creative and innovative to shape the future of education and the teaching profession as well as to prepare the learners for the changing world.
He added: "This means that teachers need to be provided with opportunities for regular training and retraining, be provided with a conducive and safe school environments, be adequately equipped and be empowered and supported to be able to meet the new challenges and demands of the 21st century and to "ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all.
"The annual celebration of the World Teachers' Day provides us opportunity to take stock of developments in the teaching profession and the education sector as a whole, with a view to promoting teachers effectiveness in the discharge of their professional tasks in this direction."
Further reacting to the approval, the Union through its secretary-general, Dr Mike Ene, said all teachers in the federation were very happy with the president, stressing that this is the first time a sitting president would take such a decision.
Ene noted: "NUT is very happy because this is the first time over a decade that a sitting president, Muhammadu Buhari, has come out particularly to tackle the issue of education by making proactive pronouncement to the entire request we have been making over the years. So, over one million teachers in primary and secondary schools in this country are very happy.
"The only thing we need to beg from the operators, federal Ministry of Finance, Federal Ministry of Education, Salaries and Wages Commission and all other stakeholders is to ensure that the approvals are implemented. We are now begging all the principal operators to make sure that this goes into implementation so that in two months to come we implement this.
"NUT and teachers of Nigeria are so grateful; they are so happy because these are agitations over the years."
Other stakeholders also commended the federal government for the decision to finally attend to the needs of teachers in the country.
It Will Ameliorate Their Plight - BCO
Commending President Buhari over what it described as his political will to increase teachers' salary scale, the Buhari Campaign Organisation (BCO) said the approval will go a long way in addressing teachers' challenges.
The National coordinator of the BCO, Mallam Gidado Ibrahim, who made the commendation yesterday while speaking with journalists at his office in Abuja on the development, said, "That singular act by the president, which will go a long way in addressing issues that confront teachers, will engrave his name on the marble of history as a leader who felt the pulse of his people.
"The nod given to Tertiary Education Fund (TETFUND) fund teaching practice in Universities and Colleges of Education and special salary scale for teachers in basic and secondary schools, including provisions for rural posting allowance, is a boost to the teaching profession in Nigeria."
Ibrahim noted that the special teacher pension scheme approved by the president will also work in no small measure towards restoring the lost glory of the teaching profession.
He also assured that President Buhari will do more in the areas of security, education, health and agriculture sectors before his tenure expires in 2023.
He reiterated the commitment of the new BCO leadership towards ensuring a leveled playing ground for everyone, urging members to work together collectively to better the image of the organization.
"The era of dictatorship and blackmail of members just to deny them access to what they suffered during the campaigns for the president is over. No act of assasination of character will be tolerated in the BCO henceforth as the organization under my leadership will carry everyone along," Ibrahim added.
Also, the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) reiterated its commitment to the development of the education sector and the improvement of the welfare of teachers in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Minister of the FCT, Mallam Muhammad Musa Bello, who made the promise in his message to all the teachers in the FCT on the celebration of the 2020 edition of the World Teachers Day yesterday, noted that education is the bedrock of society, adding that no nation desirous of progress and development can afford to ignore the education sector.
Bello stated that the administration was committed to the development of education in all its ramifications in the FCT and would continue to commit time and resources to ensure that the sector meets up with the expectations of FCT residents.
Also, the Kaduna State chapter chairman of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), Mallam Ibrahim Surajo, said the extension of retirement age of teachers from 35-40 years was quite commendable.
The chairman however said to whom much is given much is expected, just as he called on teachers to redouble their efforts in service delivery to justify the president's good gesture.
He pointed out that Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufa'i's relationship with the teachers in the state is quite commendable, stressing that teachers get their salaries monthly.
"The discrimination in terms of salary payment for teachers in primary and secondary schools needs to be addressed. While the secondary school teachers get paid earlier, those in the primary school face some delay.
"Our teachers face challenges of insecurity; some of them get kidnapped and ransom paid for their release in most cases. So we want the government to provide adequate security for our teachers".
Reacting to the extension of the retirement age of teachers to 65 and 40 years of service by President Buhari, Comrade Ayuba Gana, the chairman, Plateau State chapter of the Nigerian Union of Teachers NUT, said it was long overdue.
According to him, it had been long that teachers have been yearning for the extension of retirement age and years in service, adding that the pronouncement is a welcome development.
He pointed out that apart from the extension, government at all levels should also improve on the welfare of teachers and to ensure that salaries and other entitlements are paid to them as at when due to motivate them to perform their duties.
Also, to commemorate the evening in Oyo, the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN), Oyo State chapter called for payment of extra allowances for teaching and non-teaching staff affected by the extension of working hours in the state.
The SPN's Secretary, Comrade Ayodeji Adigun, while felicitating with the teachers on this year's edition of World Teacher Day, said the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) must organise and unionise private school teachers and demand better working conditions, including new minimum wage for them.
