Just before the government directed schools resumption nationwide, its promise to pay cumulative palliative to private teachers during the lockdown has remained a mirage. KEHINDE OSASONA reports.
FG, Private teachers and the palliatives question.
In the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, a number of private school teachers came out to cry for help, saying they have not been paid by their management since March when schools were shut down due to the unexpected pandemic that plagued the entire globe.
According to the teachers, the school management insist they cannot pay salaries since they too have not generated any money by way of school fees payment.
Meanwhile, while fielding questions from journalists over the issue sometimes in July, the president of the National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools, Yomi Otubela, assured that the federal government has agreed to pay the salaries of private school teachers that were being owed by their school management since the lockdown started.
According to Otubela, the association had before now forwarded a proposal to the Economic Sustainability Committee headed by the vice president, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, for the government to pay the salaries of the private school owners. That approval, he said, was granted by the Federal Executive Council (FEC).
He said, “We have written to the federal government to understand that these teachers are teaching Nigerian children and that they need to keep them and their families together during the lockdown.
“We requested that the teachers’ salaries in private schools should be taken over by the government during the months of the lockdown and the federal government has listened to our request.
“We also requested for a single digit loan for private schools to cushion the effect of the COVID19. We requested for support for schools that have existing loans for which the government should liaise on our behalf with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the apex bank would liaise with commercial banks and other financial institutions to ensure that they give them soft landing in terms of moratorium to repay and deduction in the interest loan.”
But while still basking in the euphoria of the promise made by the federal government, another shocker came from the unexpected quarters when a top government functionary dismissed the news, describing it as rumour.
While dispelling the information during a chat with newsmen, the deputy director, Press and Public Relations Unit of the Federal Ministry of Education, Mr Ben Goong, declared that FG never promised to pay salaries of private school teachers at any time, saying it was fake news.
Goong stated further that no one, not even NAPPS, knows the precise wage bill of private school teachers in Nigeria.
According to him, “The sheer number of private schools in the country would tell you that it is unrealistic. It would take about half of the nation’s budget to pay these salaries. In fact, nobody can tell you precisely the wage bill of teachers in private schools across Nigeria. It is fake news,” he declared.
Any hope of palliative?
Just recently, Kwara state government set aside the sum of N135,500, 000 million under the Kwara State Social Investment Programme (KWASSIP) as interest-free loan to1,119 private schools owners across the state.
In a statement, the anchor, Mohammed Birmah, said the state government has engaged the National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS) after the group reached out for assistance to cushion the effects of school closure arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Birmah, the schools have been grouped into two, with each category receiving between N200,000 and 100,000 depending on their staff strength.
Recall that the state governor, Abdulrahman Abdulrasaq, had during a virtual meeting with the association pledged to support them to prevent massive loss of jobs and poverty surge in the education sub-sector.
But three months after, while still waiting for the modalities for the disbursement from the federal government, private schools teachers across Nigeria who have been identified as worst hit by the lock down, are yet to receive any palliatives or any forms of intervention to alleviate their sufferings.
Teachers bemoan plight
While bemoaning her plights in a chat with Blueprint, an Abuja-based private teacher, Roseline Adejumo, lamented that despite difficulties that teachers had faced before, during and after Covid -19 pandemic, the federal government has made it look as if there was no hope in sight for them.
Adejumo, a Mathematics teacher who plied her trade in one of the private schools, wondered why the federal government could not take a cue from Kwara state government.
According to her, teachers are seen as vulnerable people deserving palliatives from the government.
She said, “Apart from the fact that we are being owed by our employers, the government at all levels has not deemed it fit to alleviate our suffering at all.“Imagine a situation where you have to depend on neighbors and friends to feed your family. That is exactly what we are going through and everyone is pretending as if we are doing fine. I think Nigerians especially the media must fight our cause.”
Also speaking, another teacher, Efe Collins who described the situation as messy appealed to the federal government to do the needful.
He said, “What is worth doing at all is worth doing well. I think we are being sidelined in this country. Is it a crime to be a private teacher?” he asked.
While drawing the attention of the government to the promise made to the teachers, Collins urged them to consider the private schools teachers in some of their social development and soft loan scheme and that they should expedite action on it, saying teachers too are hungry.
Some others who narrated their ordeal told this medium that the situation sent a number of them back to their villages to work on the farm.
In the words of Danjuma Jacob, the majority of his colleagues who could not secure online lesson deals traveled to their home towns to engage in farming.
He said, “Although the allowance is small, some of our people who are technologically compliant took good advantage of the lock down thing and have now been offering online lessons for paltry allowance.
“However, it was not the same for some of us including someone like me who is not very conversant with the internet as such and has a wife and child to feed. But the truth is I am fed up and can’t wait for this whole thing to be over.”
Danjuma is not alone. While chatting with Blueprint, another teacher and a mother of two, Aminat Ibrahim, amidst long silence, described government action as wicked.
“Look at us, since March or thereabout, no one cares how we and our family live. Even when some palliatives were flying around here and there, nothing came to us as a group. My question is; what have we done to deserve this neglect?
“How else does one explain a situation where the government now overlooks teachers in the country when we are supposed to be given palliatives like they did some other people. Or is it because we are working in private schools? She asked in a voice laced with burden.
Meanwhile, some stakeholders in the education sector have admitted that even though it appears difficult for the government to wade into the plight of private teachers in the country, they are of the opinion that teachers should have been given a priority when palliatives were being disbursed.
While showing more concerns, one of them who spoke on condition of anonymity said since it has become very difficult for the private school owners to sustain payment for the teachers, as a responsible government, teachers’ plights should have been looked into especially those in private schools.