Twelve months after N45 billion was released to the six area councils of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) between January and December 2021, primary school teachers, pupils and parents are unhappy.
In the last three weeks, schools have remained shut following a resumed strike by the FCT wing of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT).
The action, not the first in the last two years, was to press home demand for implementation of outstanding entitlements owed teachers.
The Guardian investigations showed the demand of the teachers include non-implementation of promotion arrears from 2014 to 2018, non-implementation of 2020 and 2021 yearly increment, and upgrade of qualified teachers.
They also want implementation of the 24-month Federal Government approved minimum wage arrears.
Checks, however, revealed that over N45 billion was shared to the six area councils as monthly allocation in the last 12 months.
From January to December 2021, the allocations were: N3.8 billion (January); N3.7 billion (February); N4.1 billion (March).
The area councils further received N2.7 billion (May); N2.7 billion (June); N4.1 billion (July); N4.5 billion (August); N4.7 billion (September) and N4.4 billion (October). The councils also took N3.7 billion (November) and N3.6 billion (December).
Chairman of NUT in the FCT, Mr. Stephen Knabayi, alleged teachers were owed about N14.3 billion arrears from 2015 till date.
In December last year, the teachers embarked on a strike that lasted two weeks. It was, however, suspended following intervention of FCT Minister, Mohammed Musa Bello, and the senator representing FCT, Philip Aduda.
The duo promised to prevail on chairmen of the area councils to implement the teachers’ demand. Unfortunately, nothing changed.
This strike is coming at a time primary six pupils are preparing for the National Common Entrance (NCE) examination scheduled for April.
NUT secretary, Bwari chapter, Mr. Muhammad Danjuma Jimada, told The Guardian it was embarrassing that primary school teachers in Abuja go on strike so often.
“The only reason the authorities concerned are not bothered is because none of their children is in any of those public primary schools. We are supposed to be preparing our children for the NCE examination. But here we are; the children are at home. At the end of the day, they blame the children and even the teachers, saying we are not doing our work,” Jimada said.
He said efforts by the union to meet with the Bwari Area Council chairman, Dr. John Gabaya, did not yield results, as he (Gabaya) said he could not attend to them until after the council election held last Saturday.
“Can you imagine? The election was more important to him than the future of the children sitting at home when they should be in school,” Jimada said.
He added: “AMAC, Gwagwalada and Kuje recently called off the strike because they were able to meet with their chairmen. As teachers, we are not happy to sit at home, but we have been pushed to the wall. They have been making empty promises.”
Mrs. Joy Ilo, a teacher at LEA Primary School, Kuchiko Bwari, told The Guardian that teachers were going on strike the third time since last year, and for the same issue.
According to her, “The frequent interruptions in the academic process of children can make them hate school. Remember, as it stands, Nigeria has over 10.5 million out-of-school children. With these frequent interruptions, the number could swell.”
She called on authorities to move urgently, so that children could return to their classrooms.
A parent, Mrs. Olusola Omoniyi, expressed worry over pupils loitering the streets of Abuja because they were forced to stay at home. She said a country that cares about its future wouldn’t toy with the education of its children.
Another parent, Mr. Benjamin Friday, said it isn’t a good idea to leave children at home when their colleagues in private schools are receiving lessons. He warned: “That can deepen divisions in our society, such that the poor keep getting poorer and the rich richer.”
He urged government to resolve the conflict between the union and area council chairmen.
As things stand, the fate of these youngsters is hanging because it is not yet clear what action the chairmen of the area councils, whose primary schools are still shut, will take and how soon they will.
Meanwhile, the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) said it has worked out a template to offset promotion arrears and other debts owed teachers under its jurisdiction since 2013.
Minister of State for FCT, Ramatu Tijjani Aliyu, urged stakeholders to be confident the issues are being addressed. According to him, “Our primary school teachers are at home over non-payment of arrears that predates this administration. The quality of a good leader, however, is to take responsibility, and we must work out ways to resolve this protracted issue.
“A workable template to offset the debts over a period of time has been put in place, and a seven-man committee to look into the operation of the template will be set up.”