Comrade Niyi Akano is the chairman of Oyo State’s chapter of the Nigerian Union of Teachers ( NUT). The ebullient, corporate and soft spoken chairman in this interview shed some light on his activities so far since he assumed office; what his union is doing about the salary being owed their members by the state government. He spoke with OJO PETER. Excerpts:
Can you shed light on some of your achievements since you assumed office as the state chairman of NUT?
I came on board after the demise of my late chairman, Comrade Kayode Kolawole and that was late 2014 and since then, we have been making things positive for our members. Truly, we have challenges which is global, because of the economic situation in the country that virtually affects every situation in the country. Inspite of this, we are making things better in our union; moving forward; and waxing stronger in unity. We are yet to embark on any project, due to the economic downturn but we are planning to do that very soon.
Our end-well programme is moving on fast and it is meant to take care of our retiring teachers. And this is something teachers can fall back on after retirement.
How have you been able to make sure that teachers’ welfare is being taken care of?
Despite all odds, teachers are well taken care of no matter what comes to the coffers of the government, teachers should be able to get their own share as at when due. We have been able to make sure that we are not backward, worst or a push-over in the South-West concerning the welfare of teachers. We are moving further and faster on that.
What is the situation now concerning the issue of salaries being owed workers’ by the state government?
Presently, the situation of salary in Oyo State is not still the best but we thank God that the government is not hiding anything from us at all concerning whatever comes to the coffers of the state from the national allocation. Recently, when we felt we were unable to meet the governor one-on-one, we issued out a 7-day ultimatum warning strike to make sure we meet the governor to discuss with him the way forward when we realized things were getting out of hands and immediately he answered us and through the meeting we had, he agreed that all the 100 percent coming in from the federal allocation would be released to be used to pay salaries. We really appreciated that and at the same time he said we should partake in garnering our local revenue for the state and whatever we have as additional to the present revenue would be shared between us and we agreed on that. We are even expecting very soon even if not now, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is ready to step down on the loan payment for at least two years and with this, the federal allocation would be jerked up. I am very optimistic that it would not be as it is now. We realized that the allocation given to SUBEB through the local government could not even cater for the full payment of primary school teachers’ for the month of February, so we agreed that instead of paying certain percentage monthly, we agreed that it is better on grade levels. It is certain that Grade levels 1-12 will collect their salaries this week for the month of February.
Do you think using the 100 percent federal allocation for salary payment is feasible?
It is not only from the federal allocation that the state government gets money. If you could remember in Lagos State during the regime of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, their federal allocation was not given to them for a year and things were going on fine then through their Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). The state government is not relying only on the federal allocation. If the IGR as we are joining hands together with the government now improves, things would be better and the state government will have enough to take care of governance of the state.
Recently workers in the state accused the labour leaders of taking sides with the government. How true is this?
Such insinuation is normal when you are leading people. We gave the state government a 7-day ultimatum, the labour leaders were called and on getting there, we met the Secretary to the State Government (SSG) and the Head of Service. Unfortunately immediately after the first meeting, what we heard on the television and radio was that the labour leaders have begged the government on the ultimatum given which was not true and that was what caused the insinuation. How reasonable is that when you are asking for something you should be given? The leaders stood up and made it clear to our followers that nothing like that happened and later they started praising the leaders when they realized the leaders would never embark on a sell out mission. Why do we need to do that? There is no sell out of labour activities in Oyo State.
Recently, the Oyo State government imposed the sum of N3,000 as levy on each student per session. What is your view about this?
We were carried along on this issue and we fully supported it before it was made public. It was in this meeting we made it clear to the government that the payment of WAEC fees should now be the responsibility of the parents. We could see that the present WAEC exam was paid for by the parents and there was no problem. We were part of the agreement that the N3,000 levy would be used to take care of the school system because there are some dilapidated buildings which is affecting the school system. Government realized that they cannot do it alone and that was the reason we supported it. At the end of the session, I know the government will sit down together because the cash cannot go round the schools. A committee would be set up to formulate everything and the people would be able to see that the money for this academic session is judiciously used on the schools.
What is your assessment of students in the recently held WAEC examination?
Students in the state are not doing excellently well due to some reasons. That was part of the matters we discussed during the issue of the N3,000 levy and payment of WAEC fees by parents. It was part of why the levy was stopped because when you ask students why they are not serious about their studies, they would tell you its governor’s ‘palaver’ because they didn’t pay for the examination, yes! We heard and we made all these assertions to the government that they should allow their parents to pay for the WAEC fees as this would make the parents to monitor their wards in school and after school. It was because the parents were not paying – that was why they were careless in monitoring their wards. With all these now, the system is going through some serious reformation and very soon at the end of this session, we hope to see better results.
Cultism is a common phenomenon in Nigerian higher institutions but unfortunately it has spread to primary and secondary schools. What are you doing to curb this in the state’s primary and secondary schools?
It’s an unfortunate situation. About a month ago, when we heard about the crisis between two schools in Molete area of Ibadan, we stood up. We even had a meeting about it last week to see that we don’t condone cultism in our schools. You see, the school, the ministry and the government cannot do it alone. We need our parents in this area to perform their duties as in knowing how their wards fare and behave in school. As I used to tell people, when you inform parents about the behaviour of their wards, they will begin to take sides with them. I do tell them that they should not trust their wards. Most of these students have different characters at home and when they get to school they become something else when they mingle with bad eggs. We need the cooperation of the parents in making sure that these children we are looking upon as the leaders of tomorrow don’t just waste away. They are still empty slates for now and whatever comes in there is what will stick there. They should be well trained so that our society will not be full of criminals.
What is your message to members of your union?
My message to teachers’ in both primary and secondary schools in the state, is this, they should try to endure a little more because very soon the situation will be better. We the leaders are not just sitting down here without taking them into consideration. We are here because of them and we must see that everything is okay with them. Please, don’t think of anything like sell out on the parts of leaders either the NLC or NUT at all, we can never do that. We are part of the society because after our tenure we are coming back outside there, so if we have tarnished our image, how are we going to feel?!