The Holy Bible makes us to understand that there is dignity in labour. And when one diligently performs his or her duty, God will bless the works of his or her hands.
But this injunction has been greatly abused by most employers of labour who exploit gullible job seekers. Because of the harsh economic reality steering everyone on the face, the desperation to get something doing prod citizens of Abuja into accepting dehumanising offers with little income.
This is what people who keep the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) clean are currently witnessing. They are mostly women without basic education, who got married either as first or second wife, at a tender age and gave birth to so many children beyond their financial strength.
For some, their husbands fell from grace to grass with no means to cater for the family. While some fell into hands of lazy men who took advantage of their illiteracy to impregnate them. There are some who lost their husbands and decided to brace up for the hurdle life puts at them.
These contracted labourers are scattered all over the city centres; from Area I to Wuse, Garki, Maitama, Gwarinpa, Apo, Lokogoma down to Berger Junction, Jabi and Life Camp.
They resume as early as 6.00am, get to their duty posts clad in worn-out reflect overall gowns, torn rain boots and gloves. The portion they are expected to tidy up before a particular time is alarming, with a monthly salary of N10, 000.
Ideally, the firm they labour for is expected to provide kits to aid efficiency and to prevent them from getting contaminated, but it is not so as they pick dirt with their bare hands. Those who cannot conform are advised to seek employment elsewhere.
One of them at Area 1 Roundabout, she had to scan around to be sure her supervisor was not watching. Even at that, she declined to speak for fear of being sacked.
Some of the drivers who saw us conversing advised that I should not bother to push further because they warned them not to speak to “strangers” on their plights, regardless.
Zainab (not real name), who obliged to speak, decried the frustration they go through. Some of her colleagues fall sick without being cared for. She added that their salaries get slashed whenever they fail to turn up for work due to the rain or heavy traffic. The 31 year-old, said even if the road is blocked or heavy traffic during rush hour they must be patient until the road is clear then they can commence work:
“It is not easy sweeping the road every day. Sometimes, we get knocked down by reckless drivers who would not even apologise. Passers-by throw cans of soft drinks, orange peels and empty packet of biscuits in places we just clean. And when our supervisor comes, he does not listen when we explain.
“My salary is N10,000. And it does not solve my problems. I lost my husband five years ago. Instead of milling around aimlessly, I decided to take up the offer. Sometimes, we get sanction whenever we fail to show up whenever we fall sick.”
A 42-year-old and mother of five, Janet Hassan, who has been in the job for seven years narrated how they are being owed several months with reckless abandon. She added that sometimes, they survive from the generosity of good-spirited individuals who throw money at them:
“I have been sweeping Abuja for the past seven years. There is nowhere you will call I do not know because I have been posted to different places to work. We get owed. It has become a norm. Even though we do not like it there is nothing we can do about it. God has a way of taking care of us. People give us money and snacks.”
On how she manages her salary, Mary Daudu explained that she prepares kunu and zobo (hibiscus drink) sells in town to augment what she receives: “The salary is small. And there is nothing we can do about it. I have over seven mouths to feed. I have five children, and two grandchildren. I have to take care of them. So, I prepare Zobo and kunu to sell whenever I finish cleaning my portion.
“We need help. The salary should be increased to enable us send our children to school. We do not want them to end up like us. They should provide us with basic kits to lessen our stress.”
Our correspondent equally caught up with one of the supervisors at Area 11, who spoke off camera. He admitted that what the firm pay workers fall below what they collect at the end of the month: “It is not the company’s fault. Government should be blamed.
“Before you get a contract in Nigeria, you need to settle a lot of people first. Normally, the workers are supposed to receive N25,000 but because of the settlement, the company decided to pay them N10,000 and use the remaining balance to keep it going.”