While noting that this year's occasion was happening at a turning point in human history, with the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic which has again placed more tasks on the teachers' union, he urged NUT to rise to the occasion by fighting for and defending better welfare and working conditions for teachers.
According to SPN, given the serial attacks launched on the working people, and especially teachers, by government and private employers, using the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext, the labour movement must live up to its responsibility of defending workers.
In another development, the Nigeria Union of Teachers in Niger state has lent their support for the state government to reopen all schools by making the school environment safe for both teachers and students.
The state NUT chairman, Comrade Ibrahim Umar, made this position known yesterday during the celebration of 2020 World Teachers day in Minna.
Comrade Umar said government should provide equipment for all schools to make the institutions safe for everyone.
Adding his voice, a public secondary school teacher in Ekiti State, Mr Ojo Ayodele, described the development as a remarkable gift on Teachers' Day celebration to all Nigerian teachers, especially those who are nearing their retirement age.
Ayodele said this will serve as morale booster to those who are still young in the service and give them more time to plan for the years ahead.
"It is a special gift from the federal government to celebrate our day. Those who are still thinking that they need more time in service as teachers to plan for one thing or the other now have the opportunity", he stated.
Another teacher, Mrs Margaret Adeyemo, who works in a public primary school in the state, said it is good the government was giving retirement period extension to teachers.
Adeyemo said it was a thing some of her colleagues had been clamouring for but it came at a time no one expected.
She said, "We thank the government for this because it is one benefit that goes to everybody in the profession at the same time. I hope it is for all teachers in the country".
Govs Pledge Support For Teachers
Meanwhile, state governors yesterday hailed teachers, even as they pledged to give their total support to the teaching profession.
Gombe State governor, Alhaji Muhammadu Inuwa Yahaya paid tribute to teachers in the state and Nigeria at large for their immeasurable contributions and sacrifices to societal development through imparting knowledge and shaping the future of the pupils and students despite obvious challenges.
In his goodwill message to mark the 2020 teachers' day, Governor Yahaya described teachers as tink tanks upon which children, as future leaders, draw their inspiration while growing up.
He reiterated that his administration will continue to take all measures that will promote the wellbeing, development and empowerment of the teachers in the state.
The dovernor described the theme of the 2020 World Teachers Day, "Teachers: Leading in Crisis, Reimagining the Future", as apt and timely, saying "the job of educating, nurturing and molding lives may be challenging but it is still one of the most honourable jobs on earth."
Also, Kwara State governor, AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, congratulated teachers in the state on the commemoration of this year's World Teachers' Day.
The governor in a statement signed by his chief press secretary, Rafiu Ajakaye, said teachers' preeminence in human civilisation and development is not debatable.
He stated: "I salute our teachers on this day of the World Teachers' Day. Our administration is convinced that the future of our society is closely tied to the quality and welfare of our teachers who are in charge of moulding our children and preparing them for the future.
"This explains the importance the administration attaches to the education sector, including ongoing efforts to secure brighter prospects for the teachers".
PDP Tasks FG On Better Welfare
Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has urged the federal and state governments to ensure better pay package and welfare for teachers at all levels in Nigeria.
The party stated this while hailing Nigerian teachers at all levels for their sacrifices, commitment and dedication to the course of nation building and development of the educational sector despite the daunting challenges.
The party's national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, in a special message to Nigerian teachers, described them "as touch bearers, who have continued to exhibit unmatched resilience, perseverance and selflessness in their noble and onerous tasks in spite of the challenging economic and working conditions they face."
The party added: "Indeed, this year's theme of "Teachers: Leading in Crisis, Re-imagining the Future" foregrounds the inestimable role and burden borne by teachers all over the world and particularly in Nigeria in providing direction and stabilizing the polity for a virile and productive future".
NANS Threatens Showdown With FG, ASUU, Others Over Strike
Also, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) yesterday threatened a showdown with authorities, including the federal government, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and Non-academic Staff Union of Universities (NASU) over the lingering the lingering strike action affecting the reopening of all tertiary institutions in the country.
The students have been at home for over six months following the ASUU strike which started on March 9 this year.
This was compounded by the 14-day warning strike announced by SSANU, NASU, COEASU (College of Education Academic Staff Union) other union bodies on the day the federal government gave the green light for full reopening of schools across the federation.
The national president of NANS, Danielson Akpan, in a tweet on NANS official twitter page, charged all the unions' zonal structures, Student Union Government (SUG) presidents from every campus across the country to begin immediate mobilisation of Nigerian students for confrontation with the authorities.
In a statement with titled, "Operation Reopen our Campuses," the national president said it had become necessary to engage the authorities with confrontation having exhausted the first two C's of consultation and consolidation without tangible results as strike still lingers.
"This decision has been taken after careful consideration and our present realities with COVID-19. We urge students to remain calm and await further instructions as to the date and time for this showdown," he said.
When LEADERSHIP contacted the national president to get a confirmation on the proposed showdown and date, he declined comment saying, "I can't comment right now as I am very busy."