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Zulum and teachers’ welfare in Borno

The current governor of Borno State, Professor Babagana Umara Zulum has built an enviable reputation across Nigeria, since his assumption of office as chief executive…

The current governor of Borno State, Professor Babagana Umara Zulum has built an enviable reputation across Nigeria, since his assumption of office as chief executive of the state. He is widely acclaimed to be the most responsible, responsive and compassionate governor amongst his peers, and is also seen to be incorruptible. His caring disposition to his people and workaholic tendencies have also endeared him to many Nigerians across the length and breadth of the country.

It therefore came as a huge surprise to many when news broke that under the watch of this same “Compassionate Governor”, some employees are earning ridiculously low pays like N8,000, N13,900, etc.

Daily Trust Saturday takes a close look at the controversy to unravel how and why the situation has taken this dimension.

In a sort of ‘media invasion’, resistance is growing against the salary being paid to teachers and staff under the Local Education Authority (LEA) in Borno State.

Like the Arab Spring, the push back gathered momentum, with people vowing to fight for these workers who claimed to be receiving between N8,000 to N15,000 as monthly pay, stressing that they have been languishing in silence.

Words like “insensitive”, “shameful”, “ very sad”, “pathetic” and “too bad” awash the social media to describe the situation, even when the state government said those teachers were only retained in the service of the state on compassionate grounds.

According to our investigations, the state government in 2020 assessed a total of 17,229 primary school teachers, and based on the competency test conducted, many failed to get a pass mark. Those who failed ought to have been weeded out of the system immediately. However, those of them have remained stagnant since then. And so were their salaries.

The state Commissioner of Education, Lawan Wakilbe, said his ministry and the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) conducted the competency test based on the syllabus of primary school pupils, but many teachers could not get the pass mark.

Fatima Bintu, is one of the affected primary school teachers, who spent more than 30 years in the service. She said her salary is just N13,900.

“They said we should write a competency test and later announced that we failed. Now, we are being paid peanuts that could not take care of our needs. How can a hungry person teach? 

“N13,900 is the salary I used to survive with my three orphans. Now, a small measure of rice costs over N2,000. What about transport fare, rent and children’s school fees? This is too much for me to bear.

“Also, we don’t get promotions or leave grants, and they are saying that we would be trained to write another exam, which would determine whether we would cross over to the minimum wage. What kind of policy is this?” she decried

She called on the state government to look inward, consider the current economic situation and raise their salaries to the minimum wage status.

Another teacher, Muhammad, who prefers a single name to avoid being victimised, said he spent 13 years in the service, but his current salary is N13,500.

“For all these years my salary has not changed. We live on credit to survive and most times we don’t have money to transport ourselves to the school”, he said.

Muhammad, who admitted failing the competence examination, lamented that the training he awaits to cross to the minimum wage earning has taken too long to start.

“To be fair to the government, we received palliatives but that is not enough. We should be placed appropriately to be able to fend for our families”, he said.

Another teacher who lamented that in some LGAs, primary school teachers collect N8,000 as monthly salary, said that even the N30,000 minimum wage is too meager to cater for a family, let alone less than N10,000.

“We appealed to the state government to introduce a special palliative package for primary school teachers to save them from the difficulties they faced due to the mean salary

“We all know that Zulum has done commendably well in this state. He distributes palliatives to the poor and the vulnerable ones but he should treat us specially because we are the most deserving among workers due to our mean salaries”, the teacher concluded.

We vetoed Zulum not to sack a single teacher  – NLC 

The chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in Borno State, Comrade Yusuf Inuwa, said the issue of LEA teachers in Borno is a special case. “We asked Governor Zulum not to sack a single teacher to avoid the kind of situation in Kaduna”, the Labour leader said.

“When we advocated for the review of their meager salary, the state government said a competency test must be conducted to sanitise the system, because not everyone in the LEA is a teacher.

“A committee was set up and we were called to take part but we said no, unless the state government agreed to our terms and conditions. 

“We know what happened in Kaduna where over 20,000 teachers were sacked overnight and we don’t want a repeat. So, we gave them a condition that none of our teachers shall be sacked,” he said.

Inuwa said a written agreement was signed with the state government that no teacher would be sacked before the competency test was conducted.

“After the test, the candidates were categorised into three groups: the first group were those who passed the exams and were automatically placed on the N30,000 minimum wage.

“The second category were those who didn’t pass the exams but are trainable; so it’s agreed that they would be sent for training at College of Education, Waka Biu for proper training before being placed on the N30,000 minimum wage.

“Then the third category; these were untrainable ones, because no matter what you did, they cannot teach. So, we agreed that they would be deployed to other non teaching sections of the LGAs,” he said

He said a committee was set up to present a report on how the non teaching local government workers can be absorbed into other departments.

“But, it came to realise that there were so many abnormalities at that level: the issue of ghost workers, overstretched payroll, among others. So, he (the governor) asked us to give him time.

“You know, successive LG caretaker chairmen have employed massively to a level that the local government grants cannot pay the workers, let alone increase the salary. 

