Save teachers, rescue Nigeria

Two incidents happened this year that emblematise the precarious state of educators in Nigeria. They both should serve as a wake-up call to the government and the society at large on the looming danger if care is not taken. This is against the backdrop of the fact that, being the bedrock of all development, if education fails in a society, every other thing crumbles.

The first incident is that on Thursday, January 25, 2024, a former Dean of Engineering at the University of Lagos and President of the African Engineering Education Association (AEEA), Prof. Funso Falade, delivered his exaugural lecture preparatory to his retirement on February 5, 2024. Captioned “The Beginning and End of a Project”, the lecture is most memorable due to a point made by the retired professor that stirred the conscience of the conscionable Nigerians.

According to Prof. Falade, “I reached the bar of the professorial salary scale in 2011. My salary was N420,167.43. The exchange rate then was N155.71 to $1 Dollar in November 2011, meaning that my salary was $2,689.40. As I was finalizing this exaugural lecture on 22nd January, 2024, my salary (take home) stood at N395,500.00 and the exchange rate was N1,355.00 to a dollar showing my salary in dollars was $291.88 having spent more than twenty (20) years as a professor.”

That submission of Prof. Falade was viral and it was variously attributed to other professors affiliated to the University of Lagos and Bayero University, Kano, especially. The point is not lost that the lot of university teachers has taken a downward turn as their salaries, which have remained the same since 2009, have reduced in quality and quantity.

The second incident is the tweet of a professor of Law, Joy Ezeilo, SAN, on Saturday, February 10, 2024, a day before the finals of the African Cup of Nations between the football teams of Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire.  According to her, “I am dreaming of watching AFCON 2024 live, and I enquired about flights to Abidjan to watch our Super Eagles play in the final. I believed that Ivory Coast being so close (an hour and 35 minutes) wouldn’t cost me too much. I did the maths and realised I would need to save my five months’ salary as a Professor of Law on the last professional step to buy a return ticket to a West African country. This is a sad reflection of our current economic realities.”

She expressed how depressing and demystifying it was, noting that the situation would “push the resolve of the brilliant ones we are training and mentoring to take over from us farther away from the classrooms to becoming political aspirants/election delegates.” By the time the brilliant and promising students are discouraged from teaching and education in general, the fate of the society will be sealed and dysfunctionality will fully set it.

These two incidents in January and February this year point to the need to save education in Nigeria through an urgent review of the reward system and affirmative action to prevent lecturers from “hustling” to make ends meet. The reality of the day is that teacher’s salaries can no longer take care of their basic needs and they are vulnerable to being distracted from their important duty.

Teachers have the highest salary in Germany and when other professionals like judges, doctors and engineers asked the Chancellor then, Angela Merkel, for the same salary, she asked them, “How can I compare you to those who taught you?” This is true because in a September 1, 2021 article, “How much do school teachers earn in Germany and can they be granted gifts?” published in the German newspaper, “Deutsche Welle”, author Xenia Safronova asserted that German teachers are paid 3 to 5 thousand Euro per month on the average, which meets the benchmark of “higher than average” in Germany.

Both Segun O. Adedeji and Olanrewaju Olaniyan reported in their 2011 UNESCO study, “Improving the conditions of teachers and teaching in rural schools across African countries”, the situation of teachers in Africa. Their finding is still true that “the worth of teachers is very low, due to poor recognition given to the teaching profession as explained by various de-motivating factors. Teachers in many African countries are working in challenging conditions that are aggravated by poor remuneration; delay in payment of salaries, allowances and promotions; scarce teaching and learning resources; and disrespect from government, parents and the community at large.”

Given their centrality to the success of education across board, teaching and teachers should be taken with more seriousness and something urgent must be done to restore their recognition and enhance their remuneration to rescue the country.