FAMILIES, FRIENDS RALLY ROUND UNPAID GOVT WORKERSStill owed salaries, some for up to three months, civil servants devise survival strategies, CHUX OHAI, FOLASHADE ADEBAYO, BUKOLA ADEBAYO and GEOFF IYATSE write

Towards the end of 2014, The PUNCH exclusively reported that about 70,000 civil servants in 30 Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the Federal Government were being owed salaries for three months.

Investigation also revealed that some states, such as Osun, Oyo, Benue and Plateau owed their workers between three and four months’ salaries.

Prominent among the defaulting ministries were Education, Works, Labour and Productivity, Mines and Power.

Unfortunately, recent investigation shows that while some affected civil servants across the country barely managed to ‘scrape through’ Christmas, many others are still facing a possibly bleak financial future.

A new and ‘shocking’ experience

One of those deeply affected by the failure of the MDAs to pay their staff their salaries is Austyn Afam, who works with a key federal ministry in Abuja.

For the first time in his life, Afam marked the Yuletide without the usual fanfare that he was accustomed to.

Also, for the first time in his 20-year career in the federal civil service, he could not afford to buy his children new clothes and shoes, as well as Christmas presents.

Afam is still being owed three months salaries. Like many of his colleagues, the continued delay in the payment of arrears due to him has seriously affected his plans for 2015. What he considers to be most painful is the fact that he is forced to borrow money from his friends, associates and relatives for the upkeep of his family.

Describing the situation as a new and shocking experience, he says, “I have never been owed salaries before. This is a completely shocking experience. In the past, those of us who worked in the federal civil service never had cause to complain about non payment of salaries. Only those who worked with the state ministries and agencies complained.

“The last time I ever sought financial assistance from other people was 20 years ago, when I started out as a junior civil servant. It is humiliating to go cap in hand to other people and ask for help. This has never been my style.”

What makes the experience more humiliating for him was that before Christmas he had to borrow money from a popular money lender near his neighbourhood to pay his children’s school fees.

“There was nowhere else to turn to for help. The management of my children’s school sent a letter to me on two occasions and I had to find the money to pay their fees by all means or risk having them sent away from school. That is what happens when you are not paid your wages when due,” Afam says.

No ‘13th month’ bonus

Before now, another affected civil servant who works with a federal agency in Lagos, Chris Sojo, had looked forward to receiving his annual post-Yuletide bonus, popularly referred to as the ‘13th month’ salary. Unfortunately, with the current situation, it is obvious that this will no longer be possible.

“My brother, this is the first time that we have not been paid the bonus. To think that I had already planned how to spend the money, I am just disappointed,” he says, in an interview with one of our correspondents.

Doctors also affected

Even health workers who have served for many years, such as 42 year-old Segun Akintunde, are affected by the development. A highly respected paediatrician, Akintunde is the family physician to the proprietress of the school his kids attend in Ikeja, Lagos. He is always the first person to be contacted for help whenever any pupil falls sick.

However, the reverence he enjoys appears to be seriously threatened as he, a resident doctor with the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi- Araba, has yet to pay the kids’ school fees for the second term.

The doctor complained to our correspondent that his December salary, which he had planned to use to pay the fees have not been paid by the Federal Government.

Akintunde said though his two kids had resumed, like their peers, he intentionally did not attend a meeting that the school authority had invited him to on Tuesday over the delayed fees.

He said,“I am a member of the Parent Teachers Association of the school and it goes without saying that I should not be the one defaulting on school fees. In fact, the proprietress, who is my patient, has been calling me since Monday, I could not answer the phone. It is a thing of shame that a doctor working for government does not have money to pay school fees.

“ I can’t even go and drop them in the morning at school, I had to get a driver to be doing that because I don’t know what I will tell the principal who thinks highly of me because I am a doctor. The only reason why my children have not been sent back home is probably because of the pro bono job I have done for them when they had medical emergencies before now.”

Asked how he had been coping with his financial handicap since November, Akintunde lamented, “We are not coping at all. It was a low-key Yuletide for me. I could not even afford to buy clothes for my children. The little ‘change’ I had saved from November was what I used to buy text books and some other school items for them.

“For now, we are just treating patients on compassionate grounds. Ideally we should stay at home and demand that we wouldn’t resume until we are paid. But if we do that, people will start abusing doctors. But we are moving close to that.”

A medical officer with the University College Hospital, Ibadan, Oyo State, also lamented that he had to postpone a planned visit to his family in Akure, Ondo State, last December because he had not been paid his salary.

Akintunde said his son was sent home from school on Monday because he had failed to pay the lad’s school fees.

He said, “I have not gone to check my family in Akure since last year because I don’t have the money. I just sent a stipend to my wife and children for the festivities. I stayed back and managed myself with the little money I get from consulting for other patients outside the hospital, which is not much.

