Unity school debacle: How 1,800 teachers got employed but unpaid for 36 months (2024)

Despite spending N4.3 trillion on personnel budgets over six years, the Federal Ministry of Education owes 1,800 unity schools’ teachers 36-month salary arrears. While the government has no concrete plan to facilitate their pay despite budgetary provision, the bewildered teachers say their morale is at its lowest ebb. But their reward needs not be in heaven, OWEDE AGBAJILEKE reports.

Despite its heavy budget earmarked and expended as personnel cost in the last six years, the Federal Ministry of Education is yet to pay some academic staff members of Federal Government Colleges (also known as Unity Schools), three years’ salary arrears worth over N3.4 billion.

Investigation by The Guardian revealed that the teachers numbering over 1,800 are being owed salary arrears and other allowances from 2018 to 2021.

Recruited by the Federal Ministry of Education in 2018, 2019, and 2020 as education officers and posted to schools across the country, findings reveal that these workers have yet to be paid their First 28 Days Allowance since their engagement.

In public service, the First 28 Days Allowance covers almost the first month of a new employee’s arrival at his or her duty station.

It was gathered that the teachers have severally pressed home their demands, including writing letters and protesting at the ministry’s headquarters in Abuja, but to no avail.

While their protests have drawn the attention of the Human Resources Directorate, the permanent secretary, and the Minister of State for Education, Dr Yusuf Sununu, the promises these officials made are yet to be translated into reality.

Unity school debacle: How 1,800 teachers got employed but unpaid for 36 months (1)Some of the reasons adduced for the non-payment of the arrears include logistics challenges encountered at the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) desk of the ministry, and alleged refusal of the ministry to transmit the files of affected teachers to the Budget Office of the Federation for vetting, and onward transfer to the Accountant General’s office for approval.

Meanwhile, data obtained from the Budget Office of the Federation, as well as, BudgIT revealed that over N4.3 trillion was allocated to the Ministry between 2018 and 2024 as personnel cost.

The Guardian specifically observed that the personnel cost has been on a steady increase since 2014.

For instance, the personnel cost rose from N400 billion in 2018, to N539 billion in 2019. However, it nosedived to N439.2 billion in 2020, before surging to N579.7 billion in 2021. In 2022, 2023, and 2024, the personnel budgets hit a record high of N645 billion, N663 billion, and N1.04 trillion, respectively.

Some of the aggrieved teachers who confided in The Guardian lamented that they resorted to crowdfunding to buy stationery, including reams of A4 paper, printing ink, and cartridges to enable the IPPIS office in the ministry to process and fast-track their payments.

“We ran around, sourced for funds amongst ourselves, and fixed some printers in the IPPIS Office since they complained that stationery is their problem.

“When we protested for the second time in April this year (after the first protest in November 2023), the Minister of State for Education, Dr Yusuf Sununu, met with us and asked us to compile a list. We covered close to 1,800 staff and submitted the list to him. Since then, we have not heard anything,” a teacher in one of the Federal Government Colleges in the Southeast told The Guardian.

Another education officer posted to one of the unity schools in the North-West said that due to inflation and naira devaluation, the value of the N1.5 million owed him in salary arrears had depreciated to N300,000.

He lamented that the development delayed his marriage for three years. “I was supposed to be married in 2021, I got married in 2024. It delayed my marriage for three years.

“The money would have been valuable in 2021 if I was paid all my salary arrears worth over N1.5 million. But as it is now, it is less than N300,000. Also, if I was paid on time, I would have done something better with my life, but as it is today, the money is worthless,” he stressed.

In the same vein, another teacher in the Federal Capital Territory recalled that they started interfacing with the ministry over the pay issue in October 2022, and again in April 2023 before staging their first protest in November 2023.

She said: “Before the protests, there was no particular reason given why we were not paid. All the same, we got to know that money has been budgeted for it, and the paperwork done. But for some strange reasons, the Education Ministry has refused to submit relevant documents and our names to the Budget Office so that payment could be made since the list would be scrutinised there before it is moved to the Accountant General for approval and disbursem*nt.

