As the Edo State government announces February 1, 2021 as resumption date for all educational institutions in the state, the reopening of schools after a long COVID-19-induced break may run into a hitch at the basic education level as the state government and primary school teachers tango over ongoing strike by the Nigerian Union of Teachers, NUT over issues bordering on welfare of its members. The state government had extended schools resumption by two weeks after the federal ministry of education directed that all schools should reopen on January 18, to enable it put in place safety measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus infection in its schools.
The NUT had on January 12, 2021 directed all primary school teachers and all school heads to embark on an indefinite strike with effect from January 18 following the expiration of a 21-day ultimatum to the government to settle its outstanding entitlements and improve on its conditions of service or risk strike action, a threat the government reportedly ignored. The union had responded on Wednesday to the resumption announcement by the government by asking its members to stay away from the classrooms. The government fired back, threatening to invoke the no-work-no-pay policy should the teachers dare it.
In a statement on Friday signed by secretary to the state government, SSG, Osarodion Ogie, the state government directed all teachers to report for duty as failure to do so would lead to forfeiture of salary.
The statement reads: “This is to inform all parents, teachers and the general public that all public primary schools in Edo State shall resume full activities on Monday 1st February 2021.
“Parents are expected to make their children and wards ready for resumption on this date. The Edo State Government wishes to reemphasize that all public-school teachers and head teachers are required to be present in their various schools. Failure to resume work would be considered forfeiture of salary as government has activated the No Work, No Pay policy.”
According to Ogie, “Head Teachers and Teachers who are desirous of staying away from work in support of the sponsored strike action by certain elements of the Edo State Branch of the Nigeria Union of Teachers, are required to hand over all school property in their custody to their respective Education Secretaries.
“The Edo State Government through the Edo State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) is collaborating with the relevant security agencies to ensure the protection of all public schools and any willful destruction of government property will be met with criminal prosecution to the fullest extent of the law”.
Announcing reopening of schools on Tuesday, the SSG had explained that the directive was given after due consultations with the institutions and their representatives to ascertain and confirm their preparedness to abide by the state’s coronavirus (COVID-19) prevention protocol in their operations.
According to Ogie, “This directive applies to all schools, from primary to tertiary institutions, domiciled in the state. The schools are to fully comply with the state government’s COVID-19 protocol”. He said relevant personnel had been trained and mobilized to undertake regular inspection of school premises to ensure strict adherence to the protocols to curb the spread of COVID-19, adding that the government has a standing enforcement team to monitor and enforce sanctions on institutions that violate the COVID-19 prevention protocols.
But kicking against the directive, the leadership of the NUT directed all primary school teachers in the state to shun the proposed resumption date. In a statement signed by Pius Okhueleigbe, state chairman, and Moni Mike Modesty Itua, assistant secretary general, of the union, in reaction to the state government’s request to suspend the strike, noted that the state government had not demonstrated any reasonable commitment to resolve the issues presented to it.
A statement from the office of head of service, Anthony Okungbowa, signed by D.O.Enakhimion, the Permanent Secretary, Establishments, appealed to the union to suspend the ongoing strike and give considerable time to create opportunity for government to dialogue with it with a view to resolving the issues.
The union however would not budge, making good its threat by embarking on strike action from January 18 thereby posing a threat to smooth reopening of schools. In its statement defying the government’s resumption order, the union insisted that it had earlier allowed the state government eight weeks to have its demands resolved before the commencement of the strike,
positing that it was no longer disposed to its request for additional days. The union, however, unanimously agreed that dialogue/negotiation between it and the government should continue while the strike persists. The union’s perceived hard stance may therefore have prompted the government to resort to the use of instrument of coercion by invoking the no-work no-pay policy.