Mr. Adomu Suleiman is the chairman of Basic Education Staff Association (BESAN) in Kogi state. In this interview, he said the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) is the problem of basic education in the state among other sundry issues.
Why are basic education teachers on strike?
There are basically five reasons why we are on strike. Firstly, we have not been paid our monthly salaries for four months now. Secondly, we have not been given our leave grant. Thirdly, promotions are not backed with financial benefits. Fourthly, owner incremental steps are not also attached with financial benefits. And fifthly, our arrears and other allowances have not been settled.
What are the challenges of basic education in the state?
The greatest challenges basic education is facing include maladministration, corruption and indiscipline, particularly among government officials. Teachers are ready to work but when you see that the men at the helm of affairs are not doing the right thing then you know something is wrong. Nobody has given the issue of motivation any consideration. Issue of text books is another problem. For five years now, there has not been supply of textbooks to junior secondary and primary schools in Kogi state. Even common chalk, SUBEB has not been able to provide in the last six years, supply of registers and diaries is a thing of the past and the money meant for them are being provided by the government but ends up at the SUBEB headquarters. So these are some of the problems we are facing.
What is your opinion about SUBEB in basic education administration?
Management of basic education by Kogi state is absolutely poor. I have never seen such an unserious administrative management like the former SUBEB chairman. I commended Governor Idris Wada for sacking the SUBEB chairman. But BESAN is not just looking at the sacking and dissolution of the Board as the solution to basic education problem in the state. The government should checkmate the activities of education secretaries in the 21 local government areas because they are partners to SUBEB. Accountants and auditors too should not be left out, because they are the major people defrauding teachers at the local government level. There are also cases of ghost workers and schools in the state, government should investigate these and other manners of corruption in the subsection.
But we have learnt that some affected accountants have been suspended but none of them have been served with the suspension letter yet, I think education secretaries and internal auditors of various local governments should be on suspension too because there is nothing the accountant can do without the collaboration of the auditors and education secretaries. Even some headmasters too are involved as they also aid and abet these officers, therefore they should also face the consequences of their actions.
Are you saying that accountants and education secretaries are part of the problem of basic education?
Yes, the accountants, education secretaries and internal auditors are all part and parcel of basic education’s problem. For instance, before the former SUBEB chairman Usman Jibrin was sacked, he declared that he had recovered N160m from various education secretaries in the 21 local government areas. The question BESAN is asking is: if the board can recover N160m from education secretaries or local government education authorities who administer basic education at the local governments, then why are those secretaries still occupying their respective offices. The government should have suspended them and set up a committee to investigate them and whoever is found culpable should be punished according to the gravity of his/her offence and those that are not guilty should be allowed to resume work, and that is our position as far as this issue is concerned.
What is your take on the recent series of screening of teachers in the state?
The problem was that the government who set up the screening committee does not implement the report of the committee up till this moment. For instance, the Accountant General in a screening exercise report which he conducted between 2011 and 2012 announced that he had discovered some ghost workers and ghost schools in the state. The committee also recovered N1.1bn, so one would have expected that the government should act on that report by requesting the area the ghost schools and workers were found and suspend or reprimand the education secretaries that created those ghost schools and ghost workers. If these had been done it would have stopped other people from such act. The screening would have been good for basic education but for the fact that the government did not even act on the previous reports submitted to it by various committees, it became a bad thing and I don’t think if the new screening committee submits its report government would act on it. I am therefore appealing to government to always implement recommendations submitted to it by various committees because this is the only way we can address the problems that are affecting education at basic level.
How can government end the lingering strike by basic education teachers?
If what the teachers are demanding for is given to them everything would be alright. Also, the position of SUBEB chairman should be given to a seasoned educationist and a young person, not someone who has retired over 60 years ago. If you look at the SUBEB chairmen we have had in the state, some of them were on the wrong side of 60 while others were on the wrong side of 70. It is better to appoint a seasoned educationist who knows much about education because you can’t bring a carpenter to solve the problem of electricity. This has been happening in SUBEB. Once they put the right person there things would work.
Also, the excessive politicization of appointment of education secretaries should be stopped. For instance, most of the education secretaries barely passed their first degree and there are masters degree holders within the primary school system who are more experienced and knowledgeable but when you put people who know nothing, they may not be able to have control over it.
Again, financial administration of primary schools should be taken seriously and teachers should be well motivated. We have not been paid salaries for some months now. Issue of allowance should also be taken seriously because it has lasted for four years now. Infrastructures too should be looked into because if you see where teachers stay, you will pity them. Some schools were built over 70 years ago and they are yet to be renovated. Some of the schools have no toilet facilities while teachers’ chairs are as old as the schools.
How would you describe the role of the state chapter of the NUT?
The Nigeria Union of Teachers is supposed to be a trade and professional union but unfortunately it has turned to something else. If the NUT has been functioning in the state, how can we have unpaid leave allowances for up to four months? That clearly shows that they are not living up to expectation. How can they allow members to be promoted for four years without cash backing? A union allowed its members to be denied of minimum wage when workers in other state government are enjoying it. The inability of the union to fight for its members shows that it is not doing its job. But the present NUT chairman Comrade Suleiman is changing so many things but we are watching to see if he would continue this way before we can give him credit because the past chairman never fought for the teachers.