How Nigerian workers survive months without salaries
FROM CLEMENT ADEYI, OSOGBO, WOLE BALOGUN, Ado Ekiti, ROSE EJEMBI, Makurdi. FEMI FOLARANMI, Yenagoa, and GEORGE ONYEJIUWA, OWERRI
THEY may not have enjoyed the opulence and luxury of the noveaux rich, but public servants, not excluding teachers, administrative officers and other categories of workers in government employ live like kings. This status may have been made possible because they also acquired some modicum of education that rates them among the middle class. But, that was in the past. That was an epoch when they lived in official quarters or private residences, though modest, had neat apartments, sometimes with ample gardens, flowers and well-kept lawns.
At the time, the homes could boast of appurtenances of ostentation-TV sets, music gadgets, sofa, refridgerators, rug carpets, motor garages having one or two cars, while their families generally lived well. The dinner table and pantries were always loaded with rich victuals and fares ranging from fresh fruits, vegetables and canned food items, to juices and assorted drinks. The parents and children radiate good health and nutrition with chubby cheeks and glowing skins. School fees were paid and the families often “spoilt’ themselves with outings, including going to cinemas, theaters, amusement parks or other fun sports. Of course, because the salaries were not exactly fat, they were sufficient to meet their needs. But, more importantly, they were regular.
The fortune of an average civil servant’s family, which has taken a plunge over the years, appears to have reached the rock bottom, since the national wage crisis in which cash-strapped state governments now find it difficult to pay salaries, owing to dwindling monthly allocations from the federal purse. Many government workers and their families owed between three to five months’ salaries in the South West, South East, North Central and other parts of the country are struggling to survive not only under the dire economic crunch, but also a huge debt burden. Even where some men depended on their self-employed spouses, the incomes these trades bring from their trades or artisanal vocations are not adequate to sustain the families, having hitherto merely helped to augment the principals’ earnings.
The implication, Saturday Sun investigations revealed, is that the past lifestyles of comfort had taken flight through the window, while the families wallow in penury, want and hardships. Investigations by Saturday Sun reporters across the country confirm the same thing; signs of hunger, despair and poverty.
The conditions of the Adebowales and Adeyemos, whose bread winners worked with the Osun State Government, one of the chronic wage debtor-states in the country, as well as two of their counterparts in Ekiti State, the Afolabis and Adeyanjus, typify the experiences insuch middle class homes. Workers in Osun state have been trying to survive on half salaries, having only been paid up till December, 2015. Most hit are those on grade levels 8 and above. While those on grade level 1-7, who received their salaries in full got paid up to December, 2015.
The head of the family, Omo Adebowale, who works in the Ministry of Education, lives in a two bedroom flat that had obviously seen better days in the suburb of Osogbo, the state capital with his wife and children. Evening was approaching and like on such occasions, Mr Adebowale and the household were anxiously waiting for the return of the woman of the house, in hope that she would bring some produce from a farm they had started to cultivate to drive hunger away after the prolonged wage crisis began more than a year ago. Sitting on a dilapidated settee with a fixed, almost forlorn gaze at the floor of his palour, begging for renovation, he blurted: “No problem, my brother. I am only thinking about the family dinner which I am not yet sure of. Yesterday, I and my family went to bed on empty stomach. We only managed to eat this afternoon when my wife used the little ewedu vegetable she got from our farm in a nearby village and the ‘iru’ and little palm oil we had at home to prepare soup. Thank God we have elubo isu (yam flour) at home. But it has finished”, he said in answer to inquiry by the visiting Saturday Sun reporter.
The Adebowales have been surviving on the farm in which they cultivate vegetables, tomatoes and pepper. “My wife harvests them and takes them to Alekuwodo Market, where she sells them. Thank God she has good customers. I don’t just sit down to wait for salary since it has not been regular. Thank God I am also a cobbler. As soon as I close from work in the evening, I go to my shop and repair my customers’ shoes. It is the little money I make from there that I use to feed the family. But when I manage to pay the children’s school fees, we run short of food. Things became tougher because I just managed to pay the school fees of two of them for the second term after the Christmas holiday. In fact, it was half that I paid, pending when I will collect the January salary”, said Adebowale.
He pointed to the squalid condition of his shelter to underscore the extent of suffering the family had had to endure. His words: “You can see the chairs in my palour. Are they not due for repair? Look at the curtains. Are they not due for change? But where is the money? When was the last time I bought clothes for my wife and children, talk less of myself? We have been managing what we have. Even to give money to my wife to buy foodstuffs and keep the home is difficult. We buy small quantities of what we need when salary is paid, which we have to manage because one is not sure of when the next salary will come. So, we are living from hand to mouth.”
