By Owei Lakemfa
The basic criterion for working in Nigeria is to either be a miracle worker or magician. The monthly Minimum Wage is N18,000; that is $45 or $1.5 daily. From this monthly salary – the equivalent of a bag of rice – the worker is expected to feed and transport himself to work, feed his family, pay rent and school fees. Since the take home pay cannot take the worker to the bus stop, it becomes like the Biblical pieces of fish and bread which the state expects him to multiply and feed the multitude.
This is why a sticker by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) always play around my mind: “My employer is a comedian; the wages he pays is a joke” There is another car sticker I have seen on Lagos streets: “When you pay your workers peanuts; you get monkey work.” However, all these presupposes that salaries are paid as and when due. In 20 of the 36 states, workers are owed wages stretching many months. In the Public Sector, it is the Federal Government that is most consistent in paying salaries regularly, but not pension. Just in June, it was owing pension arrears of 42 months; it then decided to pay twelve months of the arrears, leaving thirty months unpaid. However, we must admit that our country is waging a serious war against corruption; a war in which the army of underpaid or unpaid workers are playing a prominent role.
Mercifully, the politicians are not unconcerned about workers plight. So, my comrade, His Excellency Samuel Ortom, the Executive Governor of Benue State who used to operate at the Gboko Motor Park, decided to think outside the box. Since workers in the state go unpaid for months, he experimented with declaring Fridays, work-free-days to enable public servants go farm and get some food for their families. It was for an initial two-month period and I am sure with some food in the workers stomach, he would make this, a permanent experiment. There is no better way to motivate hungry workers than to make them wield the hoe from sun up till sun down.
I want to appeal that Comrade Ortom follows up his angelic deeds by paying salary and pension arrears, and reviewing what the ungrateful will see as outrageous taxes. This should include reappraising the punishment for those who try to present the government in bad light by digging boreholes in their houses, thereby reminding the citizenry that the government is unable to provide public water. My Comrade has also had to increase school fees at the Benue State University from N62,000 to N130,000 and acceptance fees from N5,500 to N22,000. Perhaps in the spirit of solidarity with workers and their families, he shoulder reconsider this, so that a few children of the poor, can like the proverbial camel, pass through the eye of the tertiary education needle.
I find it uncharitable when people say the ‘My people! My people!!’ Executive Governor of Imo State, Rochas Anayo Okorocha is a mere copycat because he borrowed a leaf from the Ortom School of Innovative Governance. Far from it; Okorocha brought his own unique innovation by declaring Thursday and Friday, in addition to Saturday and Sunday, as work free days. He had experimented unsuccessfully with workers mass sack, early retirement and unpaid salaries, before hitting on the idea of a three-day work week. His idea is that starving workers should go and farm. This I am sure is borne out of his magnanimous spirit as a famous philanthropist, peoples Governor and former President of the Nigeria Red Cross Society.
In his heart-felt concern for peoples welfare, he even told the public servants how to run their lives in the next one year. They will go to work from Monday to Wednesday, farm on Thursdays and Fridays and engage in socials and recreational activities on Saturdays. He forgot to instruct them what they should do on Sundays, but it is obvious what he would expect them to go to church and pray for the nation, pray for our leaders who have been divinely placed to rule over us, and pray for the nation so nothing will change the celestial order of things. He also forgot to tell the workers where he thinks they will acquire land for farming in a state with little land. I suggest that His Excellency allows public servants in urban centres like Owerri to carry office files home in which they can plant and harvest crops. Can I gently remind His Excellency that the exclusion of health workers, teachers and journalists in the public Sector from the new policy amounts to discrimination which is forbidden under the constitution. It is discriminatory for a set of staff to work for three days and another, for five or six days, yet earn the same salaries, and promotion prospects. Perhaps he should pay this category of workers, generous overtime allowances.
Like all good things, there are sacrifices public servants in Imo State must make. First they have to work thirty extra minutes daily, beyond the legal eight hours. Annual leave as provide under the country’s laws, are abolished. Thirdly, the Governor decreed that no worker can or should fall sick from Monday to Wednesday as no sick leave will be granted. Any public servant in the state who falls sick on those forbidden days, has two alternatives; either come to work, even if it is on a stretcher, or automatically get sacked.
It is heart-warming that the Governor announced that the reduced work days will not lead to salary cut. However, I think the workers would be deceiving themselves if they think there will be no negative fallout from the policy. It is like the proverbial cow, happy that it is being shipped abroad, unaware that it will return as corned beef.
I am sure the Ortom-Okorocha innovation will be so successful that other less endowed governors will emulate them. Who knows, another governor can come up with a two-day or one day work policy. We can even have one who may simply declare all days, work-free. After all, in a country where almost all states depend on allocations from the centre, what some governors may need to successfully run their states, is to get an accounts clerk go monthly to Abuja for the sharing of revenue allocation.
I begin to wonder that since the public services consume much of state resources; why retain them? In fact, why not privatize state governments so that the governor becomes Executive Chairman/CEO?
For the workers and the populace – about 120 million of who live below the poverty line – it is a crowded, hard life; it is like being sentenced with hard labour.
By Owei Lakemfa