“I was sent with others in October 2022 to the ministry, and the same thing that they told us in October 2022, was the same thing that they told my colleagues who went there six months after,” he stated.

Industry stakeholders said the development is a setback to the Education Roadmap (2024-2027), which seeks to transform the country’s education sector and improve teachers’ welfare and development.

They also pointed out that it contravenes Articles 16 and 17 of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) recommendation, which stipulates that “adequate grants or financial assistance should be given to teachers to enable them to follow the courses provided and live decently.”

Reacting, to the development, the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) said that the move would wreak havoc on public education if not urgently addressed.

While emphasising that the Federal Government is paying lip service to education development, the Campaign also called for the reversal of school fees imposed on unity schools.

The National Mobilisation Officer, Education Rights Campaign, Adaramoye Michael Lenin, said the welfare condition of teachers and education workers impacts greatly on the quality of education that students get.

“Sadly, teachers and education workers have had their terrible share of unfair treatment. This is because the government has not shown any genuine interest in uplifting public education.

“Despite imposing new fees on students in unity schools, this has not resulted in any positive change in the living and learning conditions of students and teachers.

“It is not surprising that teachers of unity schools are being owned over three years’ salary arrears; wreaking havoc on public institutions and workers has become the trademark of government at all levels. It is important for students, teachers, education workers, and concerned Nigerians to pay more attention to public education by calling the attention of the government to the ruinous state of public education.

“The Education Rights Campaign demands the immediate payment of the over three years’ salary arrears of teachers of unity schools, and total reversal of the increased fees.”

A public affairs analyst, Ifeanyi Nwoko, described the development as appalling, shocking, and insensitive.

Nwoko explained that owing teachers’ salaries could have several consequences for the education sector, including demotivation and low morale, brain drain, reduced productivity, and poor student outcomes.

According to him, it could also erode the quality of education, leading to a decline in standards and reputation, as well as, difficulty in attracting new teachers.

“It is unreasonable to hear that the people they chose to owe are the teachers, who are supposed to be imparting knowledge to young Nigerians. It means that all over Nigeria, there are disgruntled teachers, who have been owed for three years. There is no excuse that the Federal Ministry of Education will bring up that will hold water as to why three years’ salary arrears for teachers have not been paid. It is sheer insincerity of purpose, lack of understanding, and wickedness.

“Teachers are supposed to be better paid in Nigeria. When it comes to essential service providers viz medical practitioners, teachers, the police, and the military, their pay should not be compromised. Even if the government were to owe, which is unacceptable, it shouldn’t be the teachers. We are even saying that their pay is too meagre, and you are owing them during this hardship when a basket of tomato is selling for N130,000?” he stated.

He also questioned the Federal Government’s rationale for spending a whooping sum of N90 billion to subsidise Hajj when 3.78 per cent of that amount could have been used to pay the teachers.

When contacted, the National President of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Audu Amba, as well as, the Director of Press and Public Relations, Federal Ministry of Education, Boriowo Folasade kept mum.

While the NUT boss failed to reply to several phone calls and messages made to his telephone lines, the Director of Press and PR at the Education Ministry, referred The Guardian to the Permanent Secretary, Didi Walson-Jack, who was out of the country at the time of filing this report.

On his part, the National President of the National Parents-Teachers Association of Nigeria (NAPTAN), Haruna Danjuma, said that he was just hearing of the matter for the first time.

His words: “The very moment I glanced at your message, it was frightening because this information is supposed to come to us through our Unity School PTA body. And up till this time that I’m speaking with you, nobody has reported such a case to us. At the Ministry of Education, there is a Unity School PTA desk officer, which means I have to be there or direct a council member to go and verify.”

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Unity school debacle: How 1,800 teachers got employed but unpaid for 36 months (2024)
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