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Showdown in Ekiti

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Teachers under the umbrella of the Nigeria Union of Teachers, NUT, in Ekiti State, defy a government order requiring them to take an evaluation examination

For the 152-member Ekiti Council of Traditional Rulers led by Gbadebo Adedeji, the Owa Ooye of Okemesi Ekiti, this is a fence mending season. In the past two weeks, the royal fathers have been mediating in the face-off between the 16,000- man strong Nigeria Union of Teachers, NUT, Ekiti State branch, and John Kayode Fayemi, the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, governor, over the formers’ refusal to take competency examinations tagged Teachers’ Development Need Assessment, TDNA, and the latter’s insistence to administer it.

The state government had designated June 4, 2012, for the state-wide competency test. It would hold simultaneously at 39 centres. Examiners led by a professor from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, had arrived the state and fanned out. On the eve of the examination, Fayemi had appealed to the teachers to take the test. He promised that it was not a punitive measure but an avenue to determine their capacity enhancement requirement. The following day, the governor and his examiners were surprised as no teacher turned up for the exercise. Consequently, the TDNA test was postponed for the third time this year.

Newswatch learnt that some of the venues were littered with charms to deal with saboteurs among the teachers. They even reportedly swore to an oath that whoever took the test would pay dearly with the lives of his or her family members.   

It was obvious the battle line had been drawn. But the state’s traditional rulers came in to avert a showdown in the Fountain of Knowledge, as Ekiti was called before Fayemi re-christened it Land of Honour. They met with the governor on June 7, 2012, with a view to resolving the impasse. They were said to have asked the state’s helmsman to give them two weeks to talk to the NUT executives. But the governor reportedly complained that two weeks was too long; that he knew what to do but chose to carry the royal fathers along as a mark of respect for them.

Consequently, the Obas had to fast-track their fence mending programme. On Monday, June 11, they spent about three hours inside the Lady Jibowu Hall in the governor’s office, trying to convince the enraged teachers to take the examination. It was a parley interspersed with shouts of ‘no’ and ‘yes’ by the teachers.

As soon as the meeting ended, the teachers burst into solidarity song, insisting on fighting for their rights. But as they trooped out of the hall leaving the kings behind to discuss further with government officials who attended the parley, it was obvious that there was no truce. The teachers instantly changed their music to: Ko si’dariji f’oba to ba da’le (3ce); A fi ko ba’le lo, meaning “There is no forgiveness for any treacherous king; he must die.”

Newswatch learnt that the traditional rulers would not achieve a soft landing for the embattled governor. The NUT told the kings that on no condition would they subject themselves to any test other than promotion examination. They said the state government had set a dangerous precedent last year when members of the All Nigerian Conference of Principals of Secondary Schools, ANCOPSS, and vice principals took the examinations and were adjudged to have failed. They were, thereafter, re-designated as heads of departments or senior tutors and transferred to other schools. Some of them now serve under their former students who have become principals. “Some of the principals developed stroke while some died of shock,” one of the teachers told the royal fathers.

Those who could not stomach the re-designation or ‘downgrading’ as the teachers called it, opted out of service. One of such was Yemi Omoyeni, former state chairman of the NUT.

Also, the teachers cited the plight of directors of administration and treasurers in the state’s 16 local government areas who took the examinations last September. Many of them were deemed to have failed and eased out of service. They are currently in courts seeking redress.

A source who attended the meeting told this magazine that Sunday Isikalu, state chairman of the Parent-Teachers’ Association, PTA, supported the teachers. He, however, recommended promotion examination for them.

Four of the kings – Ewi of Ado Ekiti, Oore of Otun, Ajero of Ijero and Oluyin of Iyin Ekiti – spoke at the parley but could not convince the teachers to back down. Even the intervention of Bishop Felix Ajakaiye could not pacify the angry teachers. Consequently, the traditional rulers pleaded that a committee should be set up with three members each from among the kings, NUT, Academic Staff Union of Secondary Schools, ASUSS, State Universal Basic Education Board, SUBEB, and the Teaching Service Commission, TESCOM.

