By Deborah Tolu-Kolawole
No fewer than 600 teachers in the federal civil service, precisely under the Federal Ministry of Education and the Federal Ministry of Defence, who benefited from the Federal Government service elongation package for teachers, are currently being owed 23 months salaries, investigations by The PUNCH revealed on Sunday.
The PUNCH reports that service elongation for teachers was introduced by the administration of former President Muhammadu Buhari.
The beneficiary teachers are in some of the nation’s unity schools, schools owned by the military and paramilitary.
On January 20, 2021, the Federal Executive Council approved a Bill that sought to increase the retirement age and the service years of teachers.
Then Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, explained that the essence of the Bill was to give legal backing for the approval of the new retirement age of 65 from 60 years for teachers and extend their period of service from 35 to 40 years.
The Bill, according to him, also sought to introduce bursary awards, special rural posting allowances, and other items that would encourage brilliant Nigerians to take up teaching
In April 2022, Buhari signed the harmonised Bill into law backdating the implementation to January 2022.
However, investigations revealed that the Federal Ministry of Education in a memo dated January 26, 2021, told teachers in its unity schools not to retire but to continue in service ahead of the presidential assent by Buhari.
The memo was tagged “FME/HRM/S234/1” and it read, “This is to inform you that the Federal Executive Council at its meeting of Wednesday, 20 January 2021 approved 65 years and 40 years as retirement age and years of service, respectively, for the teaching profession. Implementation of this new scheme is with effect from 1st January 2021.
“It should be noted that the new retirement, years of service is not automatic, as officers will be required to demonstrate fitness after medical examination and those found to be unfit will be advised to retire.”
Similarly, the Federal Ministry of Defence also directed teachers, who retired from its schools but have applied for the elongation of their service, to remain in office pending the determination of their applications.
The directive was contained in a circular marked MOD/HRM/AP/S.I/1 and signed by the ministry’s Human Resource Manager, K. M. Ojirobe, and dated January 17, 2022, also ahead of the presidential assent by Buhari.
Some of the affected teachers, who spoke to our correspondent, noted that despite remaining in service since January 2021, they were not paid salaries until November 2022 with their arrears still being withheld despite the reflection on their payslips.
One of the affected teachers, who spoke to our correspondent on condition of anonymity, said, “We are over 400 Education Officers who are beneficiaries of the elongation policy which extended the retirement period of teachers to 65 years or 40 years in service, effective January 2021. We were asked to continue with our jobs but weren’t paid a dime till November 2022 with arrears of over 23 months outstanding.
“Our salaries were reinstated in December 2022 but when we got our payslips, we discovered they included the total arrears owed but our accounts weren’t credited. We asked questions but up till now no acceptable answer from IPPIS. We mobilised ourselves all over Nigeria, collated our information with a copy of some payslips and submitted.”
Similarly, a representative of the concerned teachers under the Federal Ministry of Defence who works in one of the military schools in Oyo state said, “Our salaries were reinstated in April 2023. Our arrears were not paid despite the fact that we have been working since we retired. The government should do something. We are hungry. They should please pay us our arrears.”
Our correspondent obtained a letter written to the Minister of Education, Prof. Tahir Mamman, on October 13, 2023, by some of the affected teachers.
The letter which was titled, “An appeal for intervention on payment of salary arrears of pioneer education officers of the harmonised retirement age for teachers,” read: “Sequel to the non-payment of our various accumulated salary arrears, we wish to state that we complied with the directive in the Circular FME/HRM/S234/1 dated 26th January 2021, and continued to discharge our duties loyally and efficiently. Notwithstanding, our salaries were stopped on attainment of 60 years or 35 years in service.
“The salaries were reinstated for most of us in December with payments of the month’s salaries but without the accumulated arrears. We later discovered that the payments of the arrears were reflected in our pay slips, whereas they were not paid into our various bank accounts.
“In our quest to know the cause of the staggering discrepancies between the amount of money on the pay slips and the actual amount paid into our accounts, the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria in conjunction with the Federal Ministry of Education, in April, 2022 requested us to submit the said payslips and the respective bank account statements to the IPPIS unit of the ministry in order to facilitate the payments of the arrears.
“The arrears were not paid despite the submission of the documents requested.”
Meanwhile, the Secretary-General of the Nigerian Union of Teachers, Dr. Mike Ene, in an interview with our correspondent in Abuja, said the union was working on the matter.
“We are aware of the development. We are already interfacing with the ministries involved. This initiative was brought forth by the NUT. We started it before the Ministry of Education came along and keyed into the idea. The reason we came up with the initiative was because we noticed that since the government was not employing new hands, it would not be wise to let go of old hands.
“Remember that President Muhammadu Buhari made it a law in April 2022. The whole situation is unfortunate but we are working towards it to ensure that everything is resolved and the teachers are paid.”
The spokesperson of the Federal Ministry of Education, Ben Goong, did not respond to inquiries by our correspondent as of the time of filing this report.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defence has commenced verification of all teachers in armed forces schools.
A memo by the Director of Education in the ministry, Taiwo A.O, tagged ED/ODE/MTS/004/I/93 read: “I am directed to convey the Permanent Secretary’s approval for the verification of all categories of Ministry of Defence teachers who were employed primarily to teach in the Armed Forces Primary and Secondary Schools across the country. This exercise is intended to aid proper planning and for administrative purposes.
“Sequel to the above, I am directed to request that relevant authorities in the various primary and secondary schools across the services (the Commandants, Vice Principals, and the Head Teachers) use the attached template for the verification exercise and return the same (in hard and soft copies to the undersigned.”