The clamour for Local Government autonomy has continued to gain more popularity among Nigerians, with many arguing that it would free and empower the third tier of government to perform its statutory function of meeting the basic needs of the common man at the grass roots.
They further argued that the autonomy would bring power closer to the people with the local councils empowered to independently assess the needs of the rural dwellers via direct interaction with them.
But one group has remained apprehensive over moves to grant autonomy to the local governments – teachers and other stakeholders in the education sector.
They fear that the autonomy may lead to the transfer of primary schools, currently under the states, via the State Universal Basis Education Boards, to the local governments, and have vowed to reject such transfer because of their belief that primary education will suffer utter neglect, resulting in total collapse, if that happens.
Some of the teachers and other stakeholders, who responded to a nationwide survey by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), said that they had nothing against local government autonomy, if that was what Nigerians believed would spread development, but were vociferous in their rejection of any move to return primary education to that tier of government.
One such stakeholder, Mr Stephen Knabayi, Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), FCT Chapter, said that the teachers would reject any move to take primary schools “back to the dark, pre-1994 era”.
“If local government autonomy is to be granted, government should leave funding and management of primary education out of it, because we have not forgotten the issues we faced in the past.
“You recall that in the past few weeks, NUT members took to the streets to demonstrate our rejection of the proposal to handover primary education to local governments. It is not only the teachers. All professionals in the education sector are against such handover.
“We are concerned about scrapping the State/Local Government joint account. Experience has shown that the local governments do not have financial capacity nor the political will to fund and manage primary schools. We feel that handing over primary schools to local governments amount to consigning the primary education to the abyss of total collapse,” he said.
Incidentally, the national body of the union shares Knabayi’s position.
According to Dr. Mike Ike-Ene, National Secretary of the NUT, leaving the funding of primary education to local government will affect learning and teaching at the foundational level of education.
“The union is not against local government autonomy; what we are saying is that the funding of primary education should not be the responsibility of local governments.
“Primary education constitutes the foundational framework of the entire educational structure of a nation. It requires proper funding and management because any structure erected on a weak and shaky foundation cannot stand; it will certainly collapse.
“It is the responsibility of the state government to fund and manage primary education because they have demonstrated the capacity and will to do that,” he said.
Ike-Ene particularly noted that the payment of primary school teachers’ salaries and allowances, as well as retirement benefits, would be too heavy for the local governments.
“The union believes in the provisions of the 1999 Constitution which vests the onus of funding and management of primary education on states. We must uphold same to save primary education from imminent collapse,” he said.
Education stakeholders in Taraba have equally rejected the plan to hand over the management of primary schools to local government councils.
Some of them, in their responses to the NAN survey, declared that primary schools would be better managed by states and the Federal Government.
Mr Garba Yusuf, chairman of the state’s chapter of the NUT, said that the local government lacked sufficient funds to run the schools.
While declaring that the NUT was not totally against local government autonomy being canvassed for by National Union of Local Government Empoyees (NULGE), he argued that the local governments could not afford to pay teachers salaries.
“If the autonomy is granted to local governments, a clause should be provided to increase federation allocation to them, to enable them fund primary schools and pay salaries without problems.
“We want to avoid a repeat of the experience of the 1980s, when primary school teachers went without salaries for years.
“The National Assembly has approved local government autonomy; our resolve is to reach out to State Houses of Assembly to intervene in the matter and save primary schools from total collapse,” he said.
Meanwhile, teachers and other stakeholders in the education sector in the South-East geopolitical zone have rejected the proposal to surrender public primary schools to the local governments as criteria for granting autonomy to them.
The stakeholders, in a response to a national survey conducted by NAN, said that primary education remained the bedrock of education which no responsible government would toy with.
A stakeholder, Mr Simon Ozo, Chairman, Ebonyi chapter of the NUT, advised the Federal Government to jettison the idea of handing over primary education to the local governments, and vowed that the union would resist the attempt “with every legal means at our disposal”.
Ozo expressed the fear that the payment of teachers’ salaries, recruitment and discipline of personnel as well as provision of infrastructure would be greatly hampered, if the schools were handed over to local governments.
“The responsibility of running of primary schools in Nigeria has been laid to rest by a Supreme Court decision which granted payment of salary of primary school teachers to states in 2012. The Federal Government should respect this declaration,” he said.
Ozo urged every Nigeria to rise against any plan to handover the primary schools to local governments, saying that it was the responsibility of everyone to rescue primary education from the danger facing it.
He said that funding of primary education was the responsibility of states and Federal Government, stressing that handing over such role to local governments would further compound the hardship primary school teachers were already going through.
“We know the excesses of our local government chairmen; they will not remember the teachers. They will prefer to marry new wives, build new houses, buy new cars and take care of their girlfriends rather than pay our salaries,” he said.
