New Telegraph

May Day and workers’ woes!

A labourer is deserving of his wages -Deut: 25 vs 4 ( The Holy Bible)

Back in June 2015, the piece of news that got millions of Nigerians enraged was that of the unpaid workers’ salaries in 23 out of 36 states! It came against the dark backdrop of the jumbo pay packages of elected and selected politicians and their appointees.

The paradox of payment inequality was worsened subsequently, when the lawmakers, each on allegedly monthly salary scale of over N30 million found it extremely difficult to approve the paltry minimum wage of N30,000 for the beleaguered workers. These are workers who literally go through sorrows, tears and blood, as the great Afrobeat icon, Fela Anikulapo Kuti would put it.

They are paid peanuts which is hardly adequate to cater for the needs of family members and other dependants, given our extended family structure. That is worsened by the fact that they battle daily against lack of stable electric power supply, decrepit infrastructure, high inflation, food insecurity and the persisting challenges of insecurity from terrorists, bandits and kidnappers.

This horrifying picture is enough an indication of the self-deceit of our dysfunctional political structure, obscenely skewed in favour of of our public office holders which we still call ‘democracy’. Ours therefore, cannot honestly be referred to as a normal democratic dispensation of power by the people and for the people. It is rather, that of the rottenrich politicians by the greed-driven politicians and of course, meant for their selfish inclinations to satiate their obscene epicurean tastes.

So, as we celebrate May 1 as the Workers’Day what comes to mind, here in Nigeria, are the sad memories of the utter negligence by the federal government over the working conditions of its millions of workers and those who depend on them. We can still recall the over eight months of the strike by members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), and that of medical doctors and nurses, both which have led to massive braindrain. Yet, the so called political leaders did not bat an eye lid! We also recall the tragedies of hundreds of pensioners left to stew in their debilitating illnesses while they agonized over unpaid terminal benefits. And the fact that these are the same set of patriotic workers, who refused to defraud the government while in office leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

The worrisome aspect is that there seems to be little hope of the economic situation getting any better soon. If in doubt, my dear reader and concerned Nigerian, how do you feel getting to know that 17 newly elected governors are about to inherit huge debt profiles to the tunes of N2.1 trn and $1.9bn domestic and external ones, respectively, according to the Debt Management Office (DMO)? You might be worried as yours truly is. Amongst the states so listed are Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Benue, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Enugu, Jigawa and Kaduna. Others include Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Niger and Sokoto states! But that is just part of one’s source of serious concern. One other reason of course, has to do with the recurring ugly decimal of months of unpaid workers’ salaries. For instance,Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu the outgoing governor of Abia State is leaving a domestic debt of over over N104bn and external debt of over $95m for his successor Dr Alex Otti while the health workers and teachers in the state are being owed between 10 to 27 months salaries! Similarly, according to the DMO Benue State under the administration of outgoing Governor Samuel Ortom is leaving a domestic debt of over N143 billion and foreign debt of over $30m for the incoming Rev. Father Hyacinth Alia to settle. Coming against unpaid workers’ salaries of between eight to 15 months, there are certainly more questions than answers. In fact, questions are also being asked about Rivers State under outgoing Governor Nysome Wike who is leaving behind a domestic debt of over N225 billion and foreign debt of over $140m, according to the DMO to his successor in an oil-rich state! With all these unresolved economic disparity, of the incomes versus expenditures the ordinary citizen cannot but ask some pertinent questions. They cannot but wonder what has happened to the trillions of Naira disbursed every month from the federation account, over the past four to eight years? What about the Value Added Tax (VAT) added to the many other charges on goods and services? What about the bail-out funds these states have obtained from the federation government at one point or the other? In addition, it is important to find out if there are adequate infrastruc-tural developments, and funding for education, healthcare delivery, agriculture and transportation to equate the huge sums surreptitiously spent by the governors, such that salaries could not be paid to the helpless workers, as at when due? These are the questions the leaders of the labour unions should be asking the leaders. But are they doing so? The answer is obvious. As yours truly raised a similar issue in June 2015 with the article titled: ‘The National Shame of Unpaid Salaries ‘, it is indeed curious that it is within the same period when workers’ salaries were not paid that the debt profile of a good number of the states hit the rooftop! Answers to these issues should be provided by the state governors concerned because at the end of the day it is workers who bear the brunt of the misplaced priority of unpaid salaries. This has been obvious over the past six months with the fuel scarcity and cash crunch due to the Naira redesign policy.

All said, our political leaders should not take the workers on a donkey ride because ordinarily, they are the catalysts to drive the government’s policies forward. The significant roles they play on day to day basis, using their sweat and tears to oil the engine for economic growth and sustenance should not be undermined by the greed of a few.

The cardinal issues of accountability and transparency have become a sine qua non to the delivery of people-focused governance to put a smile on the workers’ pockets and faces. That is, instead of treating them as tools to be used and discarded at will, especially by those in the corridors of political power as if they are seasonal sponges.

Nigeria is too richly blessed by God to have the workers treated as slaves. No they are not! And they should no longer act like the anthill termites, to satisfy only the outlandish lifestyles of the queen and the king termites parading themselves as our political messiahs.

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