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Left Hanging: The Ordeal Of ‘Sunset’ SUBEB Teachers In Kwara

Omolade Aisha, a mother of four, holds a National Certificate in Education (NCE) in Agricultural Science. She was a headmistress in a private school in Lagos before securing a teaching appointment in Kwara State in January, prompting her to resign from her workplace and relocate to Kwara State to start a teaching job.

Aisha, who is also a widow, is responsible for the basic needs of her children. Things were moving smoothly for her from the time she secured the appointment until June when the Government began to withhold her salaries despite the hardship of COVID-19 which sent the country’s economy on a downward spiral. Her children have been withdrawn from school since she cannot afford to pay their fees.

“When I was in a private school in Lagos we knew how we managed the token that I was earning. But since I got this appointment, I have quit my former sources of income due to my relocation to Ilorin and, as you are seeing me now, I’m a widow and a mother of 4 for that matter,” she said as tears streamed down her face.

Sunset teachers are teachers who were employed towards the end of the tenure of Abdulfatai Ahmed, the former Governor of Kwara State. There were insinuations that they were employed to frustrate the then-incoming administration. Following these insinuations were speculations that they would be disengaged upon the emergence of the Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq administration.

However, in his 2019 inauguration speech, the Governor of Kwara State, Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq said he granted them a concession and assured them that they would be integrated with other teachers in the state and would be adequately paid when due.

Contrary to his promise, only some of these teachers have been cleared and have started receiving salaries. Over six hundred of them claim that their salaries have been halted since June 2020, even though they have been going to their places of assignment daily, working, while sorting the transport expenses from their own pockets.

According to them, the reason why their salaries remain unpaid was not communicated to them and the Kwara State Government continues to keep mum over the issue.

Speaking with this reporter, some of these teachers recounted the hardship the government’s refusal to pay their salaries has brought on their families.  

Lamenting, Aisha narrated how she quit her job as a headmistress in a private school in Lagos where she was earning almost N40,000. She said she quit her previous job to accept a teaching job with a N30,000 monthly stipend because the government’s work is pensionable and offers her career progression.

“Before we didn’t know that they were going to absorb us but we received the mercy of his Excellency and he later embraced us until June when our salaries were stopped abruptly. Since then life has been hell on us. As I’m talking right now I lock my children inside because I cannot afford to pay their school fees, two of them are in primary school and the remaining two are in secondary school,” she lamented.

“Had it been that we were not employed it would have been better but upon getting the appointment we have quitted all our means of income and we don’t know where to begin? Some people that were assisting me financially have stopped since when they heard that I have secured an appointment,” she added.

Salary Stopped Amid A Pandemic

According to a Premium Times report in which the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) was quoted, the COVID-19 pandemic poses enormous health and financial threats to many Nigerians, especially as it relates to employment and income in the country.

The NBS survey revealed that 42 per cent of respondents who were working before the outbreak of the pandemic had stopped working. Also, a high rate of households reported income loss since mid-March. About 79 per cent of households reported that their total income decreased. However, the rate was highest for income from non-farm family business (85%) compared to household farming, livestock or fishing (73%) and wage employment (58%).

This correlates with the situation of sunset SUBEB teachers in Kwara whose salaries were stopped in June amidst a pandemic that has left families and many households impoverished. 

Adebayo Ahmed is one of the teachers affected. A father of three, he holds BSc.(Ed) in Educational Technology and was doing home tutoring for students before he got the appointment. But he quit the job after getting the teaching appointment with the state government. Since his salary stopped being paid in June, he has been unable to meet his financial obligations.

“It has affected me and my family, in the sense that I’m a father of three and with the economic hardship of COVID-19 my children are no more in school. They were asked not to come to school because I am unable to meet up with the payment I am supposed to do, even the last term school fees, I was unable to pay it because our salary was stopped in June 2020.”

“All we hoped was that before the end of COVID-19 everything would have been resolved. Everywhere that we have been to; what they are telling us is that we should exercise patience. There’s an investigation going on and that’s what kept us waiting but along the line, we see that from the first month up till the fifth month nothing is coming up and nobody is addressing us on what is happening and that one is even demoralizing us more than necessary, we don’t know where we are going, we had already quitted the job we were doing before we got this,” he lamented.

He went on to explain that it is hard to secure another job since most of the companies have downsized as a result of the socioeconomic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Ahmed debunked the government’s claim that they are ghost workers, insisting that they are active at their various places of assignment and are ready for any screening that will enable them to verify that they are genuine workers.

Like Ahmed, Irebami Bolanle, a mother of two who holds BSc.(Ed.) in Human Kinetics said she was working in a private school before she received the appointment. She explained that she resigned to give full attention to the job and has been spending N400 per day to transport herself to her place of primary assignment

She also recounted the hardship she went through during the COVID-19 lockdown which rendered her and her husband, who is a private school teacher, jobless. 

“My husband works in a private school. When the lockdown started my husband’s salary was stopped. I was the one assisting before my salary was stopped. Since then, things have turned awry, we are just suffering and smiling. We are pleading to the Government to please lift the embargo on our salaries and reinstate us back.” 

We Have Turned To Beggars

Speaking on behalf of the group, Salaudeen Ahmad, the spokesman of the affected teachers appealed to the government to offset their salary arrears, he explained that despite their concerted efforts to convey their plights to the relevant agencies, nothing has changed.

“We have been to several offices, we have been going up and down to ensure that they come to our aid but up till now nothing comes out. As I am speaking with you now, we have all been to our places of primary assignment to discharge our duties before coming to SUBEB here.”

He further explained that most of them have quit their other means of income upon securing the appointment urging the government to release their salaries while the investigation concerning their issue continues.

“When The Investigation Is Concluded, Their Salaries Will Be Released” — Director

Meanwhile, the Director of Kwara State Universal Basic Education Board, Gloria Omolara Adebisi clarified that the affected teachers have not been sacked. According to her, the government is completing an investigation regarding their employment status and that is why their salaries are being withheld.

“They have not been disengaged, the government has never said it is disengaging them.  They are still investigating their employment/appointment status and that is why the ministry of Finance said they should hold their salary pending the time they will finish the investigation. Their investigation has gone viral, the Head of the service is on it, the EFCC to is on their issue.”

When asked when the investigation will be concluded, she said: “The government has the final say on their issue, we are only acting on government’s directive, whatever the directive the Government/his Excellency gives us that is what we are going to follow, I am sure that whenever they clear their matter, their salaries will be paid.”

“Their salaries are being kept in the salary account pending the time the investigation will be concluded and when it is concluded they will receive their salaries.” 

Asked if the affected teachers are qualified, she clarified that all of them possess minimum qualifications for the job and they have been cleared and employed for the job. In her words, “Those 682 have been cleared, they have a professional certificate, we do not say that any of them possess fake certificates. What happened is that after the employment,  the head of the service screened all the UBEC teachers by SUBEB and some of those that were not qualified were disqualified based on the certificate they possessed.”

“Their issue is with the government and the government has set up the investigation panel, we  do not have an issue with their certificate or whatsoever, they have been screened for the job and they have gotten the job, those(OND, SSCE holders) that were not qualified for teaching  had been sent away, it is the outcome of their investigation that will tell us the next step.”

She finally urged the affected teachers to exercise patience insisting that the government has not disengaged them from the job.

The names of these teachers in this story have been changed for fear of victimization.

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