The situation Lagos basic school teachers find themselves in was caused by a loophole in the constitution.
Primary school teachers in Lagos State have accused the state government of subjecting them to marginalisation and discrimination while their counterparts in secondary schools enjoy better treatment.
The basic school teachers, who raised concerns over their welfare, alleged they suffered unfair treatment in terms of the provision of facilities, promotion and monetary benefits.
Like other states, the management and administration of primary schools in Lagos State is subsumed under the authority of the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) and the Local Government Education Authority.
These two handle the administration of primary schools in the state while the Teaching Service Commission (TESCOM), another government agency oversees the affairs of secondary school teachers.
However, this arrangement - backed by the constitution - sets up the unfortunate situation primary school teachers find themselves in Lagos and other parts of the country.
The LASG accused of shortchanging basic school teachers
In a bid to cushion the effect of the economic hardship draining the pockets of Nigerians, the Lagos State Government in a memo signed by Bode Agoro, the state Head of Service, on December 14, 2023, promised bonuses and palliatives to all civil servants in the state.
In the memo, Agoro stated that the state governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu "graciously approved the payment of 50% salary as end of the year bonus for all political appointees and public servants including employees of local government and local council development areas, Lagos State Universal Basic Education Board (LASUBEB) and Lagos Neighbourhood Safety Corps (LNSC)."
The state government also promised that ₦35,000 wage award (palliatives) would be paid "alongside the December 2023 salary as a non-taxable element."
Pending the review of the national minimum wage, Lagos civil servants are to receive the ₦35,000 palliative for six months.
Sadly for primary school teachers, they have been receiving ₦20,000, while their counterparts in secondary schools have been getting ₦35,000 since December 2023.
Decrying the situation, some of them, on condition of anonymity to avoid government backlash, aired their grievances to this writer.
A teacher at the Lagos Mainland Primary School said she saw the memo but didn't understand why she and her colleagues received ₦20,000 while civil servants in other parastatals got ₦35,000.
"They gave us ₦20,000 as palliative and they gave secondary school teachers ₦35,000. It is the same degree that primary school teachers have that secondary school teachers have, so why do they treat us like that?
"Even for the running cost, they give secondary school head-teachers ₦250,000 while primary school head-teachers receive ₦70,000.
"The information in the circular in which the state government announced the end-of-the-year bonus stated that all civil servants in Lagos would receive the same palliative (₦35,000) but we got something different," she lamented.
Another teacher in the Ojo area of the state disclosed that when he received the money on Tuesday, December 19, 2023, he reached out to many civil servants in other agencies and they confirmed they all received ₦35,000.
"To my surprise, when I saw the payslip, I saw ₦20,000 for the wage award. I think they tried to play a fast one. Every civil servant in the state received ₦35,000, only primary school teachers received ₦20,000. Nobody is telling us why we received that."
Another civil servant who teaches at a primary school in Epe said he does not believe there should be any justification for basic school teachers to be shortchanged.
"Today, our payslip is out and I can confirm that all primary school teachers got ₦20,000.
"No reason or explanation has been offered by our employers on why we received the amount. I don't even think there should be a reason that can justify that, a circular communicated that this would be done by the governor through the head of service and I think nothing should make a difference for a particular government agency."
I have spoken to about 20 secondary school teachers, my neighbour worked at a secondary school, two of my blood brothers work with TESCOM, I also spoke to Alausa staffers, they all received ₦35,000.
Also airing his frustration, a teacher in the Ikorodu area of the state claimed apart from discrepancies in pay benefits, primary school teachers in Lagos also suffer sustained discrimination when it comes to promotion.
While the disgruntled teachers blame the Lagos branch of the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) for not fighting for their cause, the state chairman of the union, Hassan Akintoye,attributed the problem to a loophole in the 1999 constitution.
The genesis of their plight
Akintoye believes the situation Lagos basic school teachers find themselves in was caused by a lacuna in the constitution.
According to the 1999 Constitution as amended, the functions of a local government council in the government of a state shall include "the provision and maintenance of primary, adult and vocational education."
This implies the administration and funding of primary school education is a joint responsibility of both local and state governments.
But rather than being a blessing, this arrangement has been a major problem in the administration of primary schools in Nigeria due to the master-servant relationship between states and local government authorities.
