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Many Teachers Died Without Their Pension

By Emmanuel Edukugho, Vanguard ( Lagos )
October 16, 2003

In the swirling economic currents of rising cost of living, fuel price hike, low wages, high rents, widespread poverty, low purchasing power, and prevalent recession, unpaid pensions of retired teachers is sending many of them to the great beyond.

National President of Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Mallam Abdulwaheed Ibrahim Omar has disclosed that many retired teachers have died across the country without being paid their pensions.

Constrained to dwell once again on an issue, which he noted has for years dominated several discussions, NUT had with the government, including agitations and clamour, in spite of which nothing has so far been done to address it, Omar stated:

"It is the age-long problem of unpaid pension rights to teachers who retired from our school system, particularly primary schools, since 1994. These teachers have remained since retirement in many states, without their gratuities and without pension. Many have died. Many more are sick and cannot afford the high cost of medication. Not a few have been thrown into destitution, undue dependence and state of extreme hunger, disease and untold suffering."

The leader of Nigerian teachers painted this pathetic portrait of his erstwhile colleagues at the occasion of the 2003 celebration of the World Teachers' Day marked last week at the University of Lagos Sports Centre .

Mallam Omar said the NUT seriously doubts if the prevailing predicament of retired teachers constitute the appropriate reward for hard work by senior citizens of this country, who have spent their youthful and adult years in the service of their fatherland.

According to him, it is the contention of the union that in keeping with the national slogan of ensuring that the labours of our heroes past are not in vain, the plight of these retired teachers should be put on the front burner of the nation's fiscal consideration.

"It should be made to receive the Federal Government's immediate and very urgent attention by ensuring the release of funds to pay off all backlog of pensions and gratuities owed teachers since 1994," Omar pleaded.

He warned that government should not wait until the affected teachers relocate from their various states to take over all the strategic streets in Abuja before appropriate action is taken.

"Retired teachers have so far had to bear their present situation with sordid caution and hope, that someone, someday, will hearken to their call for justice. Let us hope that this added clarion call made on a day such as this will add pep to the realisation of the desire of the teachers."

The NUT president congratulated the entire teachers of Nigeria as they join their counterparts all over the world to mark this day, in spite of the very hard and difficult times our professional veterans are facing which, is most demotivating.

"I urge all teachers to remain steadfast and committed not only to the ideals of our chosen profession, but indeed to the tenets and objectives of the union."

Omar assured that NUT is poised more than ever before, to serve the teachers of Nigeria and ensure the growth and stability of the industry - Education as a means of guaranteeing a better world for all.

He however pointed out it is heart-warming that the various governments in the country are currently reassessing their posture towards education and teachers, with a view to redressing the ills of yesteryears.

Mention was made by the NUT president about the commitment and determination of the Federal Government to embark on the registration of professional teachers in the country through the Teachers' Registration Council (TRC) as "a prelude to the long-anticipated professionalisation of teaching".

He also touched on what he described as the concerted efforts and positive measures taken so far to institutionalise a Teachers' Salary Structure (TSS) for the teachers of Nigeria , adding, "one can safely say that teaching profession is at the threshold of a rebirth and revival."

Urging the National Council on Education (NCE) to give expeditious ratification to the Teachers' Salary Structure as was approved unanimously by the Joint Consultative Committee on Education (JCCE) so as to have it implemented without any further delay, Omar declared:

"There is no doubt that by doing so, we will be recording our names individually and collectively for posterity by our contributions in giving education its rightful place of pride and glory after many years of neglect and denial."

The nation's Number One Teacher explained that the theme for this year's World Teachers' Day celebration, "Teachers - Opening Doors to a Better World" has been carefully chosen to reflect the very essence and role - expectation of the teacher in the society.

"As it is commonly known, teaching is the oldest profession in history whose practitioners engage in exposing all manners of people to varied life-situations which in the long run, open them up to a better world."

But Omar lamented: "Ironically, the teacher has, for too long, remained confined, strapped and almost totally forgotten in his small world of the classroom and school environment, in an austere state of dilapidation and neglect; and out of school, in a state of societal rejection and social denial, lacking due recognition and appreciation."

