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By Fred Edoreh
Delta State Governor Rt Hon Sheriff Oborevwori release of over 2000 new jobs across the state primary schools has been described as not only an economic relief for many graduates and families but also a signal of brighter future for the education sector.
Chairman of the state chapter of the Nigeria Union of Teachers, Comrade Titus Okotie, made the assertion in an exclusive interview in Asaba on Thursday.
Within three months of his administration and in fulfilment of his campaign promise to revamp the education sector, Governor Oborevwori approved 2,183 teaching and non-teaching jobs across 22 local government areas of the state, with the exception of Isoko South, Ethiope East and Ethiope West which are said to already have a high number of staff.
The new jobs include 1,630 vacancies for teachers of NCE level and above, 99 for non-teaching university degrees and Higher National Diploma holders, 77 for clerical assistants and 377 for Grade Level 01 workers such as cleaners and watchmen.
Elated by the development, Chairman of the NUT said with Governor Oborevwori proving to be a man of his words and with the inclusion of relevant stakeholders in planning and implementation, the wish for the advancement of the education sector in the state is coming to fulfilment.
“The issue of shortage of teachers, especially in primary schools, have been an old agitation. During the electioneering campaign when Elder Sheriff Oborevwori met with the NUT, it was one of the issues we raised, the need to make the job easier for the very few teachers remaining in the service, and he promised to face the issue headlong.
“During that interaction, we also suggested that it will be better tackled if one of our executives is appointed into his Transition Committee to lay the foundation. He promised to do so and graciously fulfilled it.
“With that and when he came on board, the teachers shortage issue was raised at the Joint Action Committee and he went ahead to approve the recruitment of teachers with immediate effect.
“Though the number approved now does not resolve the whole concern, I must tell you it is a good beginning and I commend His Excellency for his prompt action.”
Giving a background on the situation, Okotie explained that as at 2005 the state had about 27,000 which went down to about 17,000 in 2015 and further down to about 10,000 for the real teachers, with a local government like Ughelli North which used to have 2000 teachers now down to about 645.
“The number needed to fill the gap differs from one local government to another but the minimum should not be compromised. No local government will require less than 200 teachers. That will make about 5,000 teachers to enable us get back to the 16,000 we had. Then we can steadily build up.
“With this first move, the Governor has started very well and he made it clear that we are just starting with this number. He did not say it is the conclusion. There are some local governments which requested more and he said, ‘yes, your request is in order but let us see how we manage this first one.’
Noting that the most important consideration in the drive is the ability to pay, he pointed out that while it is the constitutional responsibility of the local governments to pay salary of primary school teachers, the Delta State Government has been magnanimously augmenting them.
“I am sure he is looking beyond today. He wants to see how it goes with the allocation vis-a-vis the procedure of recruitment. That is why we must commend him for looking at that area critically because it is one thing to work and another thing to get paid, one thing to employ and another thing to be able to pay.
“The local governments that over recruited in earlier years do not have space to recruit again now because the number is telling on their wage bill.
“Up till today, the state government is still augmenting the minimum wage of primary school teachers with N113m every month. The approval for more teachers means more cost in the augmentation which otherwise should have been the sole responsibility of the local governments. The State Government also participates in other aspects of primary school funding as all the structures you see in the schools are mostly built by counterpart funding by the state and federal government.”
Comrade Okotie also raised possible concerns in the recruitment procedure, insisting that the State Universal and Basic Education Board should solely handle the recruitment of the teaching staff.
“That is the law. It is the function of SUBEB because this is a professional recruitment, of teachers, of NCE cadre for that matter. It should be based on merit so that we do not come to a situation like occurred in Kaduna State where primary school teachers were said to have failed basic tests. I therefore want to use this opportunity to call on the Governor, being a grassroots man, that his eyes should be on the ground so that at the end we will recruit duly qualified and competent teachers to do the job for the sake of our future.”
Feelers from SUBEB indicate that the office is set to discharge the responsibility with transparency, ensuring that the recruitment exercise is widely advertised for public participation and with the criteria well spelt out.