It is against this backdrop that the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) has ceaselessly been calling for LGAs' autonomy to save the tier of government closest to the people from kleptomaniac governors.
In August 2023, NULGE said 34 out of the 36 governors were guilty of diverting funds meant for local government areas in their states.
This continued tampering with local government funds by state governors leaves the LGAs with inadequate funds to properly perform their constitutional duties.
Speaking to this writer, the Lagos NUT chairman wondered why state governors would dip their hands into the funds meant for local governments and at the same time expect LG chairmen to fund primary schools from the stipends they receive.
He explained that since the constitution mandates local government authorities to participate in the administration of primary education, many governors leave the responsibility of paying primary school teachers' salaries to LGA chairmen when in reality they do not have the power to recruit teachers.
From the foregoing, it can be deduced that the plights of primary school teachers in Lagos stemmed from the confusing notion that they are seen as local government employees but they were not employed by local government authorities.
Akintoye said, "Governors abandon the payment of salaries of primary school teachers, and provision of infrastructural facilities, even when they provide these facilities, they over-deduct in terms of contract inflations.
"The irony is that the chairman of a local government cannot employ any staff beyond level six, but teachers, even if you're coming in with NCE, start from level seven.
"So when somebody is not your employer, how can a law place the authority of funding, payment of salary of an employee you didn't recruit on you?"
Who recruits primary school teachers?
The State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) is responsible for the recruitment and placement of teachers in primary schools in any state of the federation.
In Lagos, this body, known as LASUBEB and led by Hakeem Shittu, seeks to deliver quality basic education to public school pupils in the state and provide them with conducive learning environments.
While part of its mandate includes recruitment and training of teachers, from the information gathered on its website, the body does not concern itself with the welfare of primary school teachers.
This explains why some of the primary schools that were 'lucky' to get subsidy palliative in 2023 received 5kg of garri and 5kg of beans for all teachers regardless of their numbers.
The same scenario played out in November 2020, when the state government distributed three sachets of noodles and cabin biscuits as palliatives to primary school teachers.
Why basic school teachers were paid ₦20k instead of ₦35k
Due to the economic hardship that followed the removal of the fuel subsidy in May 2023, the Federal Government in one of its several meetings with organised labour resolved to pay the ₦35,000 wage award to cushion the effect of the hardship on workers.
According to Akintoye, the FG's promise to the labour union was not binding on state governments even though the state government received increased allocations from the centre as a result of the windfall from fuel subsidy removal. Nevertheless, the LASG decided to go with the FG by announcing ₦35,000 as its palliative for all civil servants in the state.
On Tuesday, December 19, 2023, Lagos civil servants received their salaries, bonuses and the promised ₦35,000 palliatives except primary school teachers whose monetary expectation was short of ₦15,000.
In his conversation with this writer, the NUT chairman explained that even though basic school teachers were recruited by the state government, they are not seen as state workers and that was why they received ₦20,000 while their counterparts in secondary schools received the full amount promised.
Akintoye said, "It's on that principle that the Lagos State Government said if the primary school teachers are under LGAs, then they're not going to pay them the same amount as state workers but secondary school teachers are seen as state workers. That was the reason."
In January, this writer reached out to Agoro for his comment on the matter, but the Lagos State Head of Service refused to respond to questions sent to him via WhatsApp and SMS. He subsequently blocked the writer from calling him.
Also, the National President of the Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON) Kolade David Alabi, afterpromising to respond to the questions sent to him via WhatsApp, refused to do so. He also refused to respond to calls afterwards.
When contacted for his comment on the issue affecting teachers serving the state under his leadership, the SUBEB chairman refused to comment on the matter. He, however, assured the state government was already addressing the discrimination the teachers complained about.
"Let me say that I cannot respond to your question because the issue is before the state government, the union is on it and they are handling it, I do not have an input in that," Shittu said.
What's the way forward?
According to Akintoye, if the lacuna in the constitution is not addressed, there is no way the issue can be resolved legally.
He emphasised that if the problem continues, it would lead to a situation "where nobody would be interested in becoming a primary school teacher."
"Instead of paying those regarded as state workers ₦35,000, find the average, the ₦35,000 would come down to ₦30,000 for all. Wouldn't that have been better?" he suggested.
The Lagos NUT chairman, however, advised the state government to find a political solution to the problem to ensure the foundation of education in the state does not collapse.