The Labourers Deserve Wages, by M. Babajide-Alabi
Newspaper Column

The Labourers Deserve Wages

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By M. Babajide-Alabi
The issue of non payment of salaries to workers in some states of Nigeria has been kept on the news front pages for two weeks running now. This is a good development that has brought more publicity to the sufferings of Nigerian workers. Not that there was not adequate awareness of this fact before, but we all pretended it was not an issue of concern except to those affected.

Those of us who get our wages, as and when due or, maybe late by a few days or weeks were not really bothered by the plight of these workers. We barely noticed that mass of workers in some states are suffering and smiling as they joined their counterparts worldwide to celebrate Workers Day last month. Dutifully they had turned up at the various venues, but with heavy hearts at the oppression they are witnessing in the hands of “modern day colonialists” called Nigerian politicians.

They looked for succour in the direction of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the umbrella body for all workers unions, they could not find any. The union officials looked away sharply as the workers “labour” for survival under heavy financial yoke. They ask themselves when will a messiah, like of old Labour leaders, rise up for them.

What a wish by workers who had been left in the cold by the union that is supposed to champion their causes. They feel anger towards the officials of NLC who have abandoned them to their fates. The union officials care less as they dine and wine with the “masters” that have enslaved the workers. Many are not surprised though, as these officials have been accused in the past of sell out to the government that now treats the NLC as an appendage of the government.

The Nigerian labour union has lost its voice. It can no longer cry out on the injustices the masses “enjoy” everyday. Gone were the days of the firebrand labour leaders, when activism was propelled by the passion to represent a cause and not for selfish reasons.

In the absence of a rallying voice from the NLC, “public spirited” individuals stepped in to fill the void. Roll the drums please, and welcome the hero of our time, Senator Ben Murray-Bruce, representing Bayelsa Central District in the Nigeria upper legislative house. Senator Bruce had last week introduced drama as “palliative” for the workers when he announced his intention of donating half of his wardrobe allowance as a senator to the workers of the state of Osun.

Like some states, it was reported that as at last week, the state government was owing its workers eight months salaries. Senator Bruce must have been very moved by the plight of the workers to turn himself to a Santa Claus, popular known as “Father Christmas”. His announcement received mixed reactions from Nigerians with many querying his intentions and particularly the yardstick for chosen the workers of the state of Osun as recipients of this largesse when there are other states that owe workers more months.

Aside Muray-Bruce’s grandstanding, there is need for concern on the plight of these workers. The Federal Government should commission a probe into the financial dealings of the states in question. The probe should seek to find answers to how these states got to this point? I know some of the bgovernors have been blaming the drop in the Fiscal Allocation for the non-payment, but this is not tenable an excuse.

It is rather saddening that many of the explanations given for the non-payment are rather too flimsy to accept as reasonable. While the states concerned are engaging in exercise in futility by their officials releasing press statements justifying their reasons for the non-payments, the workers continue to languish in debt, hardship and hunger. These workers are struggling to take care of themselves, or put foods and drinks on the family tables, nor even take care of dependants. It is really pathetic.

Their frustration is further heightened by comments of some members of the public, who rather than “scold” the erring governors, are celebrating them. These individuals for one reason or the other, but not unlikely to be selfish, have been trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the workers by citing “developmental projects” implemented by these governors as reasons for non payment.

It is common knowledge that pensioners rarely get their dues, as at when due. However, that is a different story for another day. It is rather unfortunate that this is happening in the 21st century, especially in a country blessed with abundant human and natural resources. In this country, workers are treated as “properties”of governments. Is it not a wicked practice when a worker had dutifully reported to work, did his own bit of duties, push files, taught students etc and for eight months, he had not received any bank deposit alert for his wages.

Yet our leaders visit countries where workers are treated as kings and queens. Some of them had worked in societies where workers’ wages are treated as priority. But in their minds they conclude nothing will happen if workers are not paid their wages.

Meanwhile while the workers are suffering and praying for God to touch the hearts of their employers, the governors are frolicking about in expensive window tinted cars and hired helicopters. They have little thought for the workers as they fly first class to London, New York, Dubai, South Africa etc anytime they desire. They lodge in choice expensive hotels with a retinue of aides and family members and spending money like no man’s business.

In the UK, the Mayfair is their choice place of accommodation. They arrange the costliest apartments in this area, and for a past time, they visit the best bars in the evenings for the most expensive champagne and cognac. These governors not only visit, they come with a “few” of their states’ fiscal allocations to put away in foreign accounts. They have their contacts in the city who works behind the scenes for them. These contacts advise on how and where to “bury” the funds and also what properties to buy for investments.

But the masses are angry with them. They have to make amends before the public can learn to trust them again. In saner climes, these governors would have resigned honourably, after admitting the issue was beyond them but our leaders would sit tight and hope situation will go away.

Published in Sunday Vanguard 21 June 2015

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