‘This home of tourism stinks…’
FOR the inability of the Plateau State government to pay the salaries of workers in the state, the Organised Labour under the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) Chairman, Comrade Jibrin Bancir, met and gave government a 14-day ultimatum that failure to pay the workers’ salaries, pension arrears and other unpaid gratuities for six months, would force the workers to down tools indefinitely.
The ultimatum was to expire on May 4. The day came and nothing was done on the part of the government. Bancir then called out all the workers to embark on an indefinite strike by 12:00 midnight on the same day. The strike was total and very successful as all the workers fully complied.
The unsavoury development of the strike has, however, taken its toll on the cleanliness of Jos metropolis and its environs. Refuse has taken over the city. Vehicles can no longer move freely as the garbage is eating into the streets unabated and unchecked. The dual carriage road of Ahmadu Bello Way, the busiest road in Jos, stinks to the high heavens. It is even alleged that carcasses are dumped on the streets with impunity.
The refuse disposal vehicles that used to evacuate the dirt are no more available as their drivers are among government workers who are being owed huge sums of money.
Most hard-hit of the stench are Murtala Mohammed Way, Ahmadu Bello Way and Rwang Pam Street, which have been turned into a home for heaps of refuse in the state. Yet traders and other businessmen and women patronise the areas. One food seller said traders and passer-by are being forced to inhale the stench that emanate from the dumpsite and drainages.
The traders condemned the state government for its refusal to pay the salaries of the workers, which they said has resulted in the ugly situation. They appealed to the state government on behalf of the workers to find a lasting solution to their plight.
They also appealed to the State Environmental Sanitation Agency to consider the plight of residents and clear the refuse dumps in the area especially now that the rains have come.
The Zonal Secretary of Medical and Health Workers’ Union of Nigeria (MHWUN), Comrade Richard Banwan, who controls six states in the North Central and Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and is also the State Secretary of the Plateau State Council of Medical and Health and also the Gombe State Secretary of NLC, comments on the development.
According to him: “We have been part of this struggle. The issue that triggered this development is non-payment of salaries. For six months now, workers have not been paid their salaries at the state government level. Various letters have been written to government without any result.”
“But the most striking issue is that of non – payment of salaries. Workers have not been able to pay their children’s school fees, they cannot attend to their hospital needs, and they cannot even feed themselves. They cannot move even from their houses to their places of work. So, it has become so precarious and the government is aware of this situation and labour has been quite patient for government to kindly look into their plight. But there is no action. The strike has actually started. Government has been adequately put on notice, at least 14 days earlier before the strike. Even seven days reminder was given and to the best of my knowledge, nothing has happened.”
“All we need is that people would have been alerted by now at least if it is one month. Then we would have known that government has initiated something. But that not been the case, I think we have no choice than to proceed on the action.”
On the rating of the outgoing government, Banwan said it is very insensitive to workers, adding that government has been good to other sectors like health, wondering why it has chosen to treat workers this way. “Immediately the outgoing Governor came in, workers were paid on the 25th of the month. Salaries were paid as and when due. But all of a sudden we didn’t know what happened. Nobody had called to explain to us what the issue was but everything was quiet.”
Lamenting the workers’ strike in the state, the State Governor-elect, Barrister Simon Lalong, has appealed to both the striking Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) and the NLC to call off their industrial action because he is not ready and prepared to inherit any industrial action.
The monitoring team of the NLC has been going round ministries and offices in the state to ensure full compliance. Bancir said that he is quite happy with the level of compliance with the strike, adding that government is a continuity while advising the incoming administration to start strategizing on how to provide a sustained welfare for its workforce.
But some residents in the state say that the strike was very ill-timed because they believe it would hamper the smooth handover to the incoming administration. They stressed that the strike should have commenced before now.
The Head of Service, Chief Ezekiel Dalyop, has appealed to the striking workers to call off their strike as government is doing everything possible to address their demands, pointing out that government was already preparing records for a smooth transition to the incoming administration which is barely three weeks, hence the need for the workers to show understanding.
Dalyop said that he is not part of the union. “If we cannot get our records, how we are going to hand over? Then it means we have nothing to handover to the new government. We will not have any documents to present.”
He attributed the inability to pay salaries to the shortfall in the federation account, which he said is not peculiar to the state, adding that they are just trying to squeeze water out of rock.