Benue teachers become subject of political horse trading

Posted: November 20, 2013 in Uncategorized
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With the recent gridlock in the Nigerian education sector it should not be news to hear that teachers in Benue state are in a running battle with the Benue state government over umpaid salaries and inability of the government to pay the agreed federal government minimum salary scale. However this standoff which has resulted in an industrial action, with the state governor declaring a no work, no pay and the teachers’ defiance, primary school teachers who are are supervised by the bureau for local government and chieftaincy affairs have blamed their plight on negligence on the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, who  entered into the minimum wage negotiations on their behalf.

In an ironic twist of events, on 24 October, primary school pupils in the state took to the streets in protest of the incessant strike actions by their teachers stopping traffic and causing a breakdown of law and order on the wadata area of the town.

The Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Teachers, NUT, in the state, Mr Godwin Anya, told the Newsmen in Makurdi that teachers were forced into the strike. Anya blamed the government for allegedly reneging on the agreement it sealed with the union for the beginning of payment in August.

He said that under the terms of the agreement, the government was to fully implement the minimum wage to all teachers.

Anya said contrary to the agreement, the government came up with a new chart, which showed that none of the teachers would benefit from full payment of the wage. He said the strike was called by the national body of the union, which ordered the state chapter not to suspend it until the government implemented the demand.

According to the chairman, the new chart released by the government would only benefit those below grade level 7.

The Benue state government in 2011, had approved a new salary scale for civil servants prescribing N18,000.00, as the minimum wage; this prescribed wage chart was applauded as one of the best nationwide and its implementation commenced in november 2012. However, atiterkula findings reveal that although the agreement entered into by the state chapter of the NLC,was all-inclusive of civil servants in the state, primary school teachers were left out of the payment on grounds of irregularities in staff audit and revenue base of the state.

Instead of commencement of the agreed 18 percent minimum wage scale the government, decided to implement an earlier agreement of 25 percent salary increment which had been outstanding and an issue of contention between both parties for a long while but not after series of negotiations from between the National Union of Teachers, NUT, culminating into staff screening and audit where unqualified and redaundant  staff were relieved of their appointments to enable the payment of the earlier agreed 25 percent in awaiting the now contentious 18 percent minimum wage.

Unfortunately during the above drama, the NLC, which is the umbrella body of workers in the state was non challant to the plight of the local government staff in the state.

Labour leaders in the state have consistently criticised the role of the labour union as concerning the plight of these civil servant. Most of the respondents who spoke to this medium accused the chairman of the state chapter, Comr. Simon Anchaver, of complacency and compromise in the build up to the negotiation of the 18 percent salary chart for civil servants in the state- the same chart that has not been fully implemented.

A respondent who spoke to this magazine on account of anonymity alledged that Comr. Anchaver had become compromised in his quest for wealth and power as according to him the labour leader had in the course of the negotiation, put first his personal aggradisement before the interest of the workers hence the incohesive salary chart. He added that the present primary school teacher’s stalemate is a product of such complacency as Anchaver is accused of turning  a blind eye to the present plight of these civil servants as he is believed to have traded the “struggle” for favour from the state government as regards his ambition to be state governor.

A labour leader, Comr. Isaac Kwaghmande who also spoke to Atiterkula laid blames on the labour  leadership in the state, describing the state chairman as a traitor, who is only paying lip service to the strike. Adding that the recent protest by primary students was a planned attempt bt the state government to undermine the strike by NUT.

“The BNSG, Mobilised pupils of nkst demekpe on the streets against their teachers and to undermine the strike. The anchaver leadership is a collosal failure as they could not involve the NUT in the agreement entered during the minimum wage negotiation. He instead preferred to bolster his political image to contest as a guber candidate for 2015. Labour is as good as dead in the state as he is fully involved in politics. He is too pro establishment and has caged labour”, he said.

Meanwhile, commenting on the excuse by the Bureau for Local Goverment and chieftaincy affairs that, although the state government had entered into an agreement with the state civil servants to pay N18,000.00 minimum wage it lacked the financial backing to do so and thus the adjustments; Kwamande, said the state goverment was only unwilling to pay the agreed wage and thus hiding under the pretext of funds and incessant screenings.

“…apart from, FAAC, funds the IGR in the state can handle it. They keep hiding under unnevessary screenings that will never end”, he added.

In an interaction with Atiterkula, the Special Adviser to the state governor on Local Goverment and Cheiftaincy Affairs, Hon. Solomon Wombo, exonerated the state government of any shaddy dealings noting that the screenings and audits were genuine to make for proper accountability and weed fake, redaundant and unqualified workers, which he said they had suceeded in cutting down the staff strength from 16000 to 15200, which according to him is still not enough thus they adjusted salary scale but insisted the state government was not owing the teachers as alledged.

“So, what happens is, the local governments which I preside over is responsible for paying teachers and when we finished the screening, we now looked at our resources and how much we could pay. Now, instead of taking exactly what the federal government implemented at the national level which will not be feasible in the local government setting, we decided to do a new minimum wage structure that was in line with the resources that were available to us. Okay? If we are to implement new minimum wage on what the federal government takes, that is, adopting exactly the structure of the federal government, we will need about 2.6 billion to do minimum wage in Benue. And like I always say in my meetings, the allocation to our local governments are not hidden to anybody, they’re not. You can just google FAAC and get all the figures there, you don’t need to go any far. So, these things could be verified. Last month we had 2.8as the statutory allocation and we had above 400 million as the CAT”, Wombo said.

However Benue state governor Gabriel Suswam has said,  primary school teachers in the state have no justifiable reason to embark on industrial action. He said primary school teachers in the state were collecting monthly salaries that were high and above N18,000 National Minimum Wage.

According him, the least paid teacher in the state was collecting N25,000 per month, emphasising that the teachers ought not to even contemplate industrial action let alone embark on it.

Suswam also said that he had implemented the “no-work-no-pay”, adding that no teacher would be paid for the period he was on strike.

Meanwhile, all efforts to reach the state NLC chairman, Comr. Simon Anchaver, were unsuccessful as he refused to pick his phone, neither did he reply texts sent to his phone by our correspondent.

Unfortunately, as the brouhaha persists, the teachers are now at home and in situation where they stand to loose their salaries and even arears as the state goverment has refused to reassess its stance on the minimum wage position and the labour union turning a blind eye to the teachers’ plight.

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