Other stakeholders, including Peter Aja, Education Secretary of Ivo Local Government Area and Donatus Eke, his immediate predecessor, told NAN that the plan would be counter-productive, and vowed to fight against it.
On his part, Chief Chizobem Akparanta, Chairman, Abia chapter of the NUT, has told NAN that the measure would further cripple the growth of primary education in Nigeria.
“Handing over primary education to local governments will spell doom and immediate collapse of the education system at that level. It was this fear that sent us to the streets in a nationwide protest against local government autonomy,” he said.
NUT Chairman in Enugu State, Ozor Nnaji, shares similar sentiment.
“The local governments lack the capacity to manage primary schools. They have tried it before and failed.
“`They even challenged it in the Supreme Court and the court spelled it out that running of the primary school was the responsibility of states and Federal Government. Local governments can only play participatory role because the schools are in their localities,’’ Nnaji said.
Another stakeholder, Prof. Okee Okoro of Imo State University, rejected the idea, saying that surrendering primary schools to local governments would be “counter-productive”.
Education stakeholders in the South-South geopolitical zone have also kicked against the handing over of primary schools to local governments, suggesting that schools be managed and funded by the states and federal governments.
The stakeholders, while responding to a survey carried out by NAN in Calabar, Asaba, Port Hacourt, Uyo and Bayelsa, opined that the funding of primary education be placed on the first line charge on the federation account, and be managed by states.
Mr Godwin Ayendi, Chairman, Cross River chapter of NUT, suggested that monies for primary education in the 744 local governments be first deducted before the local governments are given the balance.
An educationist, Dr. Rufus Egbe, said that primary school education must be the responsibility of the federal government.
“`Primary education is the foundation of education. It should be the priority of any administration. It should be an integral part of the federal government’s responsibility,’’ he said.
But in Lagos, the reaction was rather mixed as some respondents flatly rejected the handover of the primary schools to the local governments, while others saw nothing wrong with it.
A former Minister of Education, Prof. Chinwe Obaji, told NAN that such an idea should be jettisoned as it was an evil wind that would blow no one any good.
According to her, going ahead with such an idea will cause further damage to the foundation of education in the country.
Obaji wondered if the local government administrators had the pedigree and capacity to run the primary education successfully.
“We should be careful not to jeopardise the future of our children.
“Do not forget that these local government administrators are often times hand-picked by their benefactors and may not have what it takes to handle the running of the schools,’’ Obaji said.
She also wondered if the local governments would be able to properly fund the primary education.
“There is need for all stakeholders to study the Universal Basic Education (UBE) law of 2004 carefully, and ensure that it is working.
“Let us stop toying with the education sector because doing so is not helping us.
“It is not wise for us to keep changing policies; we should rather concentrate on improving viable projects designed to enhance teaching and learning so as to move the sector to its desired height.’’
However, Chief Adeolu Ogunbanjo, 2nd National Deputy President of the National Parents Teachers Association of Nigeria (NAPTAN), expressed contrary views.
Ogunbanjo told NAN that there was nothing wrong with the idea of putting the running of primary education under the purview of the local governments.
“Going by the Nigerian constitution and under a true federalism, the local governments should handle the running of primary schools. It is a constitutional matter and should be treated as such.”
The NAPTAN chief, however, said that the draw back that the Nigeria Teachers Union (NUT) could envisage about the idea could be on the challenge of regular payment of salaries by the councils.
He recalled that in the 1980s and the early 1990s, local governments were finding it difficult to meet up with payment of salaries “due to bad governance’’.
“But the fact that the local governments treated the teachers the way they did does not mean that their rights and duties should be usurped.
“The teachers could be kicking against the idea because of the past experience, but they should also look at it constitutionally.”
NUT has, however, rejected NAPTAN’s stance, arguing through its National President, Mr Michael Olukoya, that it would resist the idea of returning primary education back to the local governments.
Olukoya, in his response to the NAN survey, said that the union recently carried out a survey and found that many state governments were owing teachers’ salaries for several months.
“The situation will be worse if primary school teachers start drawing their salaries from local governments,” he said.
According to him, there will be a state of disequilibrium because when salaries are not paid, the struggle will continue and the education of the children will suffer.
“The moment the responsibility of primary education is shifted to local government, the education of our children will be greatly impaired,’’ Olukoya said.
Mr Francis Jatau, Chairman, Nasarawa State Chapter of the NUT, agrees with his National President.
“Local governments lack the capacity to manage primary education. That aspect of education is too important to be thrown into the furnace to burn. That is what we are toying with by suggesting that it be reverted to local governments as it was before 1994.
