Varsity Don writes Akeredolu over poor conditions of Ondo teachers, lecturers

Aketi, rejected by Akokos

Nigerian Concord Newspaper

June 16, 2022

His Excellency,
Mr. Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu (SAN)
Governor of Ondo State,
Akure, Ondo State, Nigeria.

Milking Gnats in Ondo State: An Open Letter to Governor Akeredolu

Dear sir,

Few days ago, I was made to know that teachers in the Ondo State service were not paid salaries and wages since December 2021. I found it hard to believe and, since I have a couple of friends who are in the state’s teaching service, I placed a few calls to confirm the claim. In addition to receiving a confirmation, I was also reliably informed by some nurses in the state that they have also not received a single salary in 2022.

Per the case of teachers, I was also informed that the state, under your direction, now mandated that any teacher who is seeking promotion from one level to another must present evidence of having completed a Master’s Degree in Education. As I understood it, following intervention, especially by the Academic Staff Union of Secondary Schools (ASUSS), it has also been decided that in lieu of a master’s degree, teachers in the state can attend a mandatory six-month training at the Public Service Training Institute (PSTI) in Ilara Mokin.

The PSTI training program, which is slated to start in July, shall cost each teacher one hundred and thirty thousand naira. The breakdown is as follows: 10,000 naira as cost of Application Form; 100, 000 naira (payable in two instalments) as school fee; and 20,000 naira as project fee. What certificate will PSI issue these teachers, and can such certificate be used outside Ondo State? What about its curriculum? Is the program equivalent of a master’s degree in education?

Your Excellency, as much as I believe in personnel training and retraining, as a key element in nation-building, I wonder where you expect these teachers to get money to fund either a M.Ed or PSI training program. Sir, if this is about revamping education in the state, why not make the training free? Sir, as a former NBA President and a lawyer with many years of experience, I do not need to remind you that not paying salary as at when due is a breach of contract.

Sir, it is called wage theft. Wage theft – the denial of salaries and wages or employee benefits – can be conducted in different ways. Notable examples including not paying salaries and wages as at when due, not paying overtime, making illegal deductions from workers’ salaries and wages, violating minimum-wage laws, misclassification of employees as contractors, not paying annual leave or holiday entitlements, or simply not paying an employee at all.

Lawyers globally are seen as purveyors of justice, beacons of hope, and hopes of the poor. Perpetrating wage theft not only cast you in opaque lights, but it also shows that you are not in any way different from others that you have criticized over the years.

Sir, I suggest that you commission a study to know how many teachers have died due to their inability to fund their health bills. How many have lost loved ones on account of this wage-theft? Can you imagine a family where both husband and wife are teachers? How do they feed, pay rent, and pay their children’s fees?

As the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo famously observed, any generation that failed to train its younger ones will, in the future, live with the fall out. No one should decry the parlous state of our education when teachers are paid only one month in six months while political office holders – appointed and elected – are smiling to the bank every day.

Every day, doctors and nurses from Nigeria are bailing out to Europe, the Gulf states and North America where their skills and expertise are valued and adequately rewarded. Non-payment of salaries coupled with poor working environment are the bane of our hospitals under your watch. This is sad. Anyone with honesty engraved in his or her heart will tell you that there was a time when hospitals in Ondo State were among the best in Nigeria. The recent terror attack in Owo made bare how sad things have become in our hospitals since you took over the reins of power. Sir, nurses and doctors were not enough to cater for the injured. Blood was in short supply and when many Nigerians were ready to donate blood to victims, there were little to no nurses to attend to them.

Sir, this is on you. It stops right at your table.

Is it that office-holding has sapped you of any milk of human kindness or how do you explain the imposition of new laws/directives on hapless and helpless teachers that you denied six months salaries? Rather than forcing them to cough out 130,000 naira to attend a training program at the Public Service Training Institute (PSTI) at Ilara Mokin, why not make such a training free if it is truly aimed at revamping the educational sector through training? While there is no harm in revamping our educational system by mandatory train-the-trainers’ programs, it is simply callous and irresponsible to expect people whose wages you have stolen to cough out a dime to attain either a master’s degree or this God-knows-what PSI training.

As a lawyer, I expect that you should pay due regard to the laws and guidelines that were operational as at the time of these teachers’ appointments. Is there any modification to the guidelines to make this new directive legal? Even if there have been modifications, standard practice is that the laws or directives operational as at the time of an appointment serve the purpose of such an appointment.

Sir, since laws don’t have retroactive application and effect(s), I think imposing new directives guiding promotion, in of itself, is a breach. The intent behind the new directives notwithstanding, you are changing the goalpost in the middle of a game! I think, as a lawyer, you should not be proud of this.

Your Excellency, it is a slave who sees the truth and ties his or her tongue with silence. I do not support and will never support automatic promotion. Promotion should be earned, not gifted. However, to the extent that operational guidelines as at the time of appointment matters in relation to such an appointment, I think it is fit and proper if you transmit a bill to the state legislature to effect a broad-based change in the civil service and not punish teachers unduly. So, I suggest that you put an immediate stop to the idea that “tutors going from GL 15 to 16 this year will not be promoted not until after the completion of the PSI course or presentation of their M.Ed”. The same applies to the idea that beginning from next year, “There shall no longer be automatic promotion again from GL13 upward, unless the certificate from PSTI, Ilara Mokin or M.Ed is presented.”

Sir, rather than subjecting teachers to further pains, I suggest that in addition to transmitting a bill to the legislature on training for promotion, you can institute a twice-yearly mandatory training for teachers and other civil servants, to be coordinated by PSI, to continue to further develop them and make this a criterion for promotion. This should be done legally and with inputs from all cadre of civil servants.

Sir, he or she that must come to equity, must come with clean hands. Perhaps I should remind you that your government, as of June 16, 2022, has only paid January 2022 salary. You are not only owing workers February to June 2022 salaries and wages, but also owing January 2017, 2019, and 2020 leave bonuses. If you are this delinquent in your obligations, how do you expect your workers to pay the 130,000 naira to PSI or for M.Ed?

Sir, rather than milking the lifeblood of ‘gnats’ that your government has turned Ondo State teachers, nurses, and other workers into, I challenge you to stop all wages and salaries of your political office-holders – appointed and elected instead. Please, it is not enough to claim that Ondo State is broke, lead by example.

Sir, I am sending this letter through Dr. Doyin Odebowale who taught me as an undergraduate at the University of Ibadan and currently an appointed political office holder in your government. And also, through Mr. Ibrahim Lawal, your head of Chamber, who also is a friend. Much as I know that they would have preferred that I spoke with them directly, I embarked on this public address as this is a matter of public concern. In addition, I am challenging their respective consciences to stay true to the cause of the downtrodden by getting this letter to your table.

Yours truly,

Bukola Adeyemi Oyeniyi (Ph.D)
Associate Professor