Adebowale’s wife, Omotola, who walked in during the discussion with stuffs to prepare the evening meal to her husband’s apparent relief, corroborated Adebowale’s story, stressing that the family had been surviving by the grace of God. She noted, however, that while the farm had been their means of sustenance so far, they were uncertain of their fate when the farm products, which were seasonal go out of season. Also, she said: “Sometimes we can’t get enough from the farm. But God has been helping us. My husband is also trying because he is a shoe maker.” that while the farm had been their
Their first daughter, Rashidat, a Senior Secondary School I student in a private school, had tales of harassment by the school management for failing to complete the payment of her fees.
Besides, the young girl lamented that she found it difficult coping with schoolworks because of the trouble the school management gave her coupled with lack of pocket money to feed. “I don’t take pocket money to school in the morning because my parents don’t have money. But that is not my problem because I can manage myself. I only want them to complete my school fees before our second term exams come up in two weeks time,” she said.
For a 14-year-old boy introduced as Mrs. Adebowale’s cousin, his worry was how to avoid being beaten at school for failing to get a recommended sports wear. “They will beat me if I don’t come with the sport wear,” he said.
The lad, who said he has been finding things difficult since staying with the family, confided in Saturday Sun that he was already considering going back to his parents in Ibadan.
Mranwhile, the major challenge of the Adebowales, is paying the N120, 000 per annum rent on their apartment. Already, there had been two attempts by the landlord to eject them. According to Adebowale, his landlord tried on two occasions to serve him quit notices because he owed rent in arrears of seven months, last year. He said, he was saved by his church leaders, who intervened because he and the landlord are members of the same church.
He said although he was able to offset the arrears when government paid the wage arrears after receiving federal bailout fund, he could be in trouble again because the rent would soon be due. “My landlord will not listen to any story. He has since served me a demand notice for me to prepare myself ahead,” he said.
The experience of the Adeyemos is also similar. Saturday Sun met the supposed breadwinner, Mr. Adefila Adeyemo, a staffer in the Ministry of Health, in an unkempt shop, which, he said, belonged to his wife. Sets of pale and tiny ripe oranges, banana, cherry fruits (agbalumo in Yoruba) were arranged inside trays in front of the house for sale. Small coconuts, cocoyam, dry loaves of bread, a few small sachets of milk, milo, toilet soap among other items were also on display for sale.
The wife, Bolanle, a seamstress puts her 14-year-old house help, Oluwatobi, in charge of the shop, while she goes to her other shop at Igbona Market. “That is where she resumes every morning to sew clothes for her customers. We are happy that she gets good customers. It is the money she realises from the shop and the little from her shop at home that she is using to support the family when salary is not paid”, Adeyemo said.
Oluwatobi had since dropped out of the vocational centre where she was learning hairdressing due to the financial crisis.
“Things have not been easy with us since the salary crisis started in the state. To feed in our family is trouble. To pay children’s school fees is problem. To pay house rent is headache. When government manages to pay salary and you pay school fees or part of your rent, feeding becomes difficult. Then you and your family have to eat whatever is available because you don’t have a choice,” Adeyemo said.
“My wife is the pillar of this family. She is like the breadwinner, because she saves me a lot of embarrassment when salary fails to come. When my landlord attempted to throw our property out of our mini flat last year when workers were not paid for almost seven months, it was my wife that saved us the embarrassment. The rent which is N100, 000 per annum will be due in the next few weeks. But where is the money? I don’t know how my landlord is going to react. Is it my wife that should be paying rent for me? Does she still have customers since the entire state is broke?”
Adeyemo’s son, Kunle, a Junior Secondary School III private school student, said he had been sent out of school on several occasions, over inability to pay his fees. “I am supposed to complete the payment of my first term school fees before we begin exams for the forthcoming Easter break. I don’t know how the money is going to be paid now, “ Kunle said.
His little sister in Primary Four, Latifat, said her own fees had been paid. “But, I don’t have text books. I borrow from my friends. I also share with them in the class. My parents could not buy books for me after they paid my school fees,” she lamented.
For Mr. Femi Adeyanju, his wife, Adejoke and their two kids, Tolu and Bose, (not real names), living for over three months in a rented apartment in the suburb of Ado-Ekiti, the state capital without salary has been quite challenging.
The couple work with the Ministry of Education and as such rely on their salaries for the upkeep of their family. But, the three months they have spent without receiving salary from the state government have been a nightmare.
