Why The NUT Undertook Peaceful Protest To Delta Assembly —Okotie

Comrade Titus Okotie is the Delta State Chairman, Nigeria Union of Teachers, NUT. In this interview with The Pointer team of CHARLES EMENI and PATRICK MGBODO, he speaks on the reason behind the recent peaceful protest of the Union to the State House of Assembly and many other issues that affect the Union in the State. Exerpts:
The NUT staged a peaceful protest to the Delta State House of Assembly against a proposed Bill to transfer primary school teachers’ salaries in the State to Local Government. What informed the protest and what do you think is wrong with the Bill?
I must put it on record that as at the time we went on protest, the Bill had not been transmitted to the Delta State House of Assembly, but we were worried because based on the experience we had between 1990 and 1994 when the administration of primary school education was handed over to the Local Government, there were lots of crisis that hindered the progress of the educational system, particularly at the primary school level. ‘’You know, when a bush meat misses a trap, by the time it sees a bent tree, it would be afraid’. That was what informed the protest. You see, we did not want to go back to that experience.
At the initial stage, we were totally against the autonomy, but when we came back to the drawing board, we took a second looked at it. Perhaps, the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), may have their terms for requesting the autonomy and we felt that we should not be an obstacle to the Local Government staff getting the autonomy. It was in that regard that we said ‘if you must give local government the autonomy, we have no grudges against that, but let us look at the issue of payment of primary school teachers’ salary, which is the bedrock, the foundation of the educational system in this country’. It was on that basis that we agreed that ‘look, if you are giving Local Government autonomy, please do not jettison the issue of joint allocation or please think of a way to save the primary education from collapse so as not to de-motivate the primary school teachers.
The primary school teachers’ salaries should be considered and that was the basis of our protest so that when the Bill comes out, primary school teachers’ salaries would be given priority such that the salaries would be regular and the only way we felt that the salaries would be regular is through the first-line charge by the Federal Government. What we mean by this is that before the allocation to the three tiers of Government, set aside primary school teachers’ salaries before you do your allocation.
In that wise, autonomy or no autonomy, it will have nothing to do with primary school teachers’ salaries because when the salaries are intact and regular, the teachers will put in their best because that is our future. Primary education is our future, you cannot talk of basic education without motivating the people who are so passionate to implement the policy. So! That is our concern. But, I am happy to say that, after the protest, we saw the Bill, which really gave priority to primary school teachers’ salaries.
Is that so?
Yes! I must be very frank with you We have a foreknowledge of the Bill that would be transmitted to the House of Assembly, I have a copy and I am happy to inform you that there is consideration for primary school teachers’ salaries just like in the judiciary. For the first time in the history of Nigeria, it has been mentioned and this is not unconnected with the efforts put in by our national officers. It was the national officers who directed us to go on with the protest, based on the efforts they have been putting in at that level. And from the National Assembly, the Bill recognized the input of primary school teachers in the educational evolution of Nigeria, it has never been so. Section 162 of our constitution is very clear on this matter; and it is that section they are trying to amend. That section deals with the judiciary, the appropriation and allocation and so on. Thanks to that section of the Nigerian constitution. The Bill is meant to abrogate and amend that particular section.
Which means that you are no longer pushing against the Bill?
At our level, very soon, we would be meeting at the national level to consider the propriety of that Bill, whether it really captured all our hopes and interests but for now, it did not put the payment of primary school teachers’ salaries solely in the hands of the Local Government, it puts it in the hands of the state legislature.
You went on protest and you just told us why. Do you think the protest should have been it? Don’t you think there should have been a better alternative than going on protest?
Yes! We are in a democracy and we are still evolving. Ordinarily, it would have been a dialogue but if I had written the Speaker of the House that I would be coming for a dialogue, maybe it would have been postponed ad infinitum. But when he heard about the protest, he probably took it as a priority and I want to commend the Speaker of the House that on that very day, based on that letter, the House closed all its deliberations at 11.00.am. I want to put it on record. I was there before 11, and at 11.00 dot, they suspended the House proceedings and came out to embrace and welcome me into his office before we went to meet our delegates. Perhaps if I had put it as a dialogue, maybe the House would have been dragging their feet until when the Bill eventually comes, that was why we had to go on protest.
Do you think the protest had solved the purpose of stopping the Bill? Does the NUT have plan B?
