Teachers in Benue State say they are facing a lot of hardship due to the over 13 months of salaries owed them by the government.
Our correspondent reports that some of the public primary school teachers have taken to petty trading and farming after school hours to meet some of their household needs.
But, there are others who do nothing outside of their teaching job, other than wait, hopefully, for the state government’s many promises to offset the salary backlog to materialise.
One of the teachers, who declined to mention her name, said she was owed a backlog of 15 months’ salaries.
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“Teachers are owed a lot of money by the state government. I’m owed 10 months for 2017, then I haven’t been paid my salary for December last year, which was paid to a select few.
“Also, I have not been paid for February and March this year, which were also paid to a select few, and then October, and November with the entire arrears for this year.
“Our union is still negotiating with the government over it and then the full implementation of promotion since we are not being paid according to our supposed grade levels.
“I can honestly say that coping with the situation has been tough. Personally, I have supportive siblings who reach out to me for food and cash, which keeps me going.
“I have suspended all forms of petty business that I was doing before due to the epileptic payment because when it’s finally paid, prospective customers give reasons why they can’t pay their debts, which is always very obvious.
“This is to avoid any tension and tied up resources. So I have stopped trading for now, till the economy improves,” she said.
Another teacher in the state who also for fear of victimization preferred anonymity, said he has found solace in farming to meet the feeding demands of his family.
The teacher claimed that the state government owed him over 13 months of unpaid salaries between 2017 and 2021.
“The government keeps alternating the payment of our salaries such that some would be paid while others would not. The hardship that accompanies unpaid salaries can only be better imagined,” he said.
Similarly, most of the affected teachers corroborated the tales of hardship that have driven many of them into petty trading and farming for survival.
Apart from teachers, some other workers in the state’s employment claimed that they were owed two to three months’ salaries.
Another teacher who gave her name as Agnes said: “Besides being owed over 15 months, the question of promotion is completely thrown out of the window.”
She said the government is not sincere about the plight of teachers in the state noting that they work under the most debilitating condition anywhere in the country.
Also speaking on the issue, the state chairman of the Nigerian Union of Teachers, Levi Terna Akuma, said they are currently negotiating with the state government to avert any impending strike action, which may be their last resort.
He said because of the hardship suffered by most teachers due of their unpaid salaries, the union recently asked them to stay at home for a short period but that they have since returned to work, stressing, however, that the move wasn’t a strike.
“What happened recently wasn’t a strike, but our teachers stayed at home because they didn’t have money to transport themselves to work.
“We, primary school teachers, were waiting for our August salaries; we were waiting at a time when every one of our counterparts under the same government was paid but we were not paid.
“So, teachers were saying that they don’t have money to go to work. We were in October at that time. Then, we asked the government to give us that money. The government paid up to 20 LGAs but we were waiting for three.
“In the end, the government paid the three LGAs so we came back to work.
“The backlog is 10 months in 2017, that’s between March and December of that year. And then December 2021; February and March 2022; and currently, September has been paid but not everybody has been paid.
“I don’t know precisely the amount being owed. But all together in 2017, the money was over N1.7 billion – that’s the 10 months. This time around, I didn’t do the summation, but it’s a huge amount of money,” he said.
Speaking on whether the union knew about any plans by the government to pay the backlog, Akuma said, “We gave a 14-day ultimatum, it passed; we gave seven-day, it passed too; and we are supposed to give a three days ultimatum of which if the government fails we can go on indefinite strike but the government called for negotiation on Wednesday.
So, until after the meeting, then I will know the intention of the government and what we want to do.”
Governor Samuel Ortom, while presenting the 2023 budget of N179 billion recently to the House of Assembly said, “The recurrent expenditure estimates focus on our obligation to faithfully pay the salaries of our workers and meet our obligations under our new Pension Laws and to our retired workers.”
Meanwhile, the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) chairman, Comrade Joseph Utse, has blamed the situation on the effect of COVID-19 and the dwindling allocation from the federal accrual.
He said, “The federal government could not give us enough funds for the payment of teachers, and since COVID-19 came and went, our allocation has been going down even from the federation account.
“The actual wage bill of the teachers in the state, as we have now given promotions to teachers, is N1.5 billion. As of now, we are up-to-date on the payment of salaries to teachers.
“It’s only the arrears that the present government inherited from the previous administration, and the governor is trying to settle that.”
Utse, however, faulted some of the teacher’s claims, stressing that at a political period such as this, some of them who belonged to other political parties may want to destroy the government by exaggerating what they were owed.
“Even if we owed them, plans are underway to make things right. Definitely, we are trying to pay all we owe before the administration winds up.
“The governor is so concerned with basic education; that is why he is doing everything possible to make sure these things are cleared.
“We have promoted teachers; we have paid them monies of the promotion after 17 years of not being promoted; and we are negotiating with the NUT and they have not even given us a headlight.
“The other one (strike) which they went was just for one week for only three local governments that we could not settle because of the low income from the federation account.
“I believe that if NUT is on the table with us, the teachers who go out on personal interest are unfair.
“On our part, we will try our best to see that no teachers go on strike,” the SUBEB chairman said.