“Leaving primary education to local governments will lead to total collapse of the sector. The attitude towards service delivery in the local governments is appalling. Primary education deserves serious commitment,” he said.
According to Jatau, the current responsibility of paying teachers’ salaries and other entitlements has been difficult for the local governments “not to talk of handing over the entire sector to them”.
“These are some of the reasons why we recently protested and demanded that our salaries be returned to the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) because leaving it in the hands of the local governments will further destroy education t the primary level.
“Now that we are under the local governments, our salaries are being paid in percentage; there is no promotion and staff welfare is poor. The challenges are enormous,” Jatau added.
Similarly, Musa Dan-Azumi, Executive Chairman of SUBEB in the state, has maintained that state governments were better positioned to manage primary education given the fact that they pay counterpart funds to access funds for the development of the sector.
Stakeholders in Plateau have also rejected plans to handover management of primary schools to Local Government Authorities.
Respondents to the survey said that primary school was the foundation of knowledge and should never be toyed with.
Mr Gunshin Yarlings, Chairman, Plateau chapter of the NUT, said that primary schools had suffered in the past in the hands of local governments and would suffer a total collapse if they were, again, sent back to that past.
“Local government authorities have proved to be poor managers of resources. We believe that primary education and, in effect, the future of our children, will suffer because teachers’ salaries and benefits of retirees will not be a priority.
“We are not against local government autonomy, but we are saying that teachers salaries should be excluded from that tier of government. That aspect will be best handled by the state or federal government,” he said.
Yarlings declared that local governments lacked the capacity to run and fund primary education effectively, saying that they should be allowed to handle only areas they could cope with.
On her part, Mrs. Mairo Sani, Chairperson, Association of Headmasters of Public Primary Schools in Nigeria (AOPSHON) in Jos North Local Government, has said that teachers were currently paid half salary in Plateau which may be worse when they are entirely handed over to local governments.
“My opinion is that one single government or tier of government cannot tackle the problem of primary education in Nigeria effectively. The issue of who takes over primary education should not be our worry now. Our concern is how to better the standard of living of pupils,” he said.
Similarly, stakeholders in the education sector in the North East have kicked against the transfer of management of primary education to local government councils.
The stakeholders, while responding to a survey conducted by NAN in Bauchi, Damaturu, Maiduguri, Yola, Gombe and Dutse, argued that a similar move in the past, yielded negative results.
According to them, the present tripartite funding arrangement is a better option despite its minor grey areas.
Malam Danjuma Saleh, NUT Chairman in Bauchi State, recalled that in the 1980s and early 19 90s when the management of primary education was under local government councils, the sector suffered neglect.
“Teachers were unnecessarily retrenched or punished by council officials over issues bordering on personal interests.
“Salaries were hardly paid as at when due, teaching facilities were not available or inadequate, while indiscipline was the order of the day,” he said.
The chairman said that members of the union were in support of autonomy for the local governments, but were strongly against the return of primary schools to that tier of governments.
On his part, Mr Peter Moses, an educator in Bauchi, warned of the “unpalatable consequences” of returning primary schools to the local governments.
“The consequences will include infrastructural decay, dearth of teachers and funds for the management of the schools,” he said.
Alhaji Magaji Hamid, a resident of Bauchi metropolis and parent to 10 children in primary schools, said that the local governments should be granted autonomy, but kicked against the returning of schools.
He opined that the present tripartite arrangement involving the three tiers of government contributing to the funding of the schools, should be sustained.
Alhaji Abubakar Dahiru, Executive Secretary, State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) in Jigawa, described the proposal to handover primary education to the local governments as “an invitation to disaster’’.
“As experienced in the past, any such move could lead to a decay in the system as recruitment of teachers will be politicised to the detriment of merit and competence,” he said.
In Damaturu, parents, teachers and other stakeholders have also rejected moves to hand over management of primary school education from state to local government.
Alhaji Ibrahim Lawan, state chairman of NUT, said that provision of structures and prompt payment of teachers salaries being enjoyed under the state government, may not be sustained if the present arrangement was jettisoned.
“Teachers in Yobe are promptly paid salaries; classrooms and toilets are being constructed; I am afraid this will be difficult under the management of local governments,” Lawan said.
Similarly, parents and guardians of pupils have kicked against transferring primary education from state to local councils.
In Gombe, Malam Dauda Usman, chairman of the state’s chapter of NUT, said that teachers were not against transfer of primary schools to local governments “so long as the settlement of teachers’ salaries and all entitlements will be handled by the state government”.
The Gombe position is similar to that of Borno where Mr Bulama Abiso, chairman of the NUT, declared that none of the 774 local governments in the country had the financial capacity or the political will to adequately fund primary schools.
