El Rufai/teachers: Who blinks first?

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Kaduna state government is adamant that it will sack teachers who failed the competency test. The National Union of Teachers (NUT) is kicking against it. Pupils have come out to protest against the planned sack. Last Wednesday, the Nigerian Labour Congress(NLC) joined the fray. Will Governor Nasir El Rufai cave in to the pressure? ELEOJO IDACHABA examines the issues in this report.

In spite of appeals and threats of strike action by the National Union of Teachers, Kaduna state government is still bent on sacking the teachers who failed the competency test that it administered to all primary school teachers of public schools. On November 5, the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) released names of about 11,220 primary school teachers who passed the competency test.

Addressing news conference in Kaduna last on Sunday, the Executive Chairman of SUBEB, Alhaji Nasiru Umar, asked those who failed the test and have complaints to approach the committee that has been set up to look into such cases. Where necessary, the committee can re-mark answer papers of those who have genuine complaints.

In addition, the SUBEB chairman said the affected teachers who have spent more than five years in the public service will be allowed to retire while those who have spent less than that number of years will be sacked.

According to him, the State Executive Council has approved the outcome of the teachers’ competency test and had directed the recruitment of 25,000 fresh new primary school teachers.

The genesis
A month ago, Governor Nasir El Rufai, had announced the intention of the government to sack over 21,780 primary school teachers over what he said was their inability to pass examination of primary four pupils which they sat for. This action has since generated condemnation, not only from the teachers but labour leaders, activists, and stakeholders in the state, the latest being primary school pupils.

In particular, the NUT has threatened to embark on industrial action should the state government go ahead with its planned sack. The state chairman of the union, Comrade Audu Amba said the competency test upon which the state government based its decision to sack the teachers was not professionally conducted.

According to him, “The only competent body that can test teachers’ competency is the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN)”. He 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
Last week, 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. Last Tuesday, primary school pupils in Giwa local government area protested on the busy Zaria-Funtua road leading to Katsina state.

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 songs. 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 Mr Samuel Aruwan, El Rufai’s spokesman, 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 the fray
Last Wednesday, Kaduna state workers staged a protest against the sack over 21,000 teachers. The workers led by the Nigerian Labour Congress(NLC), Comrade Ayuba Wabba, are demanding 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.

What next?
Will Governor El Rufai rescind his decision on the planned sack and retrain the teachers who failed the test as being canvassed? Or will he stick to his guns? Only time will tell.

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