“Go to Biu, Hawul, Jere and other LGAs, their grants can’t pay their salaries until the government uses other sources to augment it. But at some point, the government was forced to increase the salaries based on percentage. 

“I’m now aware that the local government verification exercise has been concluded and the report has been submitted to the governor last week, for action.

“My advice to people is that, they should be just whenever they are posting things on social media. Yes, it’s their right to post, but they should fear God and know that they would give account of everything said. They should explain everything that happened, not just their side of the story,” he said

Meanwhile, these 7,975 workers who are stagnant on less than N20,000 continued to complain of debilitating hardship under the meager salary, especially after the removal of fuel subsidy by the Bola Tinubu administration, and other associated economic conditions that have  worsened the living conditions of Nigerians. The affected workers said their salaries could barely transport them to their workplaces monthly.

Zulum’s compassion ‘landed him into trouble’ – Aide

A spokesman of the governor, Abdulrahman Bundi said, based on the recommendations of the Labour union in the state, those who failed the exams were retained instead of being sacked and replaced with qualified teachers.

“But, out of his magnanimity and compassion, His Excellency said, the security situation in the state did not warrant teachers to be sacked. He therefore came up with the idea of intensive training for the unqualified teachers, which would allow them to enjoy the minimum wage”, he said.

Bundi explained further that, following what Zulum observed as the serious incompetence of the majority of the teachers in the simple literacy and numeracy they teach their pupils, he directed that they should be trained.

“It will surprise you to know that some of these teachers can’t write National Certificate in Education (NCE) examination. What would those people teach our children in school?” he asked

Bundi said, when the competency test was conducted for the 17,229 primary school teachers, 5,439, representing 31% proved competent; 7,975, representing 46.3% were not sufficiently competent, but could be retrained; while 3,817, representing 22.1%, were not qualified and cannot be retrained.

He said the state governor has approved N1 billion for the training of the 7,975 teachers (46.3%) and the portal was active for them to register, while the government would pay their tuition fees and everything, with N30,000 monthly allowance.

“Also, the governor has planned to transfer the service of the remaining 3,817, who are completely unqualified teachers, to other sectors of local government service.

“While the 5,439 fully qualified teachers are already enjoying the N30,000 minimum wage,” he said.

Be a little more patient – NUT appeals to aggrieved teachers

When contacted, the Assistant Secretary and spokesman for the Borno State wing of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Bako Lawan, called on the grieving teachers to be patient as the government has approved the fund for the retraining.

“They would be trained at the Colleges of Education at Bama and Waka. So they should exercise a little more patience until they are retrained to enable them to earn more salary.

“They are divided into 2 categories: 2,000 diploma holders who will be retrained in two installments of 1000 each; and then there is also a sandwich course of about 17,000 NCE holders, to qualify them for the N30,000 minimum wage.

However, the Executive Chairman of Borno State Universal Basic Education Board, Professor Bulama Kagu, said that the welfare of teachers is the topmost priority of Zulum’s administration.

“They should be patient, because this payment of N8,000 or N10,000 salary to teachers took place before Zulum became governor. You should know this. And he is doing his best to address the situation.

“However, the only way to do that is by sanitiSing the system, which all hands are on deck to do, and give our children quality education,” he said.

Also, the Borno State Commissioner for Information and Internal Security, Prof Usman A Tar, said the state government has been battling with the problems of teachers’ recruitment, remuneration and retention.

“Over the years, unscrupulous employment practices, particularly by Local Education Authorities, have resulted in the engagement of persons who were not qualified into the teaching profession, contrary to the national standards. 

“Indeed, many individuals were indiscriminately employed as teachers on the basis of ethnic or political reasons. These individuals not only lack the basic qualifications to stand before pupils, but refuse to subject themselves to gaining the necessary qualification that will enable them to acquire the required competence in teaching pedagogy” he said.

Tar recalled how Zulum issued an instruction to the Ministry of Education to clean-up the mess in the local education authorities in 2020, where he said: “If I cannot allow my own children to be taught by unqualified persons, I cannot allow the children of the poor to be taught by unqualified persons. We have a duty to defend the interest of those we have sworn to protect”.

He appealed to social media influencers to dig out facts of any information that come handy before posting so as to avoid tarnishing the reputation of government or individuals that has been built over the years.

the majority of the teachers in the simple literacy and numeracy they teach their pupils, he directed that they should be trained.

“It will surprise you to know that some of these teachers can’t write National Certificate in Education (NCE) examination. What would those people teach our children in school?” he asked

Bundi said, when the competency test was conducted for the 17,229 primary school teachers, 5,439, representing 31% proved competent; 7,975, representing 46.3% were not sufficiently competent, but could be retrained; while 3,817, representing 22.1%, were not qualified and cannot be retrained.

He said the state governor has approved N1 billion for the training of the 7,975 teachers (46.3%) and the portal was active for them to register, while the government would pay their tuition fees and everything, with N30,000 monthly allowance.

“Also, the governor has planned to transfer the service of the remaining 3,817, who are completely unqualified teachers, to other sectors of local government service.

“While the 5,439 fully qualified teachers are already enjoying the N30,000 minimum wage,” he said.

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