The 43-year-old Adeyanju, who spoke of the harrowing experience of the family said: “I’m on level 10 while my wife is on level 9 and we work with the state Ministry of Education. For about three months, we haven’t received our salaries and it has been hell as we have been living on credit. We are owing heavily, we are owing our regular commercial motorcycle operator (Okada) who takes us and our children to and from office and school. We are owing our food vendors, our landlord and others. These people are only taking things easy with us, because they know that government has been finding it difficult to pay salaries because its allocation from Abuja is grossly inadequate. Sometimes, we even hide from them when they come for their money.
“However, we cannot blame the Ekiti State government because we know that Governor Ayo Fayose is really doing his best for everyone in the state, especially we, the civil servants. We just want to plead with the Federal Government to ensure that the paltry allocation coming into Ekiti doesn’t continue to depreciate because that is really affecting us so badly. We learnt also that the Federal Government is yet to release the balance of about N20 billion out of N29 billion our state requested for as either bailout. While we cannot also put the entire blame on the Federal Government as we understand that falling price of crude oil has been affecting our economy, we want to use this medium to plead with our respected President Muhammadu Buhari to kindly separate politics from performance and pay up the balance and all entitlements due to Ekiti because by failing to do so, he is punishing Nigerians in Ekiti and not Governor Fayose who belongs to an opposition party. We want him to remember that some of us here actually voted for him and expected that he would bring change as his party promised.”
For Mr. Olu Afolabi and his wife, Funke (not real names), it is double tragedy. Though they live in their own house in Oke-ila area of Ado-Ekiti, their plight is complicated by the fact that the man of the house lost his juicy bank job six years ago, leaving the family of four kids to depend solely on his civil servant wife.
Afolabi was retrenched from a bank where he once worked in Lagos, forcing him to relocate to Ekiti, to live in the house he built together with his primary school teacher wife.
Mrs. Afolabi, said she had borne the responsibility of the family for about six years now, saying the task had become tougher since the salaries stopped coming. Her words: “Payment of school fees has been particularly impossible as we struggle to eat good food at home. What has been saving us are the good people around us. Some relatives, friends and compassionate customers who sell foodstuffs and other things on credit with the hope that we would pay once the state government pays our salary and other allowances. The situation has become unbearable and we implore the state government and particularly, the Federal Government to do something earnestly to save us. Ekiti State is a peculiar case because it is entirely a civil servants’ state and that means that without civil servants getting paid as at when due, economic activities will crumble in the state.
“The bad situation is being worsened by the continued decrease in the value of our Naira, I hear it is about N350 to a dollar now. That has made the prices of foodstuffs and other things go up overnight and continue to go up almost on a hourly basis. This is just too bad and weighing us all down. Government must do something, “ she said.
In Benue State, the story is not in any way different. Terver Ior (not real name), like other civil servants in the state, last got an alert on his mobile phone for the payment of his salary in November last year.
Since then, life has not been easy with him and his modest family of six. Feeding, clothing and the education of his children had been a burden on him.
Although, he is thankful to God that he has a house of his own, Terver however said some of his colleagues had either been threatened by their landlords with ejection if they didn’t pay up their rents while a few others have been ejected from their rented apartments after they failed to pay up.
“Some of my colleagues cannot even pay the school fees of their children and some of those children are now out of school due to the non-payment of salaries.
Ours is even better because local government staff in the state were last paid in October last year. Many of them have resorted to farming which again, is being threatened by Fulani herdsmen who graze on their farms.”
On how he had been coping without salary for months now, the father of four said he had to resort to using his small car as taxi from Makurdi to Gboko everyday to raise some money to meet daily needs of the family.
He said some of his friends who did not have cars have had to engage in commercial motorcycling business to keep body, soul and especially their family together.
When our correspondent visited the Iors, it was observed that Mrs. Ior started cooking when the children came back from school around 2:30pm and the food was not ready until around 4pm when everyone was served.
Asked why it took that long to give the children food since they came back from school, the woman of the home said, “we have adopted this style so that after this meal, everybody goes to bed till tomorrow morning. That is what we do now to cope with the challenges of this period.”
One of their children, Grace told our correspondent that sometimes, she had to go to bed with hunger adding that, initially she didn’t understand what was really happening until her father sat all of them down and explained things to them.
“Initially, I thought that Daddy had been sacked from work or something and he was trying to cover up things from us. It was when he called a family meeting and explained to us that I understood. I have since been praying for him so that the state government can get money to pay up all salary arrears owed workers in the state.”
