In this interview by Bankole Taiwo, Comrade Akeem Lasisi, Chairman, Academic Staff Union of Secondary Schools, ASUSS, Ogun State bares his mind on various topical issues affecting his four-year leadership of the union, his desire to seek another term as well as all that must be done to further develop excellent and qualitative secondary school education in the State nay Nigeria.Excerpts
How long have you been in the office as ASUSS Chairman and what is the experience like leading the highly intellectual teachers of Ogun State?
I have been in office for the past four years. In fact, my first tenure will end this year July. I must use this medium to commend all secondary school teachers in the State for giving me the opportunity to lead them. It has not been easy to lead teachers in the state being bunch of intellectuals and knowledgable people as you have rightly pointed out.There is no way one’s policy will satisfy all. Those that you satisfied will hail you while those that felt dissatisfied will condemn you, but with the wisdom from Almighty, I have been able to get a breakthrough and ensured that everybody is carried along and given sense of belonging.
What will you consider as your achievements that could make Ogun teachers say you are indeed qualified for another term come this July?
I don’t like commenting on my achievements, I will rather prefer my members to say one or two things on that because I believe all that my administration has been doing are part of the reasons we were elected into the office. If anyone has never seen anything good in my administration, anyway if there is any, I am not moved because if you cannot stand the heat, you don’t stay in the kitchen. Be as it may, I want to see the successful completion of Post Graduate Diploma in Education, PGDE, programme at Tai Solarin University of Education, Ijebu Ode by my members who were deceived to undergo a Professional Diploma at Colleges of Education that are not licensed to run degree programmes let alone Post Graduate, a very great achievement.This evil was done by Teachers’ Registration Council of Nigeria, TRCN. I single out this out of my numerous achievements because it has to do with the career progression of my members. Given another chance to serve will enable me to rewrite the history of second term in Nigeria because the general belief is that people achieve more during the first term so as to be given the opportunity of second term but thereafter disappoint their followers. Glory be to Almighty God who have assisted us to where we are today.
What is the update on the friction between ASUSS and NUT and how best can this be resolved?
If you look at the reasons secondary school teachers left NUT, you will note that ASUSS has no friction with NUT. I will only advise NUT leadership to concentrate on the welfare of their members in primary schools.The Israelites, that is, the secondary school teachers, under the umbrella, ASUSS had since left Egypt, NUT and there is no going back. The Pharaoh must allow the Israelites to go. The case is already at the Supreme Court, after the the Court of Appeal had declared the right of ASUSS to exist as a union on 29th Nov. 2013. The three judges that sat over the matter gave a landmark judgement, without dissenting views, in favour of the rule of law by concluding that NUT being a party to the out of court settlement at the lower court, has no justification to challenge the existence of ASUSS either because of bad representation or fraud. NUT has deviated from the philosophy of welfarism as laid down by the founding fathers of teachers’ union to a philosophy of profiteering. Secondary School teachers have lost confidence in them because the leadership is too docile to lead this sophisticated sector of teachers in secondary schools.
To have a better under-standing, did you mean NUT which opted for out of court settlement when the matter was before State High court later filed an appeal against ASUSS which you won and that the matter is now before Supreme Court?
Yes, NUT opted for out of court settlement at High Court, Ijebu Ode in 2008, but later went to National Industrial Court in 2011. ASUSS challenged the jurisdiction of the court to hear the case but when the court ruled otherwise, ASUSS approached Appeal Court. When NUT failed at Appeal Court , they approached Supreme Court. Whenever the case comes up at the Supreme Court, NUT lawyers will never show their appearance. We were in court on May 8 but their lawyers never showed up because they have already accepted defeat. Justice can only be delayed but can never be denied
What is your administration doing to ensure that some of your members under one disciplinary measure or the other are reinstated into the service. A good example is Mr Adegbenro, an English teacher dismissed from service over an alleged controversial summary passage in State Unified English Language examination about three years ago?
The union is doing all that is within its ability to ensure the reinstatement of the sacked colleague. He and his dependants have gone through unspeakable and horrible conditions these past years. We can only repose our faith and hope in Almighty Allah to give us the breakthrough. While we can never contest his dismissal, his helpless condition begs for pardon and forgiveness from the large heart of our indefatigable and loving governor, Sen. Ibikunle Amosun.The person in question has written a letter of clemency directly to the State Government. We put our trust in God that as a loving father that our governor is, he will hear our heart cry and give us good news over this incident before the year runs out .
You are holding inter-faith prayers with ANCOPSS and NASU over loss of 26 teachers and 10 non-teaching staff between now and January, what other things are you doing aside prayers to ensure your members are in top shape health wise?
The three unions are going ahead to purchase medical equipment with which members’ blood pressure and sugar level will be examined periodically. These equipment will be distributed to all local government chapters across the state. Once a teacher’s health status is known, further actions will be taken to stem the ugly tide. We are also appealing to the state government to recruit more teachers to fill the existing vacancies so as to reduce the workloads of teachers. Furthermore payment of backlog of deductions will enable teaching and non teaching staff to have access to loans in cooperative societies and banks to treat themselves in case of treating terminal disease. Our teachers must also take issues of their health very seriously. They should rest very well after a hard day, they should cultivate healthy eating habbit and should not put all their resources in banks or cooperatives such that they would hardly have enough to take care of themselves.
How do you conquer problem of examination malpractices in our secondary schools given the connivance of teachers more often than not?
It is really a societal problem and this we all know are products of deterioration of our values and characters which teachers as part of the society are not insulated from. However, in the first instance teachers’ welfare should be taken as a priority. Poverty, at times, leads our colleagues to engage in malpractice. A teacher that is being owed several months of salary would want to meet the demand of his immediate family. If the welfare is taken care of, the involvement of teachers in the exercise would be drastically reduced. On our part, we have also been doing a lot in the area of advocacy and enlightenment asking our members to please do away with all forms of unethical conducts. I can confirm to you that the involvement of teachers in this ignoble acts recently has drastically reduced because many are getting to know that nothing good comes out of this unlawful acts.
What would you consider as the major challenge in your capacity as the ASUSS Chairman and will you say you are comfortable with state of secondary school education in Nigeria?
It is only a pity one is a leader at this point in time when everything is down. But I always remember that nobody is forced to assume leadership position. And if you don’t want to feel the heat, you should not stay in the kitchen. First challenge is that members have lost the confidence in the leadership. The more you look through the window to feel the pulse of your member, the less you see. In trying to defend the members in the presence of your employer, you would be called names – toothless dogs, coward, betrayer etc whereas what you were seeing, they did not see. It is really that challenging and very complex.To your second question,
I am not comfortable with the state of secondary education in the country. There is a board that is responsible for the maintenance of primary education in the country ,likewise that of Colleges of Education, NCCE, Polytechnics have NBTE and the Universities have, NUC where lies a board in charge of Secondary Education? That is why you see various State Universal Basic Education Boards having fleet of cars. The secondary school education is the intermediary between primary education and tertiary education as a matter of urgency, goverment should do something to quickly set up National Secondary Education Commission.The setting up of the commission has already gone through the first reading at the National Assembly during President Obasanjo regime before somebody somewhere came to halt the process.
Your message to the secondary school teachers in the state
It is not over until it is over.They should let us put in our best in the discharge of our responsibilites even when the environment and facilities are not world class. Let us continue to sustain the glory the profession is noted for. We should be ready to do what we are paid for, even when the pay needs urgent upward reviewing.Dont let us wait for students to come and invite us before we go to classes. We should take into cognisance the fact that students of today are the leaders of tomorrow