Parents, guardians and other stakeholders in public primary school in Enugu have continued to express their concern over the lingering industrial action embarked upon by the staff of Enugu State Universal Basic Education Board, ENSUBEB.
ENSUBEB and local government staff in the state embarked on indefinite strike from May 9,2022 following the alleged refusal of the state government to pay the new minimum wage.
Our investigation revealed that their counterparts in Post Primary School Management Board, PPSMB and other staff of state government ministries have been enjoying the new minimum since June, 2020.
Our reporter who went round some public primary schools in the state revealed that the school premises have been overtaken by weeds, reptiles and even as many have been in dilapidation.
At Central Primary school Opanda, Uzo-Uwani local government, part of the roof of the main block has been pulled off just as many class rooms were submerged with rain water.
One of the parents of the pupils of the school, Mr. Kenneth Ugbor lamented the lingering crisis between the ENSUBEB staff and the state government.
According to Mr. Ugbor, “the situation is very much unbearable. Since more than eight months, my children have been going to school two to three times a week due to sit-at-home order declared by the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB every Monday. As if that one is not enough, they are yet to resume school since May 9, 2022 due to strike action by their teachers. It is very much unfortunate but it is not good at all. I have four children who are in public primary school and I cannot take them to private school because of the exorbitant school fees they pay”
Appealing to the government to resolve the issue with the teachers, Ugbor stressed that ” government should consider the plight of the parents and guardians who are at the receiving end. They should also consider these teachers because they suffer much to bring up these children up in the proper way. If the primary school system collapses in Enugu state, it will definitely affect other systems of education in the state.’
However, when our reporter visited ENSUBEB office in Nsukka local government area, the office was said to be under lock and key. One of the teachers from one primary school who came to submit the common entrance forms of her school told Within Nigeria accused the state government if being insensitive to their plight.
According to the teacher who gave her name as name Chika Nweze, ” I am not happy that the state government will allow this issue of minimum wage to degenerate to this level. Our counterparts in secondary school and other ministries are receiving the new minimum since June 2020. Are we not going to the same market with them to deserve this marginalisation? Government should resolve this issue very fast to avoid the collateral damage it may cause.”
Meanwhile in a chat with one of the newly retired teachers, Mr. Gabriel Okeke at Obollo-Afor, Udenutheld our reporter that ” primary school teachers in Enugu state have never found it easy as far as minimum wage is concerned. In 2000 when President Olusegun Obasanjo implemented the 18,000 minimum, we had to go on four months strike before Enugu state government could pay it. So, I wish to say that I was not surprised that the teachers had to go on strike thus time around. I will not be surprised if the strike lingers till next session because that has been their style.’
Encouraging the teachers to continue on their demand, Mr. Okeke stated that ” I urge the teachers not to give up on their strike action until the new minimum wage is paid.”
Meanwhile, the Enugu government said it is putting final modalities in place to pay primary teachers the N30,000 minimum wage following their threat to go on strike.
Commissioner for Education, Uchenna Eze, said on Friday that ongoing negotiations between the government and Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) had been “fruitful and progressive.”
Recall that the teachers’ union embarked on an indefinite strike over non-payment of the N30,000 minimum wage by Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi’s government.
The union directed that primary school teachers in the state should not resume for the 2021/2022 academic session’s third with effect from May 9 until the N30,000 minimum wage was paid.
”The state government has already begun the process of implementing the new wage for primary school teachers. The leadership of the union is participating in ongoing negotiation to that effect which is at its final stages,” explained the education commissioner.
Mr. Eze, however, noted that the ministry was surprised to hear of the ongoing indefinite strike.
“It is impatience on the part of the primary school teachers to embark on the strike when we were making serious progress. We are at the final stage of concluding on the ongoing negotiations,” said Mr. Eze, chastising the protesting workers.
“The ministry and the union will definitely resolve the issue very soon and our children will get back to school to resume the third term academic activities.”
The commissioner assured parents and guardians that the state government would resolve to settle the matter very soon.
The government had in an originating summons with number NICN/EN/01/2022, against the NUT, asked the court to bar the teachers from embarking on any strike on the ground that they were essential workers.
The government, however, lost the suit, as the National Industrial Court ruled that the teachers could go on strike as they were not “essential duty workers,” as alleged by the government.
However, dismissing the suit, the NIC accused Mr. Ugwuanyi’s government of discriminating against primary school teachers.
The NIC, presided over by Oluwakayode Arowosegbe, had in an interlocutory injunction restrained the teachers from embarking on any form of industrial action pending the determination of the substantive suit and ordered an accelerated hearing.
Delivering its judgment in the suit, Mr Arowosegbe, dismissed the suit and ordered the Enugu government to go back and negotiate with the teachers, describing it as discriminatory for the claimant to pay some workers in the state the minimum wage, from February 2020, while refusing to pay the teachers the same.
The judge noted that the state could not stop the teachers from venting their grievances by going on strike.
The court in the judgment delivered on March 8, held that the primary school teachers in Enugu did not fall within the categories of workers who provide essential services.
Just how far the industrial action would last is open to conjecture. However, Mr. Paul Ugwu, former local education secretary in Igbo-Eze south local has told Within Nigeria that the strike action has given the system a big blow.
According to him ” what is very clear is that public primary school system in the state will not remain the same after the strike. It has taken enough bashing from the strike. “