Delta State governor Senator (Dr) Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa has drawn the battle line between his government and the striking teachers who have been on industrial action for 14 days, an action that has disrupted academic activities in primary and secondary schools.
The apex body of the teachers, the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), stamped its feet on the ground that government as a matter of urgency must clear four months salaries and meet treaties it signed with the Union regarding the issues of promotion of secondary school teachers among other pressing demands after the Union embarked on strike Thursday March 9, 2017, to drive home their demands.
However, under the directive of Governor Okowa, the Director of Information, in the Ministry of Information, Paul Osahor, Saturday, March 18, issued a circular compelling all secondary school teachers to resume school, threatening to apply the policy of “No work, No pay”, on the striking teachers.
But on Monday 20th, the teachers defied the governor’s directive and placed all school gates under lock and key, sent students and teachers home from the various school gates across the state.
As soon as the union members had left, it was learnt that government allegedly mobilized policemen, stormed the schools and opened the school gates but the teachers had been driven home by the union members.
Students who had come to school following the circular released by the state government, were stranded as there was no teacher to attend to them. Many, it was gathered, played around the school and returned home.
It was learnt that town criers went round the city of Asaba, announcing to parents and students that school had resumed undermining the fact that it is the Nigerian Union of Teachers that embarked on the strike that is constitutionally empowered to call its members back to school for classes to begin.
On Tuesday 21th, events took another dimension as some of the teachers revealed that the state government allegedly employed the services of police officers, thugs and street urchins allegedly from Ogbeognogo market to harass the striking teachers and attempt to compel them to resume school when agreement reached has not been implemented.
It was gathered that the police with the street urchins combed all the public secondary schools in Asaba with the aim of compelling all teachers who had come to check developments to remain in the school and forcefully teach the students.
It was learnt that teachers at Osadenis High School were harassed by police officers allegedly under the directive of the state government as strategy to compel the striking teachers back to the classroom.
One of the teachers who spoke to our correspondent on condition of anonymity, said some of the thugs employed were members of the Nigerian Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) who drove into the school with the NULGE bus.
The teacher said as soon as they entered the school premises, they demanded for the school principal but were told that schools were on strike and that the principal could not be seen.
According to the teacher: “They tried to compel us to sign time book. We told them we were waiting for NUT to give us directive and not local government. Our principal was already getting afraid and saying we should sign.
“While that was going on, they started making calls not knowing that they were calling police men. Before we knew it, policemen came in three patrol vans loaded with police officers. Our teachers said you can’t threaten us with police. Thereafter they called John Obusom, the chairman of Oshimili south local government area.
“The policemen started asking for union members but our teachers said you cannot intimidate us. They carried one of our teachers into their bus. They threatened us wanting us to show them union members. They came like thugs and thieves to the school. It was a big drama in the school.”
The teacher alleged that one of the police officers brought out tear gas but was asked to drop it by the school principal.
According to the teacher, Okowa did not mean well for the teachers, adding that the use of police to intimidate teachers was because they were teachers and that if they were doctors, the state government wouldn’t have employed police to harass them.
The source explained that beside the issue of stagnation and promotion arrears, “one of our teachers who is a member of NUT brought out 10 points that were listed. If you started work with NCE and later went to school and did conversion, if you have crossed level 14, you will be brought back to 14, that is the bar for NCE.
“If you are already in 14 and you did that conversion, they will bring you back to 12. That means all the school we later attended to upgrade ourselves is now in vain. Okowa is using all force, both lawyers, policemen and touts to intimidate teachers.
“We told them that we are not talking of salaries, place us where we are supposed to be. The Chief Inspector of Education that came to our school on seeing the things and the issues on ground left without a word because it was not what she thought.”
One of the NUT executive, who was arrested, confirmed that he was invited by the police in Asaba but after questioning, the police told them that they were fighting a just cause, hence they should carry on with the strike until the state government attends to their needs.
It was also alleged that the commissioner of police, Ibrahim Zanna, told them to be united and fight it out, saying it is only through unity will their needs be met. This followed after they have laid down their grievances before the police and they saw the justification for the teachers’ actions.
But Governor Okowa, in a meeting with the new chairman of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Michael Nwobodo, said the state government has fulfilled all its obligations to the secondary school teachers, hence the secondary school teachers had no right embarking on the strike, even as he described the strike action as sympathy with primary school teachers.
He stressed that government at the Joint Account Allocation Committee has in conjunction with the various labour leaders agreed to the payment of 81 percent of salaries to local government staff and primary school teachers who were being owed nine months and three months salaries respectively but added that the NUT executive wanted to be taken care of to the detriment of the NULGE members forgetting that the money is meant to be used to pay both local government council workers and teachers’ salaries.
As it is now, the union members are not willing to bend, neither is the state government ready to bow to the desire of teachers. The battle line is already drawn. It is now left to know who blinks first. Is it the teachers who are demanding for their rights or the governor who has given various reasons why it is impossible to meet the need of the teachers? Time will tell.
Contacted on phone, the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) of the Command, DSP Andrew Aniamaka, simply said, “That is the figment of somebody’s imagination. Be it as it may, I have no such information”, while text message sent to the Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to the governor, Mr Charles Ehiedu Aniagwu was not replied.
Source: The Nigerian Voice (local news)