When will this war end?

As the third term academic calendar of schools in Oyo State comes to end in a couple of days, TUNDE OGUNESAN speaks with stakeholders on the implications of the on-going strike action which had forced students and teachers alike to remain at home for a long time without an end in sight.

BY Friday, July 29, schools in Oyo state would have been closing for the third term session in the academic calendar, but as at today, the story is not a pleasant one.

On Monday, June 6th, the leadership of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) Oyo state, declared an indefinite strike action over disagreement with the state government concerning privatisation of schools in the state.

The State government, in an announcement signed by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education, informed the public of government’s intention to commence the process of allowing private organisations to partly or fully take over ownership of government primary and secondary schools.

In an announcement signed by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education, it requested expression of interest in the “public/private partnership and ownership of schools in its bid to develop human capital founded on quality education in the state”.

According to the advert, applications should be accompanied by memoranda or expression of interest; evidence of previous experience in school administration; and evidence of financial and management capability to operate the school(s) successfully.

Meanwhile, the advertorial then became the subject and beginning of unending impasse which is yet to be resolved today.

Not sooner than the government made its intention known, the Nigerian Union of teachers in a statement signed by its secretary, Waheed Olojede rejected the proposal.

The NUT, in its response which raised three posers: Why were the schools initially taken over by government in 1975, What then are the motives behind privatisation of public secondary schools in Oyo State and Why Public Schools should NOT be sold to Private owners, disagreed with the state government on the privatisation issue.

The crisis, without mincing words, has slowed down academic activities in the state. By the time the Labour union declared the indefinite strike, the schools were in their sixth week of resumption and would have closed for the third term this week.

With this development, various stakeholders have described the situation as a setback in schools administration in the state.

First, none of the students in Junior Secondary Schools in the state; private and public were able to write their final examination into Senior Secondary Schools this session. Reasons; the examination is a state examination.

According to sources, aside the fact that teachers were on strike, the NLC strike had also punctured any step to conduct the examination.

Second, there seems no end to the logjam as government’s order fostered on the teachers to resume few weeks ago failed to yield any positive response.

In the response, signed by the secretary of Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), Oyo state, Comrade Waheed Olojede, the union stated that “With reference to the situation of our schools which prompted the takeover by government in 1975, no other agency apart from the government can tackle the current problems in our schools without heaving unbearable heaps of burden on the masses.  No private individual, group or missions will deliver quality education free, employ qualified teachers without retrenching the long experienced ones, recruit staff without discrimination and pay its staff according to the government’s salary scale currently being earned under government service.”

On curriculum, Olojede said “Most curriculum of privately-run schools are fraught with “hidden syllabus” which have tendency for political, economic and or religious aggrandizement and indoctrination, as opposed to the broad-based and liberal policy of developing patriotic, nationalistic and cultural values necessary for the survival of a united multicultural society like Nigeria. On the return of schools to former owners, Olojede added that such “amounts to privatising education, which, in principle and practice, negates the resolution of the UNESCO to which our country is a signatory.  Privatisation of education means commercialisation of education and a ploy to remove education far beyond the reach of the poor masses.  This in essence deviates from the universally acclaimed position on the right of every child to education without any form of hindrance which is also the position in the UBE law signed into law by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003.  Thus, the State government will be doing injustice to its responsibility to the people, if it could not defend the rights of the people who it represents.”

He added that “return of the schools and the resultant commercialisation of education will definitely widen the difference between the rich and the poor and precipitate class rift, social disharmony and social menace. It is about three decades since the schools were taken over by the government.  The edict No. 14, of 1975, legalising the take over did not say that they were leased, contracted or temporarily taken over by government  but that they have become public schools and property.  Government, on behalf of the public, has since, invested quite a lot of the people’s money into expanding, improving and equipping the schools.  All the schools are therefore public property and to return the schools to certain groups or individuals would amount to looting and a daylight robbery of the innocent masses of their goods and possession.

He also added some of their reasons to reject the PPP initiatives as: legal and constitutional impediments to the return of schools, return of schools to former owners amounts to government abdicating its principal responsibility of providing accessible, affordable and qualitative education to her citizenry, It is public knowledge that Oyo State Government recently introduced education development levy of one thousand naira (N1000.00) per student per term which makes three thousand naira (N3000.00) per student, per session.

Some of the teachers, who pleaded anonymity in an interview with Nigerian Tribune said “the crisis is a setback in our academic calendar. We were in the sixth week when the indefinite strike commenced, and if things had gone as planned, we would have been closing for the third term this week.”

Another teacher who teaches in a secondary school in the state capital added that, the implication of the on-going strike is beyond the teachers or members of the NLC only suffering. He said “maybe our people don’t know that JSS students from private schools in the state who were in the same class with their fellow students in the public schools in the same state are now a year ahead of their colleagues. The reason is that most private schools, with the consent of their parents, have registered their wards for ‘Junior NECO’, which means they could be proceeding to the first year of Senior Secondary school whenever they resume for 2017/2018 academic session. And the implication of that is that they use the result to get admission to schools, private, even other than their original school, if the parents’ wish.

“But in case, the state government pays our salary and we resume early enough, what will happen is that; we have eight weeks left in our 2016/17 academic session. With this, we can regard the time of strike as holiday period, teach for five weeks and conduct within the rest three weeks. The only minus could then be that we wont be going on holiday.

Some of the parents who spoke with the Nigerian Tribune appealed to both the state government and the leadership of the NLC to sheath their swords and consider the effect of this long strike on the children of the masses.

Mr Adetayo Akande said “one of the reasons for the falling standard of education in Nigeria is this incessant strike in our school. Without strike, public school students have not met-up with the pace of education standard in the country, now, with the indefinite strike, I am sure not all of them will resume whenever they eventually resolve the issue.”

Nigerian Tribune investigations revealed that some of these students have ended up running unnecessary errands in their neighbourhood.

It was also learnt that some of the  students had resulted into practising  drama series, various brands of music in their area, just engage themselves.

To some, whose parents are traders, the number of children hawking on the street of the state capitals while a few of them have taken to some venture that can sustain their daily urge for food.

Recently, upon assumption of office, Oyo state Commissioner of Education,Science and Technology, Professor Adeniyi Olowofela, also joined other stakeholders in the state calling on the leadership of the leadership of the NLC to call off the indefinite strike.

Professor Olowofela stated this when he hosted the heads of Tertiary institutiins in the state in a meeting, advised that the strike be put off to avoid sabotaging the education of affected pupils.

The Commissioner was said to have been so committed to the quick resolve of the matter since he resumed office few weeks ago.

Also, the state Governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi had constituted a 31-man Education Reform Committee with a view to resolving the crises that greeted the policy.