From indications, it is becoming obvious that the Kaduna State government and its teachers have a long battle ahead. The Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, seem poised to return fire for fire as the teachers themselves threaten to embark on strike to make good their position that sack is not the only option on the table. The Kaduna State Wing of the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), has directed its members to commence indefinite strike to demonstrate its opposition to the sack of 21,780 public primary school teachers in the state. The teachers were sacked for allegedly failing the competency test organised by the state government in June 2017.
The government has described the directive by the union as illegal alleging that it is an act of blackmail with the intention to arm twist it to retain unqualified teachers in its service. Furthermore, the government is accusing the union of using what it called illegal action to achieve its aim of derailing the education reforms being implemented by the government. To forestall that, it has warned that any teacher who absents himself or herself from work will be treated with the consequences that pertain to absconding from duty under the public service rules. Since this issue of 21,780 teachers in Kaduna State failing a competency test set by the government to evaluate their ability or lack of it to continue to remain in the state’s teaching service came up, we have consistently agreed with the government, especially, its policy of restoring standards in its education system. We will continue to insist that only the best is good enough for the children of the state for whom education remains a positive pointer to what they hope to become in the future. In an early comment on this page, we upbraided the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) in the state and the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) for making a case for the continued retention of those we then described as a bunch of illiterates as teachers.
This newspaper also commended the government when it shifted ground by setting up a committee to look into the complaints and possibly re-mark the scripts of any of them who feels overtly aggrieved. But we think that the government’s warning to sack any teacher who takes part in the strike is a bit high- handed. The government should see the strike by those not affected by the sack as occupational solidarity which, in our view, is allowed. In a democracy, the principle of collective bargaining is guaranteed even by the constitution. To that extent, the union and its members are exercising their rights under the supreme law of the land. In a case like the one that is playing out in Kaduna State, negotiation may seem endless and a waste of time but it represents the only option in the effort to find a lasting solution to what is, on all scores, a delicate problem. We can only appeal to the sense of moderation of both the government, the union and the teachers because, in the final analysis, they are committed to serving the same interest, the future wellbeing of the state which a well-groomed child guarantees.
The union’s apprehension that its members are about to lose their source of income with its impact on the welfare of their families and other dependants is understandable. With the level of unemployment in the country and the slow pace of growth of the economy, it is, indeed, a frightening prospect for one to be deprived of one’s job at this time. However, the teachers must also accept government’s argument that it is sworn to ensuring the sound development of the children on whom it is striving to build the foundation for the future that everyone in the state looks up for. We are informed that the government is not sacking them out rightly from the public service but intends to use them in less sensitive sectors of the state’s economy. If that is the case, the union is better advised to urge the government to clearly define what its plan is in that direction.
This is important because the government is a political institution which must be held accountable not only by its words but its actions also. From this perspective, we urge the parties involved to sheathe their swords and return to the negotiating table. The union and its members cannot deny the fact that they wish the best for the pupils who are also their children just as the government must take into cognisance the fact also that an impoverished parent is of little use to the child no matter the good intentions behind its policy of putting in place a sound education system.