Rukayya is a primary four pupil in one of the public primary schools in Kogi State but in the last four months instead of attending classes, she treks through the streets of Lokoja on a daily basis hawking groundnuts.
Many children of Rukayya’s age for no fault of theirs are facing the same predicament in the state due to the strike embarked upon by primary school teachers over non-payment of allowances, promotion as well as non-implementation of the minimum wage and 27 percent teacher enhancement allowance.
Rukkaya told Daily Trust that she usually hawks groundnuts after school hours but since the closure of public schools, she does it full time to help her parents sponsor her education.
Speaking in Pidgin English, Rukkaya said “Me, I like school but our school dey on strike so I dey help my mother to sell groundnut.”
Kogi primary school teachers joined 18 states of the federation to embark on strike on May 30 but even when other states called off the strike, Kogi State primary school teachers continued theirs.
The teachers allege insensitivity on the part of government to their plight, more so that those in secondary schools and other civil servants in the state are already enjoying the minimum wage.
In the last eight years, the state hardly sees a school term pass by without a strike to protest poor remuneration and other forms of discrimination against basic education teachers.
Under former governor Ibrahim Idris, in the effort to rid the state of unqualified teachers, several screening exercises were carried out but nothing came out of it.
In one of the exercises which was held in 2008, over 500 qualified teachers in the state were sacked despite shortage of teachers in public schools.
After that, another screening headed by the Accountant General of the state, Paul Audu was constituted by former governor Ibrahim Idris before he was sacked by Supreme Court judgement over tenure elongation. The committee uncovered over 800 fake schools and over 3,000 ghost teachers but at the end of the day, a white paper on the report was never published and no action was taken.
This development, according to analysts, indicates the state government’s lack of seriousness about solving the myriad of problems bedevilling the education sector in the state, especially as government has also set up another screening exercise.
A political analyst, Alhaji Kabiru Yusuf, said the development is not healthy for the state as most children have been going about the streets of Lokoja hawking.
“The most painful aspect of this development is that the children of those in government all attend private schools. One thing that they don’t know is that their children too are not safe as those children of the poor who are abandoned today would be a threat to them in future in terms of insecurity. Government should wake up to its responsibility and save their future,” he said.
He also said that, government is killing the future of the children with its insincerity.
“Parents take their children to private schools because public schools are not working in the state. If public schools were functioning well, who would take his child to exorbitant private schools? After all, people withdrew their children from private schools to public schools in Edo and Imo states.”
A coalition of civil society organisations recently declared ‘Black Monday’ in the state to protest the continuous closure of public primary schools in the state.
A communiqué signed by Adejoh Victor, John Femi and Titus Alonge said no poor family in Kogi State will produce a professional in the next 15 years if the trend is not reversed.
Also, the Kogi Basic Education Staff Association (BESAN) held an inter-faith prayer session aimed at rescuing the basic education sector from total collapse in the state.
The state chairman of BESAN, Suleiman Adomu, said that the decision to resort to prayers was to seek God’s intervention so that children can go back to school.
He said that the situation of basic education in the state had reached worrisome level, noting that the pupils lost five months in the 2012/2013 academic session to teachers strikes while resumption of academic activities for the 2013/2014 academic year has become impossible for now.
Adomu said that the development has made many parents to lose confidence in public schools which has led to a drastic drop in enrolment figures in government owned schools.
“In Holy Trinity Junior Secondary School, Lokoja student population has dropped from 800 to 475 between 2009 and 2013. This is one of the examples of the rot in the basic education sector in the state,” he said.
Meanwhile, the screening committee set up by Governor Idris Wada submitted its report last week.
The chairman, Primary School Committee who is also the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Alhaji Ndamodu Ali, while submitting the report to the governor said over 3,303 ghost teachers were on the payroll of the state government.
Ali said: “Before the exercise, as at June this year, the total number of teachers on the pay roll was 27,639 as against the 24,353 that presented themselves for data capturing during the exercise.”
He said due to the screening the state government would save over N129 million monthly, adding up to N1.5 billion yearly.
Governor Idris Wada assured that the recommendations would be religiously implemented while public teachers will soon enjoy minimum wage like other civil servants in the state.
He said the state government was committed to ensuring that the teachers returned to the classrooms as soon as possible as education is one of the focal points of his administration.