“Our morale is weak right now, and we know that is not good for patients. We must be in the right frame of mind because in our line of job, there is no room for errors. But how do I do that when my kids’ school authorities keep calling about the delay in my child’s school fees?”

Dry Christmas for teachers

Many teachers across the country also had a dry Christmas and New Year Celebration. For many of them, there was no cloth to cut to their sizes during the period.

A head teacher of a public primary school in Osogbo, Osun State, Mrs. Tundun Awe (not real names), said the state government is owing the teachers two months’ salaries. The woman who spoke anonymously for fear of punishment said she had to cut costs during the celebrations.

“It was the lowest financial situation for my family in recent times. The delay in the payment of salary started around October last year and the governor (Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola) even urged head teachers and principals to owe creditors to keep schools running. We in the primary schools get a running grant once per term and only 75 per cent was paid last term. Today (Wednesday), the Nigerian Union o Teachers just sent a communiqué calling off the strike and saying that the state government will provide exam and running grant in August when the economy improves.

“We were able to manage because my husband, a businessman, took drastic decisions. We decided against Christmas clothes and hosting of family members. There was no drama, we just made everything as simple as possible because we don’t know what the New Year will look like,’’ she said.

Unlike the Awes, another teacher, Mr. Kareem Ajayi, (not real names), went the extra mile to provide for his family during the Yuletide. According to him, the pay package of any teacher is too small to generate considerable savings, thus he had to resort to borrowing to keep body and soul together.

“What savings are you talking about? I exhausted it a long time ago. My wife is a petty trader and I have two children in the university. What could I do? I had to borrow. There was no fanfare in my family during Christmas and all I cared about was the payment of school fees. That had to be settled first. It is unfortunate that we are being treated this way, we worked or our pay.

“I work in a secondary school and no grant has been paid in the last one year. Doors are broken and roofs are leaking. There is no provision or teaching aids and salary. We have been pushed to the wall,’’ he lamented.

The Secretary-General, Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria, Mr. Alade Bashir Lawal, had recently alleged that more than 700,000 civil servants have yet to be paid three months salaries and other benefits. One of our correspondents learnt that some state governments are also indebted to their teachers.

In Ogun State, however, what looked like a respite came on Tuesday when teachers were paid their December salaries. One of the teachers who got a bank alert on Tuesday, put blamed the delay on the Federal Government. “The state government is trying its best. The rest of us who have not been paid just got our bank alerts. Some were paid late December. But we learnt that the Federal Government is not giving out enough allocations,’’ she said.

Speaking to one of our correspondents on Wednesday, the President, Nigerian Union of Teachers, Mr. Michael Alogba, called on the affected states to pay up. According to him, the NUT will not hesitate to square up with government if the situation persists.

“We are worried because an injury to one is an injury to all. But that is Nigeria for you. I am using this opportunity to appeal and plead with the states affected to pay up. If they refuse to pay, they will see the wrath of teachers. We are giving them this week, but if they default, we will issue an ultimatum to them next week,’’ he said.

Different strokes for different folks

An employee of an agency of the Ministry of Health, who gave his name as Olajede, is still expecting his December salary. While some of his colleagues waited in vain for their salaries to be paid and had to maintain a very low profile during the season, he virtually survived the Yuletide on the proceeds from his personal business.

“The salary is small. It is not enough to pay my rent, feed my family and fuel my car. So I don’t really look forward to it. Why should I weep over the non-payment of such a meager amount? I do my business and that is what sustained me,” he said.

Most of Olajede’s colleagues, investigation showed, had to rely on the goodwill of their friends to raise money. The agency, according to Olajede, raised some money to support them in the form of a loan.

The loan, which he said was far less than their monthly take-home, did not get to everybody who applied for it, as the Lagos-based establishment chose to extend it to only those with good credit history.

One of those who benefited from the loan said the money was “just a stipend. What I got was less than 30 per cent of my salary. I am not sure everybody was given the same percentage or amount.

“It also had to do with your relationship with the person in charge. If he felt that you would not pay back, he might not give you anything because it is not free money and he may not have the time to be chasing everybody to pay back.”

In Abuja, our correspondents gathered, those who were paid gave helping hand to their colleagues who were affected. A member of staff of the National Poverty Eradication Programme said his friends from the ministries of Education, Health and Works and agencies under them that were affected relied on informal loans.

“It was common to have some people who were paid sharing offices with colleagues who were not paid. For instance, some of my colleagues whose salaries are domiciled in affected ministries did not receive some eventually got on December 31).

“Those of us who received had to come to their support. But those who could not get soft landing had to cancel planned journeys and other engagement. Of course, the majority got one form of help or the other to survive the hard period,” he said.

by: Chux Ohai, Folashade Adebayo, Bukola Adebayo and Geoff Iyatse

Copyright PUNCH.


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