Education

Controversy as Abia sacks 5,666 teachers

Stakeholders: Govt should fill existing teaching gaps

 

˜ We’ve not sacked teachers – Govt

˜ Commissioner: Teachers were employed without approval, waiver

 

SACK

The Abia State Government has explained that it did not sack 5,666 teachers from the state’s schools, but that the teachers’ hired by the Parent- Teachers Association were employed without approval by a government agency. But stakeholders are calling on the governor to address the challenge of insufficient teachers in the schools urgently

 

 

 

Despite the challenge of insufficient quality teachers confronting Abia State public primary and secondary schools, the government recently sacked 5,666 teachers said to have been hired by the Parent-Teachers Association (PTA) to address the acute shortage of teachers in the system, leaving huge gaps for the government to fill.

 

With the sacking of 5,666 teachers, there is the urgent need for the government to recruit more teachers to address the challenge posed by lack of adequate teachers in the state’s education sector.

 

The teaches, otherwise referred to as PTA teachers, were among the 5,853 teachers engaged by the State Education Management Board (SEMB) between 2018 and 2020, under what the state government described as an “illegal process.”

 

They were, therefore, sacked recently by the state government, and asked them not to regard themselves as teachers or employees of the state government. Their sack was sequel to the report of the Committee set up by the state Governor, Okezie Ikpeazu, to investigate alleged recruitment of teachers by the Board without waiver and approval in the state schools.

 

But as part of moves to fill the gaps occasioned by shortage of qualified teachers in the state’s school system, the Governor Ikpeazu ordered the employment of 187 teachers to fill the vacancies for subjects that needed urgent attention.

 

The affected teachers, the government claimed, were alleged to have been illegally employed by the state Secondary Education    Management Board which took advantage of the opening in the school system to arm twist the government by employing the teachers who had been serving under a special arrangement as Parent-Teachers Association teachers in the various schools in their communities.

 

The Board was also alleged to have collected money from the 5,666 teachers in order to issue them employment letters with a caveat that their employment was still subject to waiver to be granted by the government.

 

Worried by the development, the government, however, set up a committee to look into the teachers’ employment, which was described as scandalous as it clearly flouted the directive of the governor, who approved the employment of only 187 new teachers.

 

However, following the sacking of the teachers, stakeholders have continued to criticised the state government over what they described as its failure to recruit teachers to fill the existing vacancies to address the shortage of teachers in the schools.

 

According to them, the failure of the government to employ adequate teachers prompted the various PTAs to hire the teachers to teach their children since there are no teachers, especially on core school subjects.

 

“The PTAs have been responsible for the payment of these sets of teachers’ monthly stipends. Rather than for the government to employ them into the mainstream of the school system or absorb them as government teachers, the same government has sacked them, claiming that they were wrong-  ly employed by the board without waiver,” they said.

 

Lamenting the situation in most schools across the state that are faced with the problem of lack of teachers, the stakeholders, especially parents and teachers are calling on the government to urgently employ more teachers and provide relevant instructional materials to enhance the learning of their children.

 

Meanwhile, in the release announcing the teachers’ disengagement issued by the Chief of Staff to the Governor, Dr. Anthony Agbazuere, the government ordered immediate retirement of the Executive Secretary of SEMB, Mr. Lawrence Ogbonna, who had earlier been suspended over the recruitment saga.

 

The release reads in part: “Abia State Governor, Okezie Ikpeazu has received the report of the Committee on the purported employment of teachers without waiver by the Secondary Education Management Board (SEMB). “The teachers were not formally employed by the state government nor have they been paid any salary by the government.

 

The set of teachers even knew that they were not government teachers or employees,” the release added. “Now, with the employment of only 187 teachers with waiver by the governor, leaving 5,666 that were employed without waiver to leave the system, how will the government fill the vacancies to replace them, because if not the children will be left to suffer for lack of teachers,” the stakeholders regretted.

 

Subsequently, the governor warned that anyone or group who asked the 5,666 affected teachers earlier employed without waiver to work should stop forthwith, saying they were employed unlawfully.

