El Rufai to NLC: No going back on sacked teachers

Last Monday, Kaduna state chapter of National Union of Teachers (NUT) began a strike action to force government to rescind its decision on their sacked members who failed the competency test. Three days later, the Nigerian Labour Congress () staged a solidarity rally in Kaduna and contrary to expectations, there was no unsavory incident. After all said and done, Governor Nasir El Rufai is still sticking to his guns on the sacked teachers. In this report, IBRAHEEM MUSA, ABDULRAHEEM AOUDU and TOPE SUNDAY recap the issues that led to the strike.

For about two weeks, the atmosphere was combustible as threats and warnings rent the air, charging the atmosphere in Kaduna state. On November 6, 2017, the National Union of Teachers (NUT), in a letter to the government, had issued a two-week ultimatum to the authorities, asking them to shelve the planned sack of the 21,780 primary school teachers who failed the competency test.

Categorically, the Assistant Secretary General of the union, Comrade Adamu Ango, said that NUT will commence an indefinite strike if government sticks to its guns. On January 7, 2018, on the eve of the strike action, the state government issued a stern warning, declaring the NUT strikes as illegal. The government, according to the statement, will not be blackmailed into retaining unqualified teachers within its workforce.

Previously, government and NUT officials, including representatives of Nigerian Labour Congress (), had met twice at the invitation of the federal Ministry of Labour and Employment. The government, at those interactions, ‘’made it clear that as an employer, it has every right to determine who its employers are or can be, and the minimum qualifications that they must possess.’’ Consequently, Kaduna state government has instructed its education administrators, the statement had warned, ‘’to open registers in all its schools, starting from Monday, 8th January, 2018.’’

Mixed compliance trails strike
Last Monday, Blueprint Weekend discovered that the strike was partially complied with on the first day of the industrial action. According to our correspondent, some teachers did not comply with NUT’s directive and punctually reported for work while some schools were deserted as both teachers and pupils stayed away. In particular, Aliyu Makanma Model Primary School, Barnawa, LEA Primary School, New Millennium City and LEA Primary school, Narayi were not opened last Monday. Similarly, primary schools at Mahuta , Unguwan Boro, Kakuri and Karji areas were under locked and key. However, in some of the schools, teachers reported to work, especially LEA primary school Sabon Tasha GRA, Government Secondary school, Kakuri and Rimi College. Specifically, some teachers who reported for work said they didn’t receive any circular from the NUT regarding the strike. Some of them said that although they were aware of the strike, there was no official communication from their union. On Tuesday, NUT sent a monitoring team to issue the circular and enforce compliance. Our correspondent also discovered that some teachers went to school early in the morning, wrote their names in the registers opened by the state government before scurrying back home.

NLC joins the fray
On Tuesday, a day after NUT commenced its strike, the Nigeria Labour Congress(NLC) restated its opposition to Kaduna state’s decision to sack the teachers who scored below 75 per cent in a competency test. In a statement, NLC President Ayuba Waba had alleged that the government sacked the teachers so that it could access a loan from the World Bank. Specifically, NLC revealed that it will commence a series of actions, starting as from Thursday, to constitutionally defend the rights of the affected workers. “Having exhausted all processes aimed at constructive engagement with the state government, it is clear that El-Rufai has to be stopped by all means, with all means lawful for the sake of Kaduna State and Nigerian people,” he said.

Police warn trouble makers
However, Kaduna state Commissioner of police, Mr. Agyole Abe had warned against the planned protest. In a news conference, Abe said that anyone or group intending to carry any public protest or procession should, in the interest of the public peace, shelve such plan as the police will not standby idly and watch the peace being enjoyed by citizens of the state truncated. According to him, the state command will deal decisively with ‘’those who might be contemplating to come to Kaduna to foment, advising them to stay away from the state.

Govt secures arrests warrants
Simultaneously, Kaduna state government had obtained bench warrants, according to spokesman Samuel Aruwan, to arrest the NLC and NUT leaders who protested and destroyed government properties last November. The spokesman recalled that ‘’the last time the NLC and NUT organised what they called a peaceful rally, they attacked the Kaduna State House of Assembly and destroyed public property in addition to engaging in unlawful assembly and other violations of the Penal Code of Kaduna State. The Attorney-General of Kaduna State has filed criminal complaints and has obtained bench warrants for the arrest of those involved in the fomenting the chaos of Wednesday, 8th November 2017″.

