It’s a painful gang up, a gang up by a trio. The conspirators include the state government led by Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, the chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Goodluck Ofobruku and chairman of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Bolum Martins. The conspiracy was strong. Labour leaders who were supposed to fight for the civil servants caved in, peradventure with much grease to look the other way and allow the civil servants groan in pains.
This is why workers do not have faith in their union leaders. They easily give in after some perks may have been given to silence their mouth. They must have eaten and the workers can perish. It is no longer their business. As far as they and their families are satisfied, anybody can go to blazes and burn, it is their own problem. This has been the unfaithfulness of labour leaders in a corrupt and dirty work environment.
This is why labour leaders can come out and tell workers to bear with government and pay sacrifices for a government of a heavily rich state. But how much is the salary of workers? N50K, N60K, N70K, N80K, N90K, N100K. These people have families and various needs to meet but the government would cut these little pay for flimsy excuses. And NLC and TUC leaders would have the gut to tell workers to bear with government. They have, by so doing, become part of the government and have become useful tools to torment workers in a rich state but impoverished workers.
For this reason, there is unhappiness boldly written on the faces of workers in Delta state. Civil servants are not happy with the salary cut. A visit to the state secretariat, one would see workers grumbling in hush tones but cannot voice out their grievances. The policy has weakened their hands and killed their morale for service to the state. To them, the wage reduction is a bad one, an unwelcome decision at a time people have been so burdened by the coronavirus pandemic and they are in dire need of money to meet demands from many quarters.
The government gave the coronavirus pandemic as the reason for the salary cut. But one may wonder, in what way has the pandemic affected the financial base of Delta state that Delta, a state rated as the richest state in the country, could cut workers salaries because of coronavirus. First of all, did the virus only affect Delta state? All the states in Nigeria are receiving the sledgehammer of the coronavirus, that is if the figures being released by NCDC are anything to go by. So, why should it be only Delta that must reduce workers salary? Even if there is reduction in allocation which is not so, should it be only Delta that must reduce workers’ salary?
I made a call to a friend in Bayelsa to inquire whether Bayelsa state government reduced salaries of workers. The reply was that there is no plan for that, rather the government is thinking of increasing workers salaries in the state. Bayelsa is the next door neighbour to Delta state. I also called a friend in the Eastern state to know whether any of the Eastern states reduced salaries of workers. The answer is also in the negative. Though I did not make a call to any Western state, it is sure that no state in the West reduced workers salaries. So, what is the problem with Delta state?
The reasons so far adduced by the government for the salary cut are not compatible with the action of the state government. Delta is the richest state in Nigeria. It has the highest allocation, except Lagos. With the 13 percent derivation and the high internally generated revenue, Delta has no reason whatsoever to cut workers salary. If Bayelsa with minimal allocation could think of increasing workers salaries, Delta has no justification for the action it took against workers. But the painful part is that labour leaders have joined in the conspiracy and have become the mouth piece of the state government, pleading with workers to show understanding. This is an aberration, a disservice to the workers who voted for these labour leaders, thinking they would protect their interest but rather they are protecting their own interest at the detriment of their compatriots.
At the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in April, towards May Day celebration, Mike Okeme, special adviser to the governor on labour relations, told The Pointer Newspapers that the governor will not cut workers salaries. He went further to say that the governor is workers friendly and will not tamper with the salary of workers in the state. Hear him: “No state can go into cutting of salaries for now because as far as I’m concerned the amount allocated to the states in April was what was given to the states in March. In Delta state, we don’t believe in that. The governor is workers friendly. He doesn’t believe in reducing workers’ salaries. What he has done is to take impress of politicians and various offices for one month to support the crusade against the coronavirus.”
The Pointer Newspaper on MayDay also reported NLC chairman, Goodluck Ofobruku, as saying the outcome of the pandemic will not in any way affect the salary of workers. He said: “We are hoping it does not affect the salaries of workers. The national headquarters of NLC has distanced itself from such move if any. The national has said states should not allow any move in that direction when the pandemic is finally curtailed and normalcy returns. The truth of the matter is that salaries of workers should be paid as at when due. It is a contract, you work for me, I pay you.”
The TUC chairman also made similar statements. Bolum said whether price of oil falls or not, salaries of workers are not expected to be affected. “We have a responsible government in Delta state. When things were really down, the governor came in and was able to weather through the storm. Some owed their workers for months which they never paid till date. Delta state government never owed workers any salary. Governor Okowa made payment of salaries a priority. We believe the governor will pay salaries.”
However, these three personalities in the state have caved in but they cannot deny making these statements, few days to the workers day, though not celebrated with the usual fun fare, due to the COVID-19. This is why it is not good to be a politician. Politicians make statements that cannot be trusted. Most statements are made to get temporary satisfaction and please certain category of people. And when that is achieved, whatever happens thereafter is of no importance. That is what Delta labour leaders have just done to workers in the state. They are sell-outs. They have no regard for the workers whose interest they have sworn to protect.
However, it is painful and unacceptable for Delta of all states in Nigeria to cut workers salaries. Someone may say yes, Kaduna state governor, Nasir El-Rufai, reduced workers salaries by 25 percent in April. Yes, but NLC fought against it, they did not accept the reduction. But should that be the yardstick for Delta to reduce workers’ salaries? Does Kaduna state have the amount of money Delta has? Does Kaduna have the amount of allocation Delta has? This is injustice and very unfair for workers in the state. There are other things our ears heard but we will keep them for now.
Though I’m not a civil servant, I’m a Deltan. I know what comes to the state every month. I have right to express my opinion on issues as they affect the people of Delta state. As a public affairs analyst, I have the obligation to analyse the actions of government in Delta state. That is part of my job and I think I need to do it because the workers are dying in silence. They are afraid to talk because they must protect the little money left for them. But when will the economy improve and when it improves, will the deductions be paid back? The secretary to the state government, Chiedu Ebie, said after six months, the system will be reversed. Will that be? Let’s watch and see.
THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN BY OGHENEMARO IDURUH, PUBLIC AFFAIRS ANALYST FROM WARRI