A lot of preventable deaths and suicides have been recorded among civil servants and their family members in Kogi State over the last few months. Civil servants have been having a hard time due to extreme hardship resulting from several months of nonpayment of salaries since the present government under the leadership of Governor Yahaya Bello took over.
Since 2017, civil servants in different sectors in the state have lamented, protested and demanded justice, fairness and equity for not just the slash of their salaries, but nonpayment of the remaining percentage for months.
A good number of civil servants unwillingly resorted to farming, or other menial jobs like taxi driving, to make ends meet. But the level of poverty has been on the rise. Due to high financial constraint among civil servants and other residents of the state, many families have not been able to stand on their feet. Many children have been forced out of school as their parents could no longer afford their fees, while some resorted have become perpetual debtors to their wards’ schools instead of withdrawing them.
Many civil servants have lost either their lives or that of their family members to preventable death due to their financial inability to access and afford necessary medical care while some committed suicide as the last option to end the suffering.
Demand for Salaries
On several occasions through meetings, protests and letters,civil servants and pensioners in the state have cried and made their grievances and pains known to the state government, and the world. However, the demand for the payment of workers’ salaries either met counter plans and statement or unfulfilled promises.
Kogi State chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) Comrade Onuh Edoka, had earlier In the year in Lokoja on behalf of thousands of workers at the 40th anniversary of NLC, told the governor that his policies are “mostly anti-workers”. He noted that the union is aware of the premature retirement and termination of workers’ appointment by the Bello administration.
Comrade Edoka said, “Your excellency, workers sitting here today said I should ask you where is our salary? As your obedient servants, we are dying. As people who have contributed their quota in Kogi state and have left the service, as pensioners we are dying.
“To this end, we wish to compassionately appeal to you. We are aware that allocation came to Kogi state last month and by the statement of the commissioner for finance, what came as allocation to the state was put at N4.3 billion and what came to local governments was put at N3.8 billion. To this end, up till this moment, no salaries have been paid in Kogi state.
“We are already aware that as at yesterday, FAAC meeting has already been held and over N638 billion has been shared and I know Kogi State government will have a share in it. Let our own not drop into river Niger again.”
Lamenting on the introduction of percentage cut in salaries by Governor Bello’s administration, the Kogi NLC head, said, “I will make it clearer that this government for the first time in the history of the state introduced what they called percentage salaries to workers and pensioners. If civil service has been kept in this form before the coming of this administration, the civil service would have been in disarray.”
In 2017, civil servants and pensioners jointly sent a letter titled, “Save Our Soul” and signed by the Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP, youth leaders and a lawyer in the state, Mr. Usman Okai Austine demanding for the payment of workers’ salaries and pensions.
In the letter, Mr. Usman said, it is “evident that the common denominators in Kogi state today are; starvation, depression and neglect which was as a results of the over 14 months non-payment of salaries and pensions to the workers and pensioners, some of whom are dying almost on daily basis arising from avoidable circumstances.”
The letter further maintained that all the financial interventions meant to ameliorate the sufferings of civil servants and pensioners have been grossly misappropriated and mismanaged.
On May 2018, the United Labour Congress, ULC, in a statement by its chairman, Comrade Simeon Opaluwa, warned Governor Bello to stop politicizing the payment of salaries to workers, maintaining that “almost eighty per cent of our workers in Kogi State have not collected their salaries between four and 20 months under the present administration.
Months of Unpaid Salaries
The number of months of unpaid salaries in Kogi state varies by individual worker. Workers in the state said the variation in the months of unpaid salaries amongst workers is due to the screening exercise introduced by Governor Bello immediately he assumed office.
Despite the pains and difficulties they are passing through, no civil servant or pensioner boldly mentions his/her name or organization when speaking with journalists for fear of “victimization by the higher authority.”
A civil servant from Kabba/Bunu who neither wanted his name nor his organization mentioned, said he has not been paid twenty-four (24) months salaries. He said, “I became a taxi driver because life has been too frustrating for me and my family. The government owes me 24 months salaries. I don’t want my name or my organization to be mentioned because I may be victimized in one way or the other or even lose the 24 months’ salary’”.
He continued, “First, it started with the fact that if you are working in Kabba and you go to a bank in Obajana to get your salary, you will either not be paid or get your salary slashed for what the governor calls ‘Diaspora worker’.
“Meanwhile, he (the governor) is the one who opened account with Zenith Bank Plc. for every civil servant, not minding the fact that the bank in question does not have branch everywhere in the state.”
A woman (civil servant) who also pleaded anonymity said, “I have not been paid 21 months’ salary. I am just returning from Lokoja where I was asked to come for checking and verifying of my documents. This is the third time I have been asked to do that.
“Initially, my name was among those the governor said had issues after the screening. Then, when I wrote to them, I was asked to go to Lokoja to check my name and documents. I went two times, yet no positive outcome, then I complained again and I was asked to go to Lokoja again.”
A lecturer with one of the higher institutions in the state said, “I just returned from a nearby chemist shop where I went to buy some drugs. I am a lecturer but I have not been paid 11 months’ salary.
“I have been seriously sick for a long time but I don’t have money to treat myself. As you can see, I am unable to enter inside the house because all my joints couldn’t move. One of my colleagues died few months ago. Base on my health condition now I might be the next if I am not paid.”
Some secondary school principals and teachers said they are owed between 6-11 months’ salaries, even when they have been cleared after the screening exercise. It was learnt that some of the salary arrears are either from 2016, 2017 or 2018.
Frustration, Suicide and Preventable Death
With no money