Kaduna and others use fake proficiency test to victimize teachers – NUT Vice President Abiso

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The Second National Vice President of the Nigeria Union of Teachers, Bulama Abiso, tells ALEXANDRE OKERE that the Kaduna State Government’s decision to sack 2,357 teachers for failing the proficiency test will not stand

Teachers in Nigeria continually denounce their remuneration, which they consider insufficient, the shortage of manpower in public schools as well as the alleged disregard for their contributions to national development. What has the NUT done to ensure that the right actions are taken to address these issues?

The NUT is at the forefront of the hustle and bustle for a very conducive work environment. Since our World Teachers Day in 2020, we have made many requests from the federal government and they have accepted almost all of the requests. We also tried to put forward the extension of the retirement of teachers either by seniority or by age and the federal government accepted. Our only challenge is the state governments vis-a-vis the local governments who always say that there is a lack of funds or that the funds are not enough. Some of the federal government statements do not apply to local governments. In fact, when it comes to pay, many states have implemented the minimum salary of N30,000, but it has eluded elementary school teachers. This is what we are focusing on now: ensuring that teacher well-being improves and teaching conditions improve.

What responses is the union getting from the state and federal government regarding the request to hire additional teachers?

The idea of ​​raising the retirement age for teachers aims to address the shortage of teachers in our schools. Thus, the NUT has, through its national office and the various states, raised discussions. Some state governments have reacted, especially at the upper secondary school level, while at the basic level, some (states) are still struggling with this because they give the same old complaint of lack of funds. This is why the NUT is agitating for the salaries of primary school teachers to come out in the first charge of the Federal Allocation Committee. This was the practice when the National Commission for Primary Education was created. At this level, everyone knew the number of active teachers and the number of retirees, and each year there was a provision for the employment of teachers. But nowadays, the emoluments of retired teachers are channeled towards something other than recruitment; thus, you will discover that the teachers who have retired have not received their gratuity and that the new teachers have not been hired. They are exploited by politicians. This is why we support the autonomy of local governments.

Do you think governments are sincere when they claim they cannot cope with the huge wage bill that comes with employing more labor?

There is no sincerity. There are interventions that states get through organizations in terms of funding, furniture, and buildings, but state governments are concerned about building classrooms that can give them instant appreciation.

While recruiting additional teachers to reduce the teacher load in public schools remains an issue, some state governments have questioned your members’ qualifications through competency testing and have even fired many. , the most recent being the dismissal of more than 2,000 teachers by the Kaduna State government for failing a proficiency test. What is NUT’s reaction to this?

First, the NUT does not leak a skill test. All the NUT says is that there are regulatory bodies. Let this (test) go through the regulators. But the government went ahead and did it on its own and announced fake results that we don’t support. If the test comes from a regulatory body, an independent body, we are ready. Education is the key to the development of the nation. We are also not happy if there are people who are not qualified to teach, but the way the government does it is the problem.

In your opinion, which organization should have carried out the test?

There is the Teachers Regulatory Council of Nigeria responsible for conducting proficiency testing, certifying teachers and withdrawing the certificate. It is an independent body. The state government is using these results to victimize our members. People who do not have the minimum of an RCE or its equivalent may be excluded because it is known that they are not teachers. Those who have the qualifications can then be tested to see how they deliver, their weaknesses and how they can fill in the gaps they have. Apart from the number of professional teachers we have, are we still short of teachers? Can we recruit additional teachers from outside? What is the level of experience of those teaching without professional qualifications? Can they, with their experience, add value? We need to consider them individually and those that can add value can be recommended to certain schools. We want the government to look at things holistically, with schools and children in mind.

Why do you think the state government is victimizing your members?

They want to give credence to the loans they get from lenders, where they tell them (the government) that it has to downsize. Maybe when the elections are approaching, they want to recruit their friends, otherwise there is no reason to fire teachers.

But the government said the test was done to ensure students in the state received better learning outcomes. Don’t you think the proficiency test was in the public interest, given that the State Universal Basic Education Board said 233 teachers presented fake certificates in a verification exercise conducted in 2021?

A verification exercise is different from a proficiency test. When someone is verified to have a fake certificate, no one will stand up to defend that person. It was the state government that employed the person in the first place. We live in the same community. You can find corruption everywhere. So I can’t tell you categorically that our members don’t.

Did your members who were laid off pass the test?

These (over) 2,000 teachers did not take the exam and followed the union’s directive not to take the exam. In fact, they were fired because they didn’t pass the exam, not because they took it and failed. Some teachers passed the exams, but not those who were fired by the Kaduna State government.

The national president was also reportedly among 2,192 teachers fired by the state government for refusing to take the test. How did the union react to the news?

We have had such an experience in the past, where a government would fire a member. So we took that as a normal threat, convened our National Executive Council and decided that what the state government had done was null and void and had no effect on his person as National President.

Your union threatened to go on strike if the state government did not reinstate the teachers. It has been more than a week since the teachers were fired. Is the union going on strike? When will it start, and is it indefinite?

For now, there are some options that we are looking at because some cases are pending before the courts. Perhaps as a last resort, we consider a strike. But so far we have not set a date for a strike or told our members to go on strike.

Has the union obtained favorable justice in any of the cases brought before the courts?

Yes. In Kaduna, we had a substantial case that the skill test performed was not in order.

Was this judgment enforced by the government?

No. I think it’s attractive.

Between January 2020 and June 2022, more than 9,000 teachers were reportedly fired by some state governments for different reasons, including failing competency tests and illegal recruitment. Would you say that such government actions were illegal?

Yes, many are illegal but others were rightly committed because a committee was set up to verify.

Anambra State Governor Chukwuma Soludo, who recently fired 1,000 teachers from the Parent Teacher Association, said their recruitment into the school system had been non-transparent and they were not were therefore not qualified. Do you think the governor got it wrong?

The government has its way of recruiting teachers. Unless there was a directive to the PTA to hire these teachers, I think the government was right. I am not aware of it because it was not brought to my attention, but a government has its way of recruiting teachers. This is my personal opinion. To my knowledge, the NUT does not have any members called PTA professors. By law, all teachers hired at secondary and primary level, whether public or private, belong to the NUT. If they teach and pay their dues to the union, they are members.

There are growing concerns over the use of corporal punishment by teachers in Nigerian schools, with some calling for an end to flogging as a means of disciplining a wayward student. Does the NUT support this?

NUT is also at the forefront because we are members of many international organisations, including Education International which opposes corporal punishment in schools. We do not support it in any way. Teachers who use corporal punishment do so at their own risk.

Does the union have a way of sanctioning a member in this regard?

The government has all the laws and regulations and has the right to punish any offending teacher. It is the primary responsibility of the principal of the school concerned and the government to take disciplinary action. It is when the government takes a decision contrary to the law that the NUT defends the teacher. NUT supports appropriate disciplinary action against offending teachers.

As Nigeria enters a new electoral cycle, how do you rate the performance of the administration of President Major General Muhammadu Buhari in the area of ​​basic education and teacher welfare?

I’ll give it a passing grade. We campaigned for the improvement of teachers’ working conditions. But unfortunately, the federal government does not control 80% of basic education. On World Teachers’ Day 2019, the federal government promised to provide teachers with housing and other benefits, but it does not control many schools at the basic education level.

What qualities must a candidate for governor or president have to attract the votes of teachers across the country?

Anyone who sees teacher welfare as a frontline charge will get our support. A presidential candidate who declares a state of emergency in the basic education sub-sector will win the hearts of teachers. Those who don’t care about the welfare of teachers should forget about our votes.

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