By SKunle Sanni
Dozens of teaching and non-teaching staff members of the Community Staff School in Asokoro, Abuja, have embarked on protests against the refusal of the school authorities to comply with court judgments ordering their “integration into the federal public service”.
Established in 1995, the school, comprising primary and secondary sections, is owned by Nigeria’s top intelligence service, the State Security Service (SSS), but run as a private institution.
The school, whose administrative positions are occupied by SSS officials, is headed by an Executive Secretary, who is appointed by the Director-General of the secret police, while the academic staff members are largely recruited outside the service.
The Executive Secretary is usually in the rank of a Director, an Assistant Director or Deputy Director, and is the sole administrator of the school.
PREMIUM TIMES reports that the staff members protested on the school premises in Asokoro, Abuja, on Tuesday and Wednesday, as part of their agitation for improvement in welfare package and working conditions.
They say their demand for integration into the public service will, among other benefits, entitle them to life pension after retirement.
According to the protesters, it will also place them on the government’s payroll, a status that will shield them from arbitrary pay cuts often dictated by the fluctuation in the earnings of the school.
The protests came barely six months after they held similar demonstrations in October 2020 after the school authorities terminated the appointment of over 70 of them in reaction to their demand for pay raise and better working conditions.
This happened shortly after schools were reopened after the COVID-19 protocols were relaxed last year.
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The school cited the biting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason for the mass retrenchment. However, following public outcry, the workers were recalled days after PREMIUM TIMES’ report.
But PREMIUM TIMES learnt they were being paid half of their salaries by the school management.
On Wednesday the staff members held a peaceful protest against what they described as their “poor condition of service” and failure to integrate them into the public service.
At the protest, the teachers were seen holding placards with inscriptions such as “Obey court rulings;” and “DSS is a public institution, Community School staff are also public servants.”
They are also demanding the payment of their accumulated salary arrears.
The Chairman of the chapter of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) in the school, Agu Nwagu, appealed to parents to bear with the protesting workers, noting that the school is not on strike.
Staff of the Community Staff School, Asokoro Abuja owned by the SSS protesting
“It’s with pains in my heart that I have to respond to your posts. I’m even more sad to realise that most parents are oblivious of the issues at stake. To be succinct, most of us started working here since 2001, with an appointment letter that clearly states that our appointment is pensionable and shall be subject to the conditions of service in the public service of the federation.
“We are ready to work, but the management should treat us as Nigerians that we are. And no institution is above the law of the land since we are under a democracy,” he said.
Mr Nwagu, who reiterated that the workers were not on strike as being insinuated in some quarters, said “we are only protesting against injustice.”
Another staff member who asked not to be named complained about how they have been facing arbitrary pay cuts since the school resumed in the post-COVID lockdown.
“During the lockdown, we ended with the second term. In fact, we could not finish the second term and the school was closed down. And after the lockdown, there was no third term.
“So the school was unable to generate any money, and they said they did not have any money on the ground to pay us full salary as we were paid part payment throughout the COVID lockdown.
“They started paying us half salary in June, and it continued in July, and August. In September the salary even went down lower, but in October, we were paid half salary.”
She said their salaries were increased to what they were earning before the pandemic as the school resumed in November.
She said the staff members should be integrated into the public service to be shielded from economic fluctuations that often lead to pay cuts for them.
She recalled how the staff members instituted a case over the matter and got a favourable judgment which stipulates that “since the school s being financed and managed by the SSS which is also a government agency, the teachers should be an integral of the public service and should not be private service.”
Private or public workers?
PREMIUM TIMES obtained copies of two court judgments ordering that the staff be accorded the benefits being enjoyed by their counterparts in the public service since the school is owned by a federal agency.
The first judgment emanated from the suit filed by the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) against the SSS at the Abuja division of the National Industrial Court in 2009.
The suit, which was then challenging the sacking of some workers of the school for their link to NUT, lingered for five years.
The court document
The judgement was eventually delivered in September 2014.
The then President of the court, Babatunde Adejumo, now retired, had declared that the workers are public servants “within the intendment of the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended and by virtue of their contract of employment.”
He also ruled that the workers of the school were entitled to enjoy the conditions of service applicable to all persons employed in the public service of the Federation of Nigeria.
“The members of the claimant in the employment of the 1st defendant at the Community Staff School, Asokoro, are entitled to associate freely as members of the claimant (NUT) without any threat, harassment and intimidation by the defendants, their officers, agents, privies or subordinates
“Defendants, whether by themselves, officers, agents, subordinates, privies, representatives, associates or anybody acting on their behalf howsoever, are hereby restrained perpetually from in any way curtailing or abridging the free. exercise of the right of the members of the Claimant in the employment of the 1st Defendant at the Community Staff Schools, Asokoro to associate freely with the Claimant.”
Mr Adejumo also declared the sacking of the teachers of the school as illegal and ordered that they should be reinstated with accrued benefits paid to them.
“Consequently, the defendants are hereby ordered to reinstate the members the claimant in the employment of the 1st defendant at the Community Schools Asokoro whose appointments were unlawfully terminated back to their positions.
“The defendants shall pay to the reinstated teachers the arrears of salaries from the time their appointments were terminated until full compliance with the judgment; and thereafter from month to month. In sum total, the Claimant succeeds on its claims,” he ordered.
Not pleased with the outcome of the judgement, the SSS appealed against the industrial court’s judgment at the Ilorin Division of the Court of Appeal.
A panel of Justices of the court affirmed the lower court’s verdict and dismissed the appeal lodged by the SSS in 2018.
In the lead judgment delivered by Chidi Nwaoma Uwa, the appellate court held, “Still on this point, Section 318 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended relied upon by learned counsel for the claimant apposite.
“I am therefore in agreement with learned counsel that the effect of the section is that staff of educational institution established of financed principally by the government of the federation are integral part of the Public Service of the Federation.”
He added, “On the basis of the evidence and legal authorities that I have expatiated above, I am of the candid view that the members of the claimant in the employment of the 1st defendant at the CSS, Abuja are public servants by virtue of their contracts of employment and by virtue of Section 318 CERN 1999 as amended.
“I reject the strange proposition of learned counsel that the affected staff of the CSS, Abuja cannot be adjudged as public servants because they were not employed by the Federal Civil Service Commission.”
The appellate court acknowledged their non-recruitment through the Federal Civil Service Commission, “but by an educational institution established and funded by the government of the federation through one of its agency does not negate their status as public servants.”
It added that having held that it therefore follows “that they are entitled to enjoy the conditions of service applicable in the Public Service of the Federation.”
“I should add that the conditions of service applicable in the public service are as contained in the Public Service Rules or any other applicable Regulations,” the court also held.
The SSS spokesperson, Peter Afunanya, did not respond to calls and text messages sent to his known phone number.
Efforts to reach the Executive Secretary of the school, Mary Onyilo, were also unsuccessful as calls put through to her known telephone line failed to connect.
She has also yet to respond to text messages sent to her line.