…NULGE, NUT, MHWUN harmonise position on LG autonomy
by Bimbola Oyesola
As Nigeria’s local government workers get more support for their autonomy campaign from other affiliates in the labour movement, teachers have restated that salary must not be under the jurisdiction of the local government administration.
Three unions, Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) and Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MHWUN), that have been at loggerheads over the issue of the local government autonomy, however, found common ground recently during the Constitution review committee of the 1999 Constitution by the National Assembly, held a the weekend at the Intercontinental Hotel, Lagos.
The unions had organised a joint protest to make their position known on the issue of local government autonomy and administration of primary school education.
This was coming on the heels of the reconciliation organised by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) president, Ayuba Wabba, for the three unions earlier last week to end the crisis generated by the autonomy campaign.
The unions have told the lawmakers that putting teachers’ salary under the purview of the local government would destroy the primary education sector and throw the country into chaos as was witnessed in the past when local governments were responsible for the payment of salaries of teachers.
The workers, who came in their hundreds to the venue, were unanimous that putting teachers’ salary and allowances under the third tier of givernment would set the nation’s education system backward and further expand the gap between the rich and the poor thereby setting the nation on a path of self-destruction.
National president of the NUT, Michael Alogba, said the unions believe that primary school education should be made a separate entity instead of putting it under local government autonomy.
“We are here to say no to autonomy if, primary education will be put under local government,” he said.
Alogba explained to the committee that they wanted a reincarnation of the defunct National Primary Education Council (NPEC), where teachers were properly catered for, and, if that would not be, primary school education should be put under the purview of the state government.
He said they were not averse to local government autonomy, “but the fact that experience is a great teacher” has shown that when primary education was put under local governments, “it was suffering galore and we do not want a continuation of that, we have had a lot of argument on it.”
The president of NULGE, Ibrahim Khaleel, said they were at the constitution reform to canvass not only for the salaries of teachers, but that the entire funding of primary education should be at the front of the three levels of government by way of putting it on first line charge of the federation account and so the three tiers of government should be forced to participate financially in funding primary education because of its importance.
Khaleel said, “We are here at this constitution reform that would make the third tier of government more functional, more visible and the connectivity between the rural people and governance and democracy itself to be strengthened.
“We are for autonomy, that is why we are here, and when you are talking about visibility of government, the only thing that will make it visible is when finances, administration are free from unnecessary encroachment and, of course, in the salaries of teachers, it was part of our document, even the memorandum we sent to the National Assembly.
“So the NUT is our sister union and there is no ambiguity between their demand and our own. We are asking for better Nigeria that would be for everybody, the Nigeria that would be inclusive, Nigeria for Nigerians and not a group of people.”
The Lagos State chapter chairman of NUT, Adesegun Raheem, said it was wrong for local governments to pay teachers as local governments cannot recruit any worker above level 6, and the entry point of any teacher is Nigeria Certificate of Education (NCE), which is grade level 7.
He explained that, “it implies that no local government can employ any teacher and, having said that, how can you pay workers you do not employ? That is our stand, position and resolve.
“We have witnessed it in Lagos in 1991, 1992, 1993 and those were the dark days of primary edication in Lagos State. That was when public primary education lost value, the public did not even have confidence in it because for about 12 months, teachers were unable to pay house rents, living in the schools. Schools were not schools, pupils were not in school, there were strikes, until NPEC took the matter up.”
Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan, who addressed the protesters, said the message of the unions would be passed to the committee and, as a former teacher who has taught at all levels, he understands the teachers’ plight.
Earlier at the meeting with the NLC president, the three unions had resolved to support local government autonomy in Nigeria, ensure that primary school education as a stepping stone and the foundation of all forms of education deserves a national policy, and its funding should be the responsibility of the federal, state and local governments, as well as ensure, guarantee and effect regular and timely payment of teachers’ salaries, entitlements and benefits, teachers’ salaries shall be a first line charge on the federation account.