By JAMES EZEMA & STELLA UKWUOMA
Teachers across Nigeria on Tuesday began series of protests over what it described as the planned inclusion of primary school administration in the proposed autonomy for local governments.
The teachers who carried placards of various wordings marched through the streets in parts of the country to register their displeasure over the proposal.
A bill seeking financial autonomy for local governments at the House of Representatives, which was sponsored by Nkeiruke Onyejeocha, an Abia lawmaker, has since passed the second reading.
The bill seeks to amend Section 162 of the 1999 Constitution, which currently provides for a joint account for state and local governments, replacing the current practice with a Local Government Council Allocation Account” in which all funds accruing to every council shall be paid into..
However, teachers across the country have said that while they support the autonomy of local government, funding of primary education should be left with the Universal Basic Education Board (UBEB).
In Abuja, over 700 teachers, led by the Chairman of NUT in the Federal Capital, Comrade Stephen Knabayi, stormed the Secretariat of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), demanding to be left out of Local Government autonomy.
Comrade Knabayi, while addressing the protesting teachers at the main entrance of the Secretariat said that the decision to be left out of the Local Government autonomy was NUT National Executive Council (NEC) common position taken at its meeting held on 24th April, 2017, in Kaduna State.
He noted that the NEC meeting having “reappraised the issue of management and funding of Primary Education and the responsibility for payment of Primary School Teachers”, directed all national chapters to sensitize all stakeholders, including the public, lawmakers and other leaders on their position.
The FCT NUT boss told Unity Times that beyond the protest, the union has other plans to press home their demand in the event that the authorities concerned fail to listen to them.
According to him, as a union, they have ways of dealing with issues that relate to the government “this is not the last stage.
“This is the first step; we have other steps we wish to take in order to press home our demands. But those steps we wish to take, I’m not in a position to disclose them now, but I assure you that we have steps on ground to press home our demands”, Comrade Knabayi said.
The FCT leader of the NUT disclosed that due to the success of their protest, he was already being contacted for meetings by relevant authorities to discuss the issue to see how their demands would be met.
On his part, the Vice Chairman of the Gwagwalada branch of the NUT, Com. Mike Haastrup decried the poor state of education in the country, insisting that transferring teachers’ salaries and provision of educational facilities to the local government will not only encourage corruption at that level but also return Nigeria to the era of dilapidated infrastructure, non-payment of salaries as well as further fall in standard of education in the country.
“We cannot allow primary school education to be in the hands of local government. I personally experienced it between 1989 and 1996. We had terrible experience, the schools were dilapidated, teachers were not paid, there were so many years of unpaid salaries, and this has negative effects on school development and the entire education system.
“Now, the local governments are now seeking for autonomy, just because of teachers’ salaries because we are many in number.
“And by the time they carry the salaries of primary school teachers into their hands, they will divert such money and the school system will be affected”, Comrade Haastrup said in an interview with Unity Times crew.
Also speaking, a leader of the NUT in Karshi area of the FCT, Comrade Festus John Akapson, observed that the agitated transfer of primary school system to the local governments in the country would be tantamount to distorting the very foundation of Nigeria’s educational system.
According to him, Supreme Court has already settled the issue in its judgment on the matter, insisting that the court’s verdict should be obeyed by allowing the funding of the primary school to remain with the State through the Universal Basic Education Board as anything to the contrary will amount to violating the Nigerian constitution.
The protest held simultaneously in other parts of the country, including Ekiti, Imo, Kwara and the FCT. According to NUT, the union will continue the protest in phases in all parts of the country on daily basis, hoping that the issues be quickly resolved speedily by the government, including the lawmakers.
Members of NUT in Ekiti State, who gathered at the Awedele junction as early as 8 a.m moved through the streets, chanting solidarity songs, as they headed for the State House of Assembly, where they were received by the lawmakers, led by the Speaker, Hon. Kola Oluwawole.
The Union in Borno State also rejected the planned Local Government Autonomy that would include payment of salaries of primary school teachers.
The NUT Chairman in the State, Mr Bulama Abiso conveyed the position of the teachers after a peaceful protest walk to the Borno State Government House.
Mr Abiso argued that the 1999 constitution is clear about payment of salaries of primary school teachers, adding that the proposed plan is not acceptable.
The state Governor, Kashim Shettima, while receiving the protesting teachers, assured them of the government’s empathy towards their plights while calling for their support to fish out ghost workers in their midst.
In the same vein, Kaduna NUT condemns agitation for local council autonomy as the aggrieved teachers, who stormed the NUT office in Kaduna, also stated that the local government autonomy, if granted, would result to collapse of primary education system in Nigeria.
Teachers in Oyo State had also stormed the streets of Ibadan, the Oyo state capital to make similar demands.
In Akwa Ibom State, primary school teachers led by the state Chairman of NUT, Etim Ukpong, during a peaceful demonstration to the Government House in Uyo, joined their counterparts across the country to call on the National Assembly to exclude the funding and management of primary education in its ongoing move to approve autonomy for local government administration.
But the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), recently advocated for autonomy of local governments, which it said, aims to free local governments from the control of state governments.
Mr Ibrahim Khaleel, NULGE President, had said recently in an interview in Abuja recently that the campaign will be a nationwide exercise, first at zonal levels in Lafiya, Calabar, Lagos, Kano, Enugu and Jalingo with grand finale at Abuja.
“Then all the 36 state branches and 774 LGCs will conduct similar exercise in their domains under the supervision of an assigned National Officer.
“We will mobilise to engage governors and other stakeholders in the country toward the freedom of the local government councils,” he said.