Unlike some states of the federation, the Bayesla State government has managed to pay a section of civil servants their salaries while those at the third tier of government have almost been forgotten. Civil servants at the local government level, are being owed as much as seven months salaries.
For the local government employees, this is not the best of times, as according to them, things have continued to go from bad to worse for them and their families.
Each working day , they still go to their offices but at the end of the day, they go back home dejected and frustrated. It was learnt that some of the local government councils owe as much as seven months salaries, while some are owing four months salaries.
From Ogbia to Sagbama, Nembe to Southern Ijaw through Yenagoa, the situation is not too different, as families of affected council workers live from hand to mouth and hope against hope. To the distraught workers, they are not sure of where the next meal will come from.
One of the affected workers, who pleaded anonymity because of fear of victimization by her employers, disclosed that their situation had worsened, as most of them could no longer meet their basic needs.
“The situation is terrible for families of council workers in Bayesla, we are being owed several months’ salaries, and this made things more difficult for us Initially, we thought the salary problem was not going to last long. This made us to endure for some months, but we can no longer bear it as things have gotten out of hand. We no longer pay our children’s school fees, families now find it difficult to eat three square meals a day”, she lamented.
It was the difficult situation the council workers found themselves that forced them to lock up some of the council Secretariats for days, to demonstrate their anger over non-payment of salaries.
The Chairman of the Medical and Health Workers Union in Bayelsa, Comrade Oyabo Diemebonso, who spoke to one of our reporters narrated the pains families of local government employees are going through.
“Our children are now at home because, we cannot afford to pay their school fees. Why can’t the local government pay our salaries? Council workers are not slaves, we deserve the right to be treated like human beings,” he fumed.
The Yenagoa council workers , who are owed four months salaries said their bosses are taking them for granted . Some of the workers told Saturday Sun how they stopped going to their offices because of lack of transportation fare. According to the chairman of National Union of Local Government Employees of Nigeria (NULGE), Yenagoa Branch, Comrade Oyoro Kwaku, members of the union are facing bleak future, adding that they were not sure of the time they would be paid.
“Council workers in this state have bleak future, we are not sure of what to eat the next day. The council has lost 10 female staff , due to lack of access to medical facilities, as they did not have money to pay for treatment. Many homes are suffering,” he lamented.
In Imo state, workers have been having a running battle with government over the issue of salary arrears. But the state governor last December paid ten months arrears to all the civil servants in the state while the salaries of January and February are yet to be paid.
However, life for the family of Issac Nwachukwu could be described as anything but blissful as daily living has become a struggle for this family of three. The paucity of money to buy their basic necessities has nothing to do with the lack of employment. If he was unemployed it would have been understandable. But he is indeed an employee of the Imo state water corporation, a parastatal of the state government.
The financial woes of the Nwachukwus is as a result of the non- payment of his salaries by state government, as he received his last pay cheque in December of 2015 when the state governor ordered for all the outstanding salary arrears of all civil servants to be paid and especially those of the parastatals which the state had already concessioned its management and all the workers summarily sacked.
The threat by the Nigeria Labour Congress to shut down the state has however forced the state government to rescind its decision. However, it is not yet uhuru for the Nwachukwus as he has not been paid for the months of January and February.
One of our Correspondents who was an August guest of the Nwachukwus at their two-room apartment at Irete, a suburb of Owerri, the Imo state capital observed that indeed, things have been tough for the junior staff of the Imo State water corporation whose salary is less than N40,000 a month.
When our correspondent arrived at the home of the Nwachukwus early in the evening, the wife, Mrs Christiana Nwachukwu was cooking white beans for dinner. But immediately the kids (Ndidi, 6 and Amara 4) spotted their father, the first thing they asked for was the snack he had obviously promised to buy for them when returning from work. As usual with kids, they registered their disappointment and started weeping when their father could not produce anything. But to pacify the kids, our correspondent handed out N200 to buy the snack they wanted.
But Nwachukwu who could not hide his embarrassment said that his kids would not understand whether there is money or not, adding that all they want is to get their request provided and immediately too.
Interestingly, when Mrs Nwachukwu served the cooked beans and garri for dinner, the kids refused to eat as they demanded for noodles. But the woman of the house shut them up, saying beans was for that night while noodles would only be served as dinner for the next day. will be for tomorrow night. Yet, the elder of the two stuck to her demand. But the seeming impasse was solved when our correspondent offered their mother N200 enable her buy the noodles which the kids wanted for dinner.