“I was happy initially when I received my four-months’ salary arrears on Thursday night. But when I came across the news that we had been sacked around 5 am on Friday, I was emotionally down. I observed morning prayer with deep sorrow that morning. I’m not happy at all because I just got married and my wife is currently pregnant.”
Those were the words of Sulyman Ibrahim, one of the “sunset” teachers sacked by the Kwara state government.
For Sulyman, a graduate of the University of Ilorin, the disengagement caught him unprepared. He got married right after securing the job. He also left the private school he was working for following the state government’s pledge that they had been granted a concession and that they would be reintegrated with other teachers in the state.
It was a joy turned to tears for all the 2,414 SUBEB teachers in Kwara state as the government, after approving the payment of their seven-months salary arrears in December, terminated their appointment when they were on the verge of getting confirmed as permanent teachers.
Popularly known as sunset teachers, they were employed in 2019 towards the end of the tenure of Abdulfatai Ahmed, the former state governor. There were speculations that they would be dismissed upon the assumption of the current governor, Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq, due to political differences.
Contrary to the speculation, the governor promised to engage them and integrate them with other teachers. Instead, they were sacked barely two years after their employment.
According to the state government’s justification through the press release published by the Kwara State Ministry of Education on Thursday, December 26, 2020; their employment contravened due process— the 2,414 teachers employed were more than the 1,100 teachers approved by the former governor, Abdulfatai Ahmed.
Based on the outcome of the investigation conducted by the State Government and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), after 1,658 of them were adjudged qualified, it was later discovered that an additional 594 people were inserted into the payroll and another 162 were claimed to be smuggled into the mix.
“The government has decided to start the employment process all over again in January 2021. The government will open a new application portal for all the 2,414 and any other eligible persons to apply for SUBEB teaching jobs in relevant subjects to be advertised. This effectively nullifies the controversial employment process of 2018/2019,” the Kwara State Ministry of Education declared.
Like Sulyman, Amzat Olayinka who holds a National Certificate in Education explained that they have been through a series of rigorous screenings and sailed through saying. He noted that his disengagement would wreak great havoc on him and his family if he is not reinstated.
“It’s very unfortunate for me that I find myself in this situation. Since we got this job, it has been screening upon screening and later we were adjudged to be qualified. We have settled for this job, we feed our families with the stipend that we are collecting from the job, it is very unfortunate that the Government does this to us a few days to our confirmation.”
Back to square one: the tale of shock, tears and sorrow
For about 2,414 disengaged teachers in Kwara, their fate of getting selected in the next recruitment exercise which the government will commence in January is uncertain owing to the overwhelming number of unemployed and underemployed persons that may apply for the job.
A fact sheet published by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) revealed that Kwara was among the five states with the lowest unemployment rate in 2020.
The state recorded an unemployment rate of 13.8 per cent, representing 186,168 persons. But then again, the rate of underemployment plus unemployment rate is 34.2 per cent, representing 461,268 persons, many of whom will also be jostling for slots rolled out by the state government for the forthcoming recruitment exercise.
Formerly working in a private school in Ilorin where she was receiving N9,000, Azeezat, a widow and a mother of six said she was excited to the brim when she got the appointment in 2019. She thought her sufferings had ended since she had secured a means of livelihood. But the disengagement cut short her excitement.
She expressed fear that she might have to go back to where she started if the government does to reinstate her.
“I was working in a private school before I got this employment, I had bid them farewell upon getting this appointment. Even though it is not enough, at least it is better than the private school where I was earning not up to N10,000. We don’t have any assurance that we will be re-selected if we re-apply,” she said.
Oyewole Hakeem who studied Educational Technology at the University of Ilorin explained that he was single when he got the appointment in 2019 but later got married in September 2020. Unfortunately for him, he is one of the sacked teachers.
“When I heard the news on Thursday night, I was emotionally down, I don’t know the right word to express how I felt. I was single before but now I’m married, my wife has also got pregnant. I also have an aged mother and my younger ones that rely on me. I don’t have any other means of taking care of their responsibilities aside from this job, it has been two years since we got this job, where do they want us to start?” he asked rhetorically.
Apart from his pregnant wife, Hakeem who earns N30,000 as salary is also the one taking care of his aged mother and younger brothers but with the sudden twist, he has now been rendered jobless.
One of the affected teachers, who identified herself as Ateyobi Esther, described the government’s decision at the point as a huge problem and a gross setback for them and their families, and appealed to the government to revoke its decision.
She further explained that they have undergone several screenings and were adjudged qualified. She appealed to the government to conduct thorough screening for them rather than terminating their appointments.
“We do not say they should not screen us, we don’t mind even if it takes them one week to screen us. But for us to go back home and still re-apply is like telling us to restart from the beginning and, apart from that, what is the assurance the most of us that were dismissed will be chosen in the new process?”