An ant-climax
Significantly, these threats and NLC’s insistence to stage the rally, painted a doomsday scenario and the nation’s attention was focused on Kaduna last Thursday as people predicted a blood bath. However, NLC held its rally peacefully and the 8,000 armed security personnel provided escort to the mammoth crowd throughout the procession. As early as 7am, thousands of workers from across Kaduna state had converged on the NLC state secretariat along Independence way by Lafiya road. Similarly, NLC President Wabba, alongside, labour leaders from the 36 states, including General Secretaries of various industrial unions across the country, were present.

Before the procession, Wabba had commended the workers “for coming out in large numbers despite the intimidation.’’ According to him, ‘’this is to say that democracy has come to stay, this is to say that citizens have their rights to freedom of association. It is a fundamental human rights that no force on earth can stop”. Decrying the sacking of workers, the NLC president said “this is not the democracy we bargained for. Democracy is about the rule of law, about respecting human beings.’’ He reminded the crowd that ‘’we are fighting for the rights of 36,000 workers and their families who were disengaged from Kaduna civil service.’’ Last November, Wabba had recalled, they had protested against the sack of 21,000 teachers ‘’but as we speak, over 4000 local government workers have been issued sack letters. Over 8000 workers from ministries, departments and agencies including tertiary institutions have been served letters.’’

However, across the road, armoured tank patrol vehicles loaded with armed soldiers and policemen were stationed opposite the NLC secretariat. In addition, the second lane of the dual carriage way was barricaded by the security personnel who kept watch at the NLC secretariat. Interestingly, neither the labour leaders nor the workers who gathered at the office were harassed . At 10 am, they marched peacefully, chanting solidarity songs and holding several banners, to the Government House, with soldiers and policemen providing security for the protesters. Significantly, the march took about two hours and no unsavory incident was recorded throughout the procession.

Competency test
Specifically, the root of all the sabre-rattling, brick bats and show of strength is located in October last year, when all the 33,000 primary school teachers in Kaduna state, across the 23 local governments, sat for an examination and only 11, 220 scaled through the 75% cut off point. To replace them, government put out an advertisement and eligible candidates sat for a qualifying examination and 25, 000 of them passed. Thereafter, the sack of teachers has been generating condemnation, not only from the teachers but labour leaders, activists, and stakeholders in the state, including primary school pupils.

In particular, state chairman of NUT, Comrade Audu Amba said the competency test was not professionally conducted. According to him, “The only competent body that can test teachers’ competency is the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN)”. Similarly, he had argued that the teachers were not tested based on professionalism or what they studied. For this reason, the union has resolved to have a showdown should government go ahead with its plan.

Govt defends stand
However, Alhaji Uba Sani, the Political Adviser to Gov El-Rufai countered the teachers’ argument. According to him, “a class six teacher wrote an examination designed for a class four pupils and failed. This means that the teacher was never qualified to teach in the first place. This made the governor angry and he threatened to retrench the teachers because it’s not about building schools or providing teaching materials but also impacting sound knowledge into the children.” Sani had argued that the governor is not ready to bring politics into a situation whereby he would retrain unqualified teachers and also employ qualified ones. Rather, El Rufai prefers to employ qualified teachers out of the abundant young men roaming the streets of Kaduna.

Pupils react
The sack of teachers has resulted to an unusual kind of protest as primary school pupils in Giwa local government area protested on the busy Zaria-Funtua road. The pupils numbering in thousands chanted, “We want our teachers back to our schools”. Also in Sabon Gari local governmet, the pupils came out in large numbers to protest against the sack of their teachers. They asked Governor El-Rufai to resign and leave their teachers alone. Blueprint Weekend learnt that the pupils marched from Kubanni bridge, through PZ to Sokoto road, chanting anti El-Rufai song. It was learnt that in Soba and Igabi area councils, the pupils stayed away from school in solidarity with their teachers.

