Photograph — The Guardian Nigeria

The rest of the world joined Africa to celebrate the African child on June 16. A day designed to create awareness on the need for a child friendly, quality, free and compulsory education for all children in Africa.

However, Millions of Nigerian school children are faced with threat of being denied an education following the call by the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT),on the 19 states governors that are owing teachers salaries to pay up within the next 30 days or face an indefinite strike action.

In the words of the National President of the union, Comrade Michael Alogba Olukoya, “They will soon collect another Paris Club money and so we hope they will pay all the backlog of salary 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.”

He gave the names of the states owing salaries to include Benue (10 months), Ekiti (6 months), Cross River (6 months owed 1,000 teachers), Kogi (15 months with half salary being paid since 2013), Ondo (5 months), Taraba (4 months), Niger (3 months), Delta (3 months), and Oyo (3 months owed primary and secondary school teachers).

Other states are Abia (5 months), Osun (paying teachers half salary for 23 months), Nasarawa (paying half salary for 18 months to primary school teachers), Plateau (half salary since 2010), Adamawa (4 months), Bayelsa (7 and a half months), Imo (paying 70% monthly salary to primary and secondary school teachers), Kwara (paying by percentage and owing 4 months), Borno (minimum wage yet to be implemented) , and Zamfara (yet to implement national minimum wage).

This impending face-off between the NUT and state governments is yet another setback in the educational sector. Already in Nigeria, more than 10.5 million children are out of school, according to the most recent data released by UNICEF.

Rightly, Teachers or any worker for that matter should not be owed for any reason. It is more appalling in situations where teachers are owed for up to ten months. In fact this raises questions about the quality of education children under them receive.  There have been reports of teachers abandoning their classrooms to pursue other business endeavours in order to make ends meet.

So, it is understandable why the NUT is gearing up to shut down the primary and secondary educational sector to press home their demands. It is out of concern for the welfare of teachers who also have families to cater for.

According to Olukoya, many state governors have failed to be transparent in their agreements with workers’ unions.

His statement is a clear indication that these state governments are not concerned about the plight of teachers or the millions of children who have been and will be denied education for an indefinite time frame. A few months ago, a headmistress in Abia state was allegedly demoted for complaining about the non-payment of salaries to the wife of the governor, Nkechi Ikpeazu.

The federal government’s intervention by releasing bailout funds to states for the purpose of clearing salary backlogs have not worked. Some of governors have been accused of diverting these funds for other purposes.

Teachers have a duty to shape the young minds under their watch and this cannot be done in hunger and lack. In turn, the government is under obligation to pay them. The proposed move by NUT is a drastic one, as it does not have the best interest of the children at heart. This action will leave more than half of 54,434 primary schools in Nigeria without teachers.

For the future of the Nigerian child, NUT and the state governments need to find another way to dialogue and resolve their differences. In any case, the pressure should be on governments who have formed the habit of owing salaries. The federal government should ensure that it strictly monitors the next tranche of bail- out funds to ensure compliance.

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