We are dying of hunger, say workers in debtor-states

Almost 20 days after President Muhammadu Buhari issued a bailout of N713.7bn to end the lingering crisis of unpaid workers’ salaries in some states of the federation, respite has not come the way of many civil servants.

On Wednesday, the governors denied seeking a bailout to help alleviate the salary backlog.

Though some indebted states have cleared salary arrears of two or three months owed workers, tales of woes still trail civil servants whose salaries are still being withhold.

 

Workers who spoke to SUNDAY PUNCHinundated our correspondents with different shades of plight forced on them by the paucity of fund brought about by the continuous withholding of their salaries by the various state governments that employed them.

The situation, many of the civil servants told our correspondents, has forced them to take up menial jobs and other job different from their primary assignments to make ends meet while some have taken to selling their property and begging from friends, family members and neighbours.

In Kwara State workers of the Kwara State University, Malete, have not been paid four months’ salaries.

A similar situation obtains in other government institutions in the state like the Colleges of Education in Ilorin and Oro. At the Kwara State College of Education (Technical), Lafiagi, workers are owed one month salary while the staff of the Kwara State College of Arabic and Islamic Legal Studies have not been paid for two months.

Workers of the local government councils are not left out. They are being owed between two and five months salaries depending on the affected council. Workers in the 16 Local Government Areas are currently on strike to press home their demand for the payment of their salary arrears. And this is as primary school teachers are being owed about three months’ salaries.

A worker at the College of Education, Ilorin who for fear of victimisation simply identified herself as Bisi, said nine workers of the college had died between January and June while a worker lost his son about a week ago in Oro because of his inability to pay the medical bills of his ailing child.

She said, “We are going through a lot of hardship because of the non-payment of our salaries. We cannot even feed ourselves. How then can we be efficient in our duties with empty stomach?”

An employee of one of the LGs, Olesin Yekini, said workers in his LG have not been paid for about five months.

“It has been hell. We have never gone through this type of financial difficulty for a very long time. Some of us have borrowed money from cooperative societies, our relatives, neighbours and friends to feed our families. We cannot borrow anymore as we have not repaid the ones we borrowed and it is not certain when we will be paid. To feed has become difficult. hunger is killing us gradually.”

The Senior Special Assistant to Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed on Media and Communication, Dr. Muyideed Akorede, described the deaths of the workers as sad.

Akorede however added that there is no proof that the deaths were caused by the delay in the payment of their salaries.

In Kogi State, workers are being owed in varying degrees. While those employed by the state government are owed only June salary, their local government counterparts are being owed not less than 14 months.

An employee of one of the LGs, who identified himself as Kunle Ajadi said he was going through great financial difficulties. He claimed that he treks to the office and does not eat lunch because of his financial status.

In Osun State, most civil servants are being owed salaries in arrears of six and a half months.

Another civil servant, who simply identified himself as Kayode said the food he collected at a Pentecostal church last Sunday came at a time he had almost lost hope.

He said somebody invited him to the church for the food distribution and he abandoned his church to attend the church service so that he could get some food to eat.

A teacher, who identified himself as Mr. Ahmed from Ede also, said one of his colleagues lost his son two days ago because of the situation.

He said that the boy was ill and needed N1.5 million for medical treatment but the teacher whose name he declined to mention could not raise the money because of the non-payment of their salaries.

He said, “I was told this morning that the son of that   colleague of mine died yesterday. We agreed to donate money for the treatment of his son but the boy died because our salaries had not been paid for six and a half months now, hence we could not make the donation.”

In Bauchi State where civil servants are being owed April and July salaries, a staffer of the Bauchi Radio Corporation who gave his name as Abubakar, said, “I am a family man with two wives and seven children with five dependants. The situation is so bad that my brother had to help pay my children’s school fees otherwise, they would have been sent home.

“Even feeding my family is becoming a problem because the situation in the country is bad with inflation everywhere. The take-home pay doesn’t take us home anymore and yet we are not being paid regularly.”

In Abia, workers are also groaning over months of salary arrears.

One of the affected workers, a staff of the Abia State Universal Basic Education Board who spoke on condition of anonymity, told our correspondent in Umuahia that ASUBEB workers had only been paid May salary this year leaving January to April and June outstanding.

She said, “I have borrowed and over borrowed, and more than four members of our staff had died because there was no money.”

Yet another worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said his poor financial status is threatening his young marriage.

He said, “I can no longer shoulder the responsibilities of my family and my wife is feeling so uncomfortable that she wants to call it quits. My marriage is barely two years old.”

But the Special Adviser on Economic Affairs to Governor Okezie Ikpeazu , Mr. Obinna Oriaku, said the government had paid the May salaries of virtually all workers in the state including 62 out of the 65 parastatals and agencies that complied with biometric data registration.

The Ondo State government owes its workers two months salaries – May and June.

One of the workers in the state, Moses Adeniyi, said his family had been badly hit by the situation.

He said, “Three members of my family are affected – my wife, my son and myself have not been paid. To feed the family has been taking the grace of God.

“We don’t have any other business that fetches us money apart from this, it has not been so good.”

Another civil servant, 58-year-old Mrs Ebun Oladiran, told our correspondent: “I buy drugs every month to take care of myself but now it has been difficult to do so. My life is in danger.”

In Oyo State, the level of hardship among the workers varies. The local government employees are being owed salaries of May and June while other workers in the state have their April, May and June salaries yet to be paid.

A senior civil servant and father of four, who simply identified himself as Ojoawo, said, “My wife has become the breadwinner of the house as I no longer pay the bills. She comes to my rescue when things are now down. I don’t have any money in my savings account because salaries are no longer coming.”

In Imo State, a similar situation plays out.

A nurse with the Imo State University Teaching Hospital Orlu, Mrs Nkechi Odochi, told our correspondent: “My children and I no longer eat a balanced diet. We only eat whatever we can lay hands on. We eat waiting for a day all our salaries will be paid.”

Meanwhile, the Nigeria Labour Congress has called an emergency meeting of the National Executive Council of the congress to review the issue of the non-payment of salaries to workers by some state governors.

The President of the NLC, Mr. Ayuba Wabba, made this known in a telephone conversation with our correspondent on Saturday.

He said, “We are not going to take it lightly with them. The National Administrative Council of the NLC met on the matter and we are calling a NEC meeting for next week; a decision was taken to take solidarity action. We are inviting the states next week; we might take a national action on it, we will take the next line of action in the meeting.”Copyright PUNCH.
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