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Nigerian Teachers Pay Strike Enters Second Week

Nigerian primary and secondary schools remained shut Wednesday as a nationwide strike over pay increases by the teachers union entered a second week with no solution in sight. The teachers launched the strike on June 30 to force the government to implement the promised pay deal after talks to avert the work stoppage broke down. Gilbert da Costa in Abuja has more for VOA in this report.

The union representing Nigerian college teachers decided to hold a three-day strike Wednesday to show its support for the Nigeria Union of Teachers, an umbrella organization representing primary and secondary school teachers in the oil-rich West African country.

Nigeria's most powerful union, the Nigeria Labor Congress, says it may join the strike if the government fails to resolve the dispute. Several civil society groups are also backing the strike.

Nearly half of Nigeria's 140 million people are under 16, and the stoppage is having a huge impact.

Clement Wasah of Community Action for Popular Participation, which promotes community participation in governance, says the strike is putting the future of millions of young Nigerians at risk.

"Majority of Nigerians have their children in public primary and secondary schools," he noted. "And this strike is coming at a time when those in secondary schools have prepared for the national examination. They are back at home, some of them are now engaged in street hawking, in the farms and so on. What it means is that many of the potentials, children from the poor homes who are in public schools, who may be able to go beyond secondary school may have their chances scuttled."

The Nigerian government says it would pay the new salary to teachers in federally-run schools, but it would not force state and local authorities to pay the enhanced rate in schools set up by them. The union is insisting that all teachers in the country should benefit from the new pay.

Teachers are among the lowest paid professionals in Nigeria. Union officials say a letter of appeal has been sent to President Umaru Yar'Adua, himself a former teacher, to intervene in the crisis.

Farouk Lawan, chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Education, says he has requested a meeting with the president over the matter.

"We raised the issue on the floor of the floor of the House of Representative and the house in a resolution resolved to request the federal government to begin the implementation of the TSS [Teachers' Salary Structure]. We have also taken the step to meet with the president to push for an accelerated response to the issue," he explained.

Many Nigerians feel the government is putting off reaching a settlement because the children of the rich do not attend state schools and most private schools have not been affected.