But Prof. Ndubuisi Ibenyi, a key stakeholder and Chairman, Parents/Teachers Association (PTA), Federal Government Girls’ College, Ezzamgbo, Ebonyi, has said that the local governments could effectively fund the primary schools if the autonomy granted them would attract adequate funds.
Ibenyi, in his response to the NAN survey, premised his stance on the fact that both the federal and state allocations to a local government would then be paid directly into its account, and not a joint account.
“Before now, the Federal Government used to pay local government allocation to the state/local government joint account.
“Unfortunately, this joint account has not been efficiently managed by the state government.
“If the local government gets their autonomy and their money is sent directly to them, it will be easier to hold them accountable if they don’t pay teachers salaries,” he said.
Respondents to the survey, however, appeared divided in the South-West, with stakeholders expressing divergent opinions on the calls for the handover of primary school administration to local government authorities.
A key stakeholder, Prof. Pai Obanya, an emeritus professor at the Institute of Education, University of Ibadan, said that the solution to the problem of primary school education was not a handover, but a return of power to local governments to be able to function independently.
“The power of local governments to function independently has been taken away by the state government, resulting in lack of capacity to manage primary education.
“Power should be returned to the local government, being the basic tier of government that is the closest to the people at the grassroots. It is not possible for someone in Abuja to know the problem of the people in the rural areas more than the local authorities,” he said.
Contrasting Obanya, however, Mr Niyi Akano, Chairman, Oyo chapter of the NUT, cautioned against handing over primary education to local governments, and suggested that they be left in the hands of the state governments.
“if primary schools are handed over to local governments, teachers will be owed salaries because the local government lack the capacity to fund primary school education,” he said.
Mrs. Titi Adebanjo, Akano’s counterpart in Ogun, holds a similar view.
Adebanjo said that placing primary schools under local council administration would cripple the system.
She, however, admitted that primary schools in Ogun were grappling with challenges of shortage of teachers, lack of training and poor infrastructure, blaming the situation on the poor economy.
To tackle the issues, she suggested an adjustment to the current arrangement that would place salaries of public primary school teachers on the first-line charge.
“The Federal Government should release the salaries directly to the State Universal Basic Education Boards (SUBEB); returning public primary schools to council areas will bring back the inhuman treatment teachers suffered between 1991 and 1994 when local governments supervised the running of primary education.
“No teacher will ever pray for the return of those years because they were actually dark days.
“We were left at the mercy of local government chairmen and councillors, who treated us as beggars,” she said.
The Head Teacher of St. John Primary School, Kuto, Abeokuta corroborated Adebanjo’s position, saying that teachers did not fare well under local government system.
“I remember those days with bitterness. We lived in abject poverty and landlords hardly rented out their houses to teachers because of problems of rent,” she said.
Speaking in similar vein, Dr. Tolani Hassan, a senior lecturer at the Tai Solarin University of Education (TASUED), Ijebu-Ode, said that returning the schools to the local governments would be retrogressive to educational development in Nigeria.
He wondered how local governments, which could not manage wastes in their various areas, would be able to manage schools.
Dr. Dapo Odukoya, another lecturer in the Political Science Department in the school, said that a return of control of the primary schools to the council areas would be “a risky administrative experiment.’’
The NUT Chairman in Osun, Mr Wakeel Amuda, shares same sentiments with Odukoya.
“Handing over primary education to local governments will have negative consequences. Primary education as a tool for growth and advancement must be left under the control of Federal and state governments to safeguard it from imminent collapse.
“Teachers are skeptical of local government autonomy due to what they faced between 1990 and 1994 when primary education was under local government councils,” he said.
Similarly, the Osun Commissioner for Education, Mr Wasiu Omotunde-Young, has said that handing over primary education to local councils was not the best option for effective management.
He said that the local governments had been tested with that role and had consistently showed that they were not capable of coping with the weight.
The Permanent Secretary of Osun Universal Basic Education (SUBEB), Alhaji Fatai Kolawole, on his part, believes that primary school education was “too heavy” and could only be managed by the state government.
“The Osun government recently spent more than N6 billion to renovate primary schools and provide infrastructure.
We also created ICT rooms and provided working materials like furniture, diaries and registers. Local governments cannot execute such heavy projects,” he said.
In Ilorin, Alhaji Musa Yeketi, the Kwara Commissioner for Education and Human Capital Development, opined that basic education in Nigeria should be controlled by the Federal Government.
Yeketi premised his stance on his conviction that the sector was far beyond the control of the local governments.
According to him, the control of basic education is becoming difficult for even the state government because of its huge funding requirement.
“Many states find it very difficult to pay teachers’ salaries. Imagine what the situation will be if the task is left to local governments.”