Government condemns protest
The state government condemned the use of primary school pupils for protests. In a statement issued by spokesman Aruwan, the government said it will not tolerate the reckless endangerment of minors by adults who are sending them to the streets.

According to the statement, it is unfortunate that the children who are victims of bad teachers are now being used as cannon-fodder by the same teachers. The government threatened to take legal action to punish the wrongdoers. In addition, the statement assured parents who are outraged by the reckless exploitation of young children by the unqualified teachers that it considers such conduct as unacceptable. Similarly, the statement described as callous and despicable the act of involving young pupils in illegal, politically-inspired demonstration.

“Government condemns this wanton disregard for the lives and safety of primary school pupils placed in the care of these unqualified teachers. It is grievous enough that bad teachers have been allowed to imperil the educational future of these children. But for these same teachers to endanger the children by asking them to block and lie on highways illustrates a chilling level of irresponsibility that no law-governed society can accept,’’ the government had argued. The statement also argued that ‘’when parents send their children to school, they place pupils in the care of their teachers during school hours. Parents rightly do not expect teachers to teach their children hooliganism or endanger these minors by involving them in matters they are too young to understand. ‘’

According to El Rufai, ‘’these children are not union members. Our pupils are the victims of bad teachers who evidently do not mind making these children cannon-fodder for their desperation. Exposing minors to hazards, and endangering their lives and limbs shows that some teachers want to jeopardize the present and future of these children.’’ The governor had warned that ‘’these irresponsible actions by unqualified teachers at the behest of their union affront both morality and the law, including the Penal Code and the Young Persons’ Law. Those involved will bear the consequences.’’ Furthermore, the government urged ‘’parents to be vigilant, report to the relevant authorities any attempt to use their children to threaten law and order.”

NLC joins in solidarity
Last Novemeber, Kaduna state workers staged a protest against the sacked teachers. The workers led by Comrade Wabba, demanded that the government should rescind its decision or have the entire labour force to contend with. Marching and singing anti government songs along major roads in the state capital, and carrying placards with various inscriptions, the workers asked the Kaduna state government not to sack the teachers for failing to pass the competency test. They argued that government has no constitutional powers to organize such examination for teachers because only the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria has the mandate to do so. They also gave the state government two weeks to cancel the planned dismissal of teachers, or they will embark on an indefinite strike. Addressing the workers, Comrade Waba assured them that the leadership of the NLC will support them and ensure that they get what they deserve from the state government.

El Rufai still adamant
In a swift reaction, Governor Nasir El Rufai has vowed not to rescind his decision on the sacked workers. According to him, the teachers who failed the competency test remain sacked and new recruits will soon replace them. He said that his administration knew that the education sector reform will be opposed because ‘’any attempt to improve a bad system meets resistance and we know that trade unions are not interested in national interest, they are interested in promoting the narrow interest of their members.’’ The governor said that his administration has ‘’ studied what previous governments have tried to do and there is no going back. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that we are not going to reverse our decision; these teachers are gone, we are going to employ new teachers’’. El Rufai said that the process of testing and interviewing the 25,000 teachers that will replace the sacked 21,780 will go ahead. ‘’As I said, we advertised for these positions (and) we got over 43,000 applications, we have given them NCE equivalent exams, they have been graded. I do not have the report of how many have passed, and the next thing is to interview them and then we check their certificates before we bring them into the classrooms but they will be ready to teach because they have bachelors of education or NCE and we will replace all these vacancies with them,’’ El Rufai revealed.

In addition, the governor vowed to sanction teachers who are on strike. “As I said, it is the children of poor and ordinary people of Kaduna State that go to public schools. We are committed to ensuring that they get decent public education as I got it when I was growing up in Daudawa in Katsina State. According to him, ‘’I went to a public school and I got decent education. I was orphaned at the age of eight but I got free, basic education and that is why I am where I am. I intend, at whatever price, at whatever cost to bequeath that to children of ordinary people in Kaduna State. There is no going back.’’ El Rufai vowed that his administration will do whatever it takes to ensure that we restore the quality of public education.

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