In his own speech, chairman of NUT, Lagos State Wing, Comrade Michael Alogba Olukoya, made it clear that the union will never be tired of highlighting the squalid and pathetic position of retired teachers.

"It is not the best way to reward a meritorious service. It is both terrestrially and celestially abominable. God condemns oppression and injustice of any shape or size and the death that strikes our contemporary is by our bedpost. We shudder to think that a similar fate may just befall us in no distant future. Nothing can be more demoralising," he bemoaned.

As if re-echoing the lamentation of Omar on the plight of retired school teachers, Olukoya raged: "Poverty they say is better experienced than imagined. The pathetic condition and untold hardship, which our retired colleagues are going through is unimaginable most especially the retired primary school teachers. These senior citizens who have meritoriously served the state in their prime are subjected to serious humiliation while their legitimate entitlements are being denied."

He described as deliberate, the neglect of these retired primary school teaching staff by the government, some of whom have neither been paid gratuities nor placed on pension since 1998 to date - "an action which is not only worrisome but barbaric to meritorious and selfless services by these individuals."

Olukoya alleged that the Lagos State Local Government Pensions' Board, custodian of funds meant to cater for both retired local government workers, segregated (discrimination) against teaching and non-teaching staff in the primary schools in disbursement of funds by this agency.

According to the NUT chieftain, the panacea to these problems require the readiness of the Lagos State Local Government Service Commission and the Local Government Pension Board to rightly apply the content of the government enabling circular on their issue and implement the various approved percentage increase in pension allowances.

"As it is the desire of all to live and eat the fruits of his/her labour, it is therefore most necessary now, to urgently place the retired primary school teachers on monthly pension to save them from psychological, emotional, and mental trauma, even, from untimely death. The union with all modesty opines the need to legislate on creation of Lagos State Primary School Pension Board as a means to providing a long lasting solution to this age-long problem."

A soothing balm came from the Commissioner for Education, Dr. Olakunle Lawal, when he told the gathering that teachers' welfare receive prompt attention from government, adding: "it is our determination to ensure that the teacher is not unnecessarily marginalised in the scheme of things."

Lawal mentioned two major developments already taking place in Lagos State . These are; (i) The prompt dispatch with which government has been addressing the question of pension for retired primary school teachers. Soon, government will come out with a firm and concrete position on this issue. (ii) A Retirement Housing Scheme (RHS) otherwise known as Teachers' Village (TV), which Governor Asiwaju Bola Tinubu has unfolded as a package to enable teachers own their own homes before they retire from service.

The education commissioner acknowledged there are a few issues that government and teachers need to work out. But those issues are not in any way a reflection of any disdain for teachers. Rather, they constitute part of our collective problem and growing up experience.

He revealed Governor Bola Tinubu has directed that teachers' salary be the vote of first charge in the payment of salaries to Lagos State public servants.

Lawal emphasised that since government appreciates the importance of teachers as catalysts for fundamental change and transformation in our society, they will continue to be exposed to high-tech, conducive and attractive working environment, good training and staff welfare.

Referring to the theme - "Teachers: Opening doors to a better world," it is appropriate in this period of national effort to regenerate our society towards better moral and spiritual direction.

He charged teachers to contribute their own quota towards a better society by being prompt in attendance at school and offering their pupils and students the best in terms of teaching and counselling. They should resist the temptation to engage in illegal admission, aiding and abetting examination malpractice and other immoral and improper conduct.

Education Vanguard investigation shows that over one million teachers in the education sector entitled to pension rights are in a state of distress across the country due to grossly inadequate funding of the pension scheme which has almost collapsed.

Meanwhile, a verification exercise is going on in Lagos State to ascertain those entitled to receive pension. The verification which will run for one week from Monday October 13, 2003 is to determine the actual figure of pensioners. It is believed that "ghost pensioners" have caused ridiculous inflation of pension pay roll in recent years.

The Teaching Service is conducting its own verification alongside civil servants within the same period at the Local Authority Primary School , Ikeja.

All pensioners are expected to show up with originals of their letters of first appointment, letters of confirmation of appointment, letters of retirement, pensioner's identity card and their bank account numbers.

 


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