Out-of-school-kids scourge

 All Kogi schools shut, kids flood streets hawking

From Emmanuel Adeyemi, Lokoja

Taking a walk through Lugard Road in Lokoja, Kogi State capital on a Monday morning, or a typical school day and class hours, it’s conspicuous to notice hordes of school kids milling around.

Many of them are seen hawking various commodities and tussling with the human and vehicular traffic as if they have a task already to make a living for themselves.

There were about 17 of them selling various items like kolanut, smoked fish, oranges, boiled eggs and yams clustered under a mango tree relishing the fresh morning air that day of visit.

Yet, some of them glibly played around with a small plastic ball. The best and shortest way to describe the situation in Kogi State is that all schools owned and managed by state are shut primary, secondary, tertiary and other institutions.

Such have become common scenes in Lokoja and major towns in Kogi State where children of school age are seen daily roaming and hawking on the streets ignorantly playing away their future.

This is so because almost all the public schools in the state, in recent time have been shut owing to incessant strike by the teachers as most of them are owed salaries ranging from 15 to 21 months.

Perhaps, more pathetic is the plight of tertiary institutions in the state whose academic calendar had been truncated as students in those schools had to spend longer years before they could graduate.

In this year alone, all the tertiary institutions in the state were shut for over seven months and resumed only in July when the state government proscribed the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) at the state university in Ayingba which in the interim gave respite to the students.

And only few days ago, another industrial action resumed at the state polytechnic, Lokoja which led to another proscription of union activities not only in the polytechnic, but in all the tertiary institutions in the state.

The polytechnic lecturers are demanding among other things; payment of salary arrears owed workers, stoppage of excessive tax payment by staff, clearing of genuine staff from the periodic screening, appointment of governing council members, and payment of some allowances to staff, among others.

The governor, Yahaya Bello while making the proclamation proscribing all unions and union activities in tertiary institutions in the state, said the state government was fed up with their ways.

The governor specifically said in spite of what the government was doing to lift the education industry in the state, the lecturers of the state polytechnic, Lokoja, still embarked on industrial action which he said had paralysed the academic activities in the institution.

He said his government would no longer tolerate any industrial action that will impede the academic programs of the students in the state and moreover, the tertiary institutions in the state were earlier closed down for more than seven months this year and that government could no longer tolerate that.

The statement fumed that: “Kogi State government respects the rights of all citizens to responsibly associate and pursue their welfare within the ambits of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Laws of Kogi State.

“The Kogi State government is however dismayed that in Kogi state-owned tertiary institutions trade unionism has lent itself to impeding government’s efforts to carry out holistic reforms of the civil service in the state through unjustified and unjustifiable strikes.

“Evidence of massive embezzlement of the Kogi State Polytechnic’s earnings in excess of N157million committed under JAC’s nose and government efforts to punish the accused persons have been frustrated.

“Government will work to ensure uninterrupted academic calendar henceforth in all basic education, secondary and tertiary academic institutions in Kogi State,” he added.

Bello therefore ordered that all the striking lecturers must resume work immediately or consider themselves sacked and called on the commissioner for education to commence immediate recruitment to all vacant positions that may be created as fallout from the order.

The helmsman said the trade unions affected in the proscription order include the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) and the Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU).

Others are the Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU), the Senior Staff Union of Colleges of Education in Nigeria (SSUCOEN), the National Associations of Academic Technologists (NAAT) and any other union operating in any tertiary institution owned by the Kogi state government.

The affected institutions are, Kogi State Polytechnic, Lokoja, Kogi State College of Education, Ankpa, Kogi State College of Education Technical, Kabba, College of Nursing and Midwifery, Obangede, College of Health Sciences and Technology, Idah and Kogi State University Teaching Hospital, Anyigba.

In reaction to government action, the chairman of SSANU Kogi State chapter, Mr. Moses Balogun urged members to disregard  the proscription order and count it as a rumour and mere threat

“We learnt that the state government proscribed JAC, well, to the best of my knowledge, as a labour leader that knows about the labour law, I want to see it as  rumour.

“However, if it is true, we are waiting for an official communication because such action must be accompanied by a document from the state government and sent to the institutions concerned. Until then, it remains a rumour and should not be taken serious,” Balogun said.

“The union are all surprised that despite not having dispute, not arguing for anything, except our demands for the four months check up dues which was deducted without remitting. We are asking where they put these monies deducted. Is it a crime to ask?” 

Balogun said the state government does not have the power or instruments or any right to proscribe any union and added that the unions are national and not locally established.

Also reacting to the proscription order, chairman of ASUP, Mr. Boluromi Samuel said the state government has no right to proscribe the unions

“Let me start with the allegations of N157million fraud, l want to say that labour leaders are neither bursary nor salary unit staff. We fight corruption with passion. The N157million fraud is from the salary unit. The threat of ban on unions’ activity was because government and management want to cover some facts during investigation. Rector signs cheques before salaries are paid. Audit unit is supposed to authenticate the pay schedule before the rector will sign cheques. The question is that does the rector take audit reports before signing the cheque. If yes, why are audit staffs not involved in the fraud? If no, why was rector not queried for signing cheque without audit reports?

“The five staffers suspended are from the salary unit. Some of them just take directives from superiors. Is it then possible for rector to claim ignorance as the chief accounting officer? If genuine investigation will be carried out, the rector should also be suspended.   “State auditor general confirmed that N2.9m is deducted from staff salaries monthly. When labour leaders discovered sharp practices in our salaries since January, we met the management and requested for our pay slips. The management promised several times to produce it but refused. We wrote several times, management still refused. That was why the staff congress gave ultimatum. If labour leaders were not fighting corruption, we wouldn’t have taken such steps. Let government be sincere in the fighting of corruption without favour.                       

“On the issue of proscription, the union is yet to be communicated. The governor has no right to ban union. It is an act of illegality.  We have right to associate and to discuss our welfare. Let me add that during the two ultimatum issued by JAC of polytechnic, the management and government did not invite us for discussion,’’ he noted.

“On the issue of our demands, they were part of the bailout calculated by Governor Wada but were denied. The present administration collected the bailout, Paris Club refund 1 and 2, project refund and yet never paid the arrears and still owes salary between three and ten months in the polytechnic,     

“The governor implemented 2011 tax law which the previous administration did not implement because it knew the demands were not met. Today a chief lecturer pays N85,000 per month as tax as against N56,000 per month before he came to power. However, a chief lecturer in the federal institutions in Kogi State pays about N20,000. “The governor implemented what was beneficial to him but refused to implement the liabilities,” he added.

On his part while speaking with our Correspondent, the immediate past chairman of COEASU, College of Education, Ankpa branch and now an ex officio of the union, Mr. Linus Akpihi said it was sad that the government usually sees unions in the perspective of agitation for rights and not seeing them as partners for progress.