On June 8, 2022, Reverend Father Ignatius Him, Education Secretary of the Catholic Diocese of Gboko, spoke with Iduh Onah on telephone on the condition of secondary schools in Benue State. Fr. Him fielded questions on the regime of levies, the deduction of salaries of principal and the effort to take back schools from government among other things. Excerpts:
NR: Father, as the Education Secretary of your diocese, what is your opinion with respect to the levies by the Benue State Government on students?
Fr. Him: So you want to know the condition of the schools in the diocese as regards those deductions, right?
Fr. Him: I am very sure my colleague in Otukpo must have informed you; it is the same here; there is these arbitrary deductions; there are deductions for maintenance, deduction for ICT, deductions for all kinds of things and they do it in such a way that if they have a principal who is their staff, they deduct from the salary of the person. If the principal is not from there and they have a staff in our school, they deduct from there.
Sometimes even our schools that are not grant-aided, when they go to do registration for WAEC and NECO, they insist that they must pay. Now, the worry is; you are deducting money for maintenance but they have not maintained any of our facilities; they don’t give us chalk, they don’t give us ball; they have not gone to put roof or zinc on any of the structures. So, we are asking; if you are collecting these resources, what are you using them for, in calling it maintenance?
NR: Do your schools also pay for ICT?
Fr. Him: Yes, we pay all those things, workshop, sports and all of that. They are deducting from the salaries of their teachers or when we go to register for the national exams or the external exams as the case may be.
Initially it was agreed that we could collect for first term, let’s say N500 per student for first term but for second and third term, the school will retain the money to build an ICT Centre and then a Wi-fi centre. This was just for one year. The following year they wrote a letter and said they have revoked that. All these years that they have collected for first term, they have not given any of our schools a single, even outdated laptop or desktop or printer, nothing like that.
NR: According to your colleague in Otukpo Diocese, Rev. Fr. Francis Atama, annually the diocese pays 22 million naira to the government before they register students for WAEC and NECO and that whenever they tried to resist, WAEC and NECO will team up with government by refusing to register students for the exams.
Fr. Him: Yeah, yeah, yeah; that was approved by the National Assembly, that the Board cannot register anybody who is not approved by the state ministry of educations.
NR: Is there a law backing that?
Fr. Him: Yeah, there is; there is something in the National Assembly like that because my boss wanted to work on it but he was advised against that, that it is a law, a national law on that issue, so he has no option than to let it be.
NR: The basis of the criticism against that is based on the feeling that the government is merely arm-twisting the schools to collect the levies. When you go round to see the state of the schools, it is obvious that the government is not using the money being collected on the schools.
Fr. Him: Nothing, nothing, nothing. Even the grant-aid of teachers they talk about, if you go our schools, you will see only two or three. Some of these are old, some are sick, and to some extent, we don’t even have control over them, because when you tell them to do this, do that, they will refuse and they will tell you; you can’t do me anything; you don’t pay me. So, that is it.
NR: Has the Church as a group ever asked the government about the budget for some of these facilities?
Fr. Him: We have actually not asked; but let me not be hasty in saying no because I just got into the office recently. But my brother in Otukpo has been their all these years; this is my second year in office, since I came in I have not asked, but if they have asked in the past I may not know, but since I came in, we have not asked.
“So, in the same way, the argument was that if you are saying that we are going to return the schools, you have to bring a promulgation to make it go through the House of Assembly and say we are going to return the schools so that it is written in pen and paper so that tomorrow a new administration may not come in a begin to say this and that.”
NR: on the handover of faith-based schools, is there any information you have with regard to the outcome from government?
Fr. Him: There are two major issues; one, there was a court injunction restraining government from doing that. We have these private proprietors that as a group went for litigation against that; that is one. The other one is, there was a time we went for a meeting and at that meeting, it was discovered that it was a decree that allowed for the schools built by faith-based organisations to be taken over by the government. So, we are now requesting for a law that will say that the schools can be given back to us. The reason was that if another administration comes in, they may abrogate that because there is nothing written.
Like this issue of maintenance, let me be honest with you; at a point it was revoked, they said they shouldn’t collect maintenance levy from our schools and it was verbal. So, last year when they started discourse on this issue, and we said this was the agreement, they said the government did not sign anything, and actually, there was no formal agreement and so we could not hold on to any paper to say that this was what was our basis for the argument.
So, in the same way, the argument was that if you are saying that we are going to return the schools, you have to bring a promulgation to make it go through the House of Assembly and say we are going to return the schools so that it is written in pen and paper so that tomorrow a new administration may not come in a begin to say this and that.
So, at that meeting, they just set up a committee that was going to do all of those things. So those two reasons are the reasons why the hand over is hanging. But one thing I think is holding it back, is the political will; they are just playing politics around.
NR: In terms of salaries of teachers in your schools, are they also being owed, and if they are owed, who is responsible for the payment, the school or government?
Fr. Him: Are you talking about the regular teachers of the deductions?
“It is our tradition to manage our facilities very well. And personally, as the desk officer for the Bishop, I insist on standards and I have an assistant. We are here to supervise, so it is not the case where we are sitting in Gboko and the principals are doing what they want”
NR: The government teachers. I asked because since they are in your schools, do you pay them in order to recoup the money when government pays?
Fr. Him: If they are not paid, they are not paid until government pays them.
NR: Okay; meanwhile have you paid your teachers, the ones your recruited, up to date?
Fr. Him: Yes, yes, yes; ours are promptly from the school fees we generate; we pay them.
NR: In terms of the amount paid to teachers, is it the same amount TSB pays its teachers that you pay or you pay higher?
Fr. Him: No, no; the TSB salary is a little bit up, up there; ours is not up to theirs but it is reasonable.
NR: Is it from the PTA account that you pay them?
Fr. Him: No, it is not. Here we call it locally engaged. The PTA of each school is able to dedicate some amount of money for payment of teachers and if that is not enough, they will generate from other sources that we are able to generate money within the school through farm produce or through bookshop that we have or cafeteria that we are able to raise this money. Some of our schools are into baking, they bake bread; some who are into sewing, they sew in large scale and sell.
NR: In some of your schools we visited, there seems to be better management of the facilities than in government schools. Is this because you are trying to take over that you are making this improvement?
Fr. Him: It is our tradition to manage our facilities very well. And personally, as the desk officer for the Bishop, I insist on standards and I have an assistant. We are here to supervise, so it is not the case where we are sitting in Gboko and the principals are doing what they want, no, we go out, we are always in the field and then we are meeting regularly to do updates on what they have and what they are doing.
NR: Thank you very much Father.
Fr. Him: You are welcome