When the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) urged some school teachers in Abuja to enroll for a land acquisition scheme organised by the union, many of them saw it as a great opportunity to “have roofs on our heads” after many years of working without houses of their own.
It was in 2012, Akapson Festus, then Chairman of the Union, was the facilitator of the scheme. He mobilised (mainly primary school) teachers in Abuja to pay in instalments to acquire plots of land. Tagged NUT Land Beneficiary Programme, the scheme was introduced to give teachers the opportunity to own plots of land in Abuja after completing a 24-month installment payment.
But since then, the poor teachers said they had been deceived many times, and their hopes of becoming landlords dashed.
‘THEY’RE REALLY NOT TRANSPARENT’
Some of the beneficiaries who spoke with FIJ said the union was taking advantage of their silence over the matter to “dribble them”. They said they had suffered too much after completing their payment.
“The leadership of the union is trying to oppress them because they know we’re powerless,” said Joseph Lucia, one of the supposed beneficiaries.
“They’ve been playing on our intelligence. People are desperate to get their lands.”
Another beneficiary of the scheme, Olawunmi Omowunmi, said she and many other teachers had paid over N700,000 each in two years, before the NUT approached them to pay more to help in building the houses.
“We had paid for infrastructure, making roads and bridges. For that, we had paid almost N100,000,” Omowunmi said.
“Later, they summoned us that they would build the house for us with the agreement that by December 2014, they would hand over the keys to us and that we would have our houses. So that was how they asked us to pay more money.”
Omowunmi recalls that her husband warned her not to pay more money because it was just the land that they bargained for.
“But most of us paid 10 per cent again. And that’s how they’ve been dribbling us and till today we’re yet to collect our lands.
“In short, NUT is just like a scam to us; they have put some of us into hardship. We can’t get the lands now and that’s the only hope some of us have to build our own houses. They’re really not transparent.”
‘WHAT KIND OF CHEATING IS THIS?’
Oluronbi Modupe, one of the enrollees of the land scheme, accused the union of extorting the teachers because “they cannot come together as one to fight for their rights”. Modupe, who has been at the forefront of fighting for the rights of the teachers, accused the former union chairman of ignoring their demands.
“I’m one of the beneficiaries of the land and I say enough is enough. If nobody is saying anything, let somebody talk so that the whole world will hear what is happening,” she said.
“We paid for all these things and they’re denying us. When we called, the ex-chairman stopped picking my call at a point. So I got annoyed. What kind of cheating is this?’”
After over seven years of agitating to get their land properties, the NUT executives reached out to the teachers and asked them to pay another N30,000 each before they could access the building plans and other necessary documents. Most of the teachers saw this development as another means of extorting them, so they raised the alarm.
“For eight years now, we’ve been stagnant in one place. How are we sure that they will give us the land if we pay this N30,000?” Modupe wondered.
Many of the affected teachers who spoke to FIJ also shared the same views with Modupe. They said the union had not been fair enough to them.
When contacted, Akapson, the former NUT Abuja chairman, claimed that many of the teachers had received their lands.
“They’re giving them. Teachers are jubilating now, seriously,” he claimed, saying the union was slowed down in the past by unfavourable government policies.
But when FIJ probed further on how teachers had accused him and the union of extorting them, he blamed the teachers for impatience and a lack of understanding.
“If you’re not a professional, there will be lack of experience in anything you’re doing for the first time,” he said.
“You know, even those that are selling the land, they’re bad. When they sold the land, instead of us carrying out an individual survey to check the status of the land, we couldn’t do that. Then we saw a big rock on the land after we had already paid. You see, it’s lack of experience that affected us. We were naive.”
He also said the N30, 000 which the union asked the teachers to pay is to cater to some of the technical issues experienced due some of the government policies that affected the sharing of plots of land to the owners in the first place. He also said he saw no reason why any teacher ould refuse to pay the money.
“Let us be frank with ourselves; if you pay N500,000 and some paid N600,000, is it the N30,000 you won’t now be able to pay?”
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