From the way the Speaker spoke, if all the states House of Assembly could take a cue from him, I think they would give priority to teachers’ salaries, that is all that we want, we are not against the autonomy because many state Governors are tired of primary school teachers’ salary issue at that level, they want it to go and I know that is subject to the reality on ground. So autonomy or no autonomy, it is not a problem for us in so far as the salaries of primary school teachers are ready. That is the minimum we want from that Bill.
Recently, a section of secondary school teachers in the state wanted a level of autonomy and went a step further to form another association or union under the NUT and the NUT kicked. What do you think is wrong with a group in the NUT seeking autonomy?
I will tell you. You used two words now, you used the word union, and you used the word association. They started as an association and we have no problem with that. Their own constitution is very clear that they will be loyal members of the NUT. It is not the first association demanding a level of autonomy from the NUT., We have what we call the Association of Primary School Head Teachers, AOPSHON, we have Association of Confederation of Secondary School Principals, ANCOPS and the Basic Education Teachers which used to be Association of Classroom Teachers. They associate within the NUT. Also involved is All the Principals of Secondary Schools across the federation, in each state. Like in Delta, the Head is called the President, they are members of the NUT and anytime they have programmes, we sponsor them and we give them priority.
We are even thinking of how we can get them a bus because in almost all the state, not only Delta State, the state Governments buy them buses to enable them to move freely because they organize conferences, workshops, which Government, because of the lean financial resources, are not able to organize. These people travel as far as Ghana and Kenya for conferences to improve the lot of the Nigerian education system. So, we have been supportive and we have been working hand in hand, they are under the NUT. So why should the classroom teachers in secondary schools think of autonomy? Something must be wrong, and what is the problem?
The present crop of leadership of ASSUS got very wrong information about the genesis of the association. Otherwise, they are our brothers and sisters, our associates. We have nothing, absolutely nothing against them. In as much as they remain an association, we have nothing against them. But the problem arose when they began to flout the constitution they wrote themselves by their forefathers that they will be loyal members of the NUT.
How come they are seeking for autonomy? Seeking for autonomy means that you are no longer an association. Otherwise, if they are an association, we recognize them. There is no controversy as far as they remain an association. If you check their constitution, it is very clear. It said they would be loyal members of the NUT. Then, how come the issue of autonomy?
The gentleman speaking to you is a secondary school teacher, a classroom teacher for that matter, I am not yet a principal, I have paid my dues, I have served and I have continued to serve as a classroom teacher in secondary school. If you give autonomy to Secondary School Teachers Association, it would mean double taxation. They are deducting money from my salary for NUT. If they remain an association, we are ready to foot their bill just like we are funding the bills of ANCOPS and AOPHON and others. We are ready to fund their bill that is what we are telling them.
I want to put it on record too that the leadership of ASUSS is a very reasonable man, a gentleman and a reverend for that matter. He promised that he would sit down and fashion out a way out that will favor the teachers of secondary schools and I believe him. Very soon, all these controversies would be laid to rest. We are ready to fund them; we are ready to bring them in to the fold. As NUT, we are ready to co-opt them into the highest decision making organ of the NUT.
I once told him that the Chairman and Secretary would be co-opted into the highest decision making organ of the Union. There they can bring in their ideas, their interests and we will deal with them. If they are really fighting for the interest of teachers in secondary schools, we will give them room to ventilate their opinions, rather than anybody in the name of whatever association, using them to polarize a united union, a union founded since 1931 by our founding fathers.
Don’t you think that in taking that step, they hinged their position on the fact that the secondary school teachers or all the bodies under the NUT are too large for the union to effectively take care of their wellbeing?
Well! It would be a very wrong premise. They would be basing that idea on a very faulty and wrong premise. You see, we have so many things in common, they should know that. Let me just tell you, if you don’t know. If a teacher retires today, whether he is a primary or secondary school teacher, the minimum he would go home with is about N4OO, OOO for him to go and pursue his retirement benefits from the NUT.
Do they want to forfeit that/? Who is fooling who? Do they want us to divide the asset because they say they are a union? They would be misleading so many, that is our concern. Otherwise if they want to forfeit, it is the NUT that would benefit from that.
As soon as you retire, within the next three months, the minimum you would get from NUT as a teacher either primary or secondary is N400, 000 for you to go and process your retirement benefits. So such investments that you have made, you want some people to forfeit it, that would be misleading and we cannot fold our arms. If they are ready to forfeit that, no problem but it will be totally inhumane and I would not be party to such decision, because somebody has invested so much and you want to deceive him to leave it and be paying extra money, about N500 and let him lose an investment of about a minimum of N400, 000.