Former governor reacts
When contacted, the Special Adviser to the former Kwara State Governor, Muyideen Akorede explained that the appointment was done to fill the gap of shortage of teachers in selected subjects.
“In 2018, His Excellency, Ex-Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed approved the recruitment of English Language, Mathematics and Science teachers based on funds created by natural attrition such as retirements, resignation, and deaths,” Akorede clarified.
“The approval followed requests by SUBEB and the Teaching Service Commission which declared shortages in the said subjects. The administration, therefore, recruited qualified teachers from the pool of NCE holders from the three colleges of education in the state in line with the existing executive approval.”
He further noted that the employment of excess teachers was done without the consent of the former Governor, Abdulfatai Ahmed.
“Any reported deviation from the original approval lacked then-Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed’s authority,” he concluded.
Analyst weighs in
A public affairs analyst and coordinator of the Elites Network for Sustainable Development (ENETSUD), Dr Abdullateef Alagbonsi urged the state government to consider conducting rigorous screening for the teachers rather than sending them back to square one.
He described the refusal of the state government to sack them from the onset as a good decision despite the discrepancies that marred their employment process.
“The Kwara state government took the right step by investigating their matter and did not out rightly sack them when the administration began.
“What the government ought to have done is that they should look at the total number of the sunset teachers and check thoroughly for the numbers of those who are qualified with the criteria displayed during the advertisement and fit to teach,” he said.
He suggested that rather than total dismissal, it suffices that the government conducts a rigorous screening for them to select the qualified ones among them.
“I want to believe that not all the over 2000 recruited teachers are not qualified for the job, so the government should have genuinely looked into their certificates and sieve out those who are not qualified and fit to teach,” Dr Alagbonsi said.
“After that, the government should have absorbed those who merit and qualify to be teachers in various subjects. The government can do that through internal advertisement or regularisation instead of cancelling their recruitment out rightly.”
He further appealed to the state government to consider the qualified ones among the sacked teachers in the second phase of the recruitment process which will commence in January.
“The most important thing is for the government to look for a method to reabsorb the qualified ones amongst the sacked sunset teachers when the recruitment process begins,” he concluded.
Kwara NLC takes a stand
The Kwara branch of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) expressed shock over the decision of the state government to disengage the ‘sun-set’ teachers.
According to a statement signed by its chairman, Alhaji Issa Ore, the union said that the decision to sack that large number of workers was too harsh on the affected people, their families, and dependents.
“The congress received with great shock and concern, the decision of the State Government to disengage those workers employed by the immediate past administration tagged ‘Sunset Workers’ under the guise of not qualified to take the job as teachers,” the NLC stated.
“The personal effect on the part of those concerned is that they have been rendered jobless, and this would make life unbearable for them and their family. Moreover, their sacked had already created a vacuum in the classrooms in which is not good for the development of the innocent students.”
It said the situation would make life unbearable for them and their families; more so that their sack had already created a vacuum in the classrooms, which was also not good for the development of education.
The group stressed further that with that decision, “Government will have to re-engage new hands with shallow field experience which may have a big setback on the students.
“We are pleading with His Excellency and the Government of Kwara State to please rescind their decision on this issue so that these teachers can be re-absorbed to continue their jobs so that the rate of unemployment will not continue to be on the increase in the state”
Govt promises fresh, transparent recruitment
The Chief Press Secretary to the Kwara State Governor, Rafiu Ajakaye while addressing the aggrieved teachers who converged at the Government House explained that the decision of the government was not aimed at punishing the affected teachers but to reposition the educational system in the state through the recruitment of outstanding teachers.
“The government is trying to reposition the education sector, we want to ensure that our little children are fed by the best of the teachers and I’m sure many of you are qualified when you reapply you are going to justify why the government must give the job to you,” Ajakaye said.
“Everybody will be given an equal opportunity to get a slot that they deserve. Rest assured, we are not going to be unfair to anybody, the moment you are qualified and you are deemed to be qualified, rest assured the government will give you that slot— that is an assurance, that is something all of us have agreed upon,” he added.
“As I said, an advert has been rolled out for where the vacancies are available, not only for SUBEB but also at Teaching Service Commission Level. The entire process is going to be online, that will minimise cronyism in the employment process and it will strictly be merit-based.
“What the government is trying to do is to flow the process open, let everybody who is qualified come up, we are not going to discriminate against anybody, we are going to be fair to everybody. I urge everyone to reapply, we are going to be fair as much as possible,” he promised the aggrieved teachers when asked of the possibility of getting selected in the next recruitment exercise.
“You don’t need to know anybody. All you have to do is to go online and reapply, supply the necessary information, and do the necessary screening once you are deemed qualified you will be selected. We have not done anything to hurt anyone, we stand to gain nothing rather what we want to ensure is that the entire process flows up the best of the best.”
*The names of the interviewed teachers have been changed to protect them from victimisation.