May 1 in North East (Nigeria) and a resilient working class


Three days ago, Nigerian workers joined the world to celebrate Worker's Day. Many across the country do not see the day any better than a sad reminder of their pathetic situation. It is not about the fact that yet, few states, if at all there are, implement the minimum wage, but even more about payment of monthly salaries.

Many states do not pay workers and pensioners for several months. In Zamfara, workers, stubbornly though, believe the day was one for mourning rather than celebration. In Kogi, Gov. Yahya Bello was proud to remind his workers, and by extension the world, that he did not pay them for a whole year at an event, ordinarily, the most important to them. At a point, our leaders claim that there is no money to pay workers, if or where the excuse is not a so-called endlessly ongoing verification exercise--but nobody has ever heard in this nation when these chief executives complain about nonpayment of their personal salaries or allowances. Their extraordinarily luxurious lifestyles do not change on any account too, defying every understanding in the circumstance.

However, whatever the situation is in other places, multiply it in the case of North East. There's hardly a household in particularly the state capitals of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa where there isn't one or two more people who moved in as a result of the Boko Haram crisis. Almost every civil servant has an extra load of responsibility besides those he or she has long been toiling to manage.

Compared to other parts of the country, the governments of the six north-eastern states have though been relatively consistent with payment of salaries until recently. Few months ago, local government workers in Gombe, where the governor of the state boasted about his readiness to pay the proposed N56,000 minimum wage, went on a weeklong prayer session, 'praying to God to deal with whosoever that stands in the way' of their salaries following a verification exercise that does not show potentials of any good tidings. The story is not too dissimilar in Bauchi.

In Borno, a few months ago, academic staff of state tertiary institutions went on strike because of inconsistent verification exercise which became a reason for nonpayment of their salaries for several months Pensioners have over the course of few weeks, carried out a number of civil disobedience including barricading highways for state government officials and mounting protests. But Borno has one of the most indefinably complex civil service in the country. To unravel the mystery that the institution has transformed into, a verification exercise is necessary.

For over eight years, the state civil service has never been reported to have made recruitments of new workers--a phenomenon that, rightly, amused Gov. Kashim Shettima last year. This is a state where insurgent activities have made officials of government, especially teachers, medical personnel, etcetera a major target, resulting in the death of many of them. The system at both state and local government level stinks of damning corruption and shoddy deals that goes as far as to officially unauthorized engagement of relatives, existent and non-existent, to replace dead personnel.

Yobe State, however, enjoys a clean bill from both workers and retirees even though it is also reported to be, by far, one of the state with the most corrupt civil service, full of ghost workers. It is not out of place for Gov. Ibrahim Geidam, who was a recipient, recently, of an award from Nigerian Union of Pensioners for his untiring commitment to the welfare of retirees, to launch once again a thorough verification exercise to ascertain the actual workforce of the state.

The objective here is not to draw a map of payment of salaries in the North East; what is, is actually to give a description of the conditions of the civil servant so that their welfare can be improved.

A civil servant who receives (less than) the minimum wage of N18,000 monthly cannot adequately manage his immediate family, let alone a classical case of population explosion he or she cannot run away from in his/her house as occasioned by the displacement of people in the countryside. It is hard in Maiduguri, for instance, to find a civil servant, even a retiree, who does not have one or two displaced persons to take care of. It is either he or she moves them into his/her house, family residence or, for one who can afford, rents one. Add feeding, medical treatments, clothing, etcetera, to this! To this end, many have sold their properties and completely adjusted their lifestyles, with some still indebted.

Although government is feeding displaced persons in camps, it is not everyone that has the heart that can subscribe to allowing first cousins, aunties and grandparents to be fed in camps especially when some of them are part of your success stories. You have to stand up for them. Our civil servants even in this period of nonpayment of salaries are doing that, putting in their best to support their relatives. Government and stakeholders should encourage them.

Yerwa Express News (YEN) salutes you all. Congratulations.