 

On the shortage of teachers in schools, the governor directed that schools with urgent needs for teachers in some special subject areas should forward their complaints to the Commissioner for Education and the Chief of Staff to the Governor.

 

Part of the release added that whenever the need to employ teachers arises, the government will first take recourse to the list of the 5,666 PTA disengaged teachers for employment. Meanwhile, following the controversy generated by the government action, the Commissioner for Information, John Okiyi Kalu, who in the first instance said that there was no sacking, however, insisted that “you cannot sack someone you never hired.”

 

He said: “There is an existing embargo on new employment in Abia State civil service, while only the governor can validly issue a waiver to employ anyone or a group of persons to fill any vacancy within the service. “Every civil servant, no matter the level, is aware of this policy  and its implication for those wishing to join the civil service. Only a valid waiver in this circumstance from the governor, or lifting of the embargo on employment can genuinely create opportunity for employment.

 

“Between 2018 and March 2020, Secondary Education Management Board (SEMB) hired some teachers ostensibly as PTA teachers, who were supposed to be paid by the Parent- Teacher Associations of some schools that needed them to fill the teaching vacancies.

 

They were never meant to draw their wages from the civil service or state government as no budgetary provision was made for that purpose, and the governor never issued any employment waiver for their employment.

 

“According to a statement from the Office of the Chief of Staff (COS) to the Governor, about 5,666 persons were involved in this PTA arrangement without the necessary employment waivers.

 

None of them ever received wages or salary from the state government in line with the terms of their recruitment by SEMB; whereas 187 teachers employed by SEMB with valid waivers within the same period were receiving wages from the state government. Hence, nobody has been sacked in that regard.

 

“Obviously, some unscrupulous persons took money from the PTA teachers and others in need of teaching jobs, and promised them full government employment as teachers, whereas those involved knew they could only hire PTA teachers at the request of the schools.

 

One of the affected persons even told me that she was asked to pay certain thousands of naira deceiving them to go and work as the governor would ultimately be compelled to approve their employment and authorise payment of their salary from the state government coffers.

 

That is a scam.” The Commissioner added: “When the governor learnt about this scam, he empaneled a committee to review what happened and report back to him. The committee’s report pointed to all sorts of malfeasance and sharp practices surrounding the employment saga, including extortion, deception, and manipulation of records by the SEMB officials.

 

The government decided to make its position known through announcements regarding the illegality so that those affected would not fall into making false claims of being employed and owed for work supposedly done for the state government.

 

“In the announcement signed by the Chief of Staff to the Governor, Dr. Agbazuere, the government never claimed to have sacked any teacher because you simply cannot sack someone you never hired. None of the affected persons received any employment waiver from the governor and those validly given waivers already have continued with their job.

 

But, he hinted that windows are still open to those PTA teachers to approach the schools where they were supposedly teaching to write the Commissioner for Education requesting for their services as teachers and to state cogent reasons for such requests with the Chief of Staff copied in the letter.

 

Kalu, however, said that if the Education Commissioner found out that there is merit in the request, he would therefore recommend to the governor for a waiver to be issued for employment of such teachers.

 

“Only the issuance of such waivers validates your employment with the state government. The other window is to wait for the state government to carry out a general audit of teachers in the state with a view to identifying where vacancies exist and fill the same. Based on the announcement, the government is ready to first consider those 5,666 persons, before others to fill such gaps,” Kalu noted.

 

But, the Commissioner for Education, Dr. Kanaelechi Nwangwa, however, allayed the fears of the affected 5,666 disengaged teachers, saying there were vacancies in the school system to be filled with preference given to them. “Certainly, we have vacancies and we are going to fill them from the list of those asked to wait,” he told New Telegraph.

 

Giving the breakdown of teachers in the state’s school system, the Commissioner said there were about 23,741 teachers in the system, out of which 2,026 are in the Senior Secondary Schools (SS); 10,270 teachers in the Junior Secondary School (JSS); and 11,445 teachers in the primary schools.

 

He further explained that the crux of the matter was that the teachers were given letters purporting to have employed them without waiver or approval from the governor to back it.

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