Officials of the Ekiti NUT told Newswatch that they were miffed that a uniform test on the government’s five year development plan was administered on the school principals irrespective of their courses of study. “The government gave the assignment on a Thursday and asked them to submit the next day,” one of them said, adding “Worse still, the papers were not marked. Only those marked out for punishment failed.” One school principal failed because he reportedly belonged to a wrong political party.

No woman failed the test. This, however, elicited sharp criticisms. For example, when Fayemi appeared on Media chat, a phone-in television programme, he was asked to explain how a female principal in Ado-Ekiti passed the examination. “He referred the question to the education commissioner who came on air another day to clear the woman,” an NUT official said.

Oluwole Awolusi, Ekiti NUT caretaker chairman, said two persons who allegedly failed last year’s examination have died while two others were currently hospitalised. He was worried that some of his colleagues who had spent 34.8 years in service could be asked to take competency test two months to the end of a glorious career. “Is that not senseless,” asked rhetorically Wale Oyeniyi, Nigeria principal assistant general secretary of NUT, adding “There is a hidden agenda behind such test.”

He, however, said that the NUT was not opposed to promotion examination as it prepares workers for higher responsibilities and that any teacher who fails should not be elevated. Awolusi restated the decision of the NUT in its communiqué issued on Sunday, June 3, wherein it said that if the government intends to assess the training needs of teachers, a questionnaire could be administered to determine such training needs. This, he said, is even embedded in the Annual Performances Evaluation Reports forms usually completed by teachers. He said the union would resist any attempt to force the competency assessment or examination on teachers by the Ministry of Education and may result to an industrial action. “Up till now the students are not suffering but any day government says there is examination, we will declare strike,” he told Newswatch.

The Nigeria headquarters of the NUT has supported the Ekiti branch’s boycott of the June 4 exercise. Obong Obong, secretary-general of the union, said “it is indeed strange and incomprehensible for government to conduct a competency assessment for teachers, majority of whom had been professionally certified and duly registered by the Teachers’ Registration Council of Nigeria, the only body legally empowered to determine the competence and suitability of any teacher to teach in Nigeria.” 

 As the parties retreated to the drawing board last week, Funminiyi Afuye, commissioner for information, told this magazine that although he supports any attempt to bring lasting peace in any crisis in the state, the matter at hand now is not a trade union issue because it was not the union that got teachers the jobs or pay their salaries. He commended the traditional rulers for intervening and the teachers for accepting the interface with a view to resolving the issue. However, he said what was paramount to government was that education must be redeemed and brought back to its old glory in Ekitiland. “It is an irreducible minimum,” he said.

 Afuye said education is one of government’s eight point agenda for the state, hence the critical look at how to revamp the sector in all ramifications. This started with an education summit where government found that in 2010, only 20 percent of Ekiti secondary school students had five credits including English and Mathematics in the examination conducted by the West African Examination Council. Only 27 percent made it in 2011. The same year, out of 1.5 million Nigeria enrolment for the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board, JAMB, examination, only three Ekiti students scored above 300. “This is a sad commentary and, therefore, the system must be looked into - teachers and students alike, hence the TDNA,” he said. 

Consequently, government moved to revamp the education sector. It re-enacted free education up to secondary school level, pegged university fee at N50,000 and made teachers and students in secondary schools information and communication technology, ICT, compliant.

He denied that any principal was demoted in terms of salary but in terms of nomenclature. “When you restructure, many things can happen. If you are a principal or vice principal in a junior secondary school, you can’t be a principal in a senior secondary school. And being a principal does not preclude you from teaching. But if people misinterpret it to mean demotion, it is rather unfortunate,” he told this magazine.

 But as the ding-dong continued, human capacity development experts said the capacity building programme could have been carried out without the hassles that have attended the current approach. Will the government explore other options to achieve its plan to know the areas of needs of the teachers as well as their weaknesses with the aim of meeting such needs? Who blinks first? Ekiti people wait in earnest for a quick resolution of the crisis that has pitted 16,000 men against one man before it degenerates into a full-blown war that may imperil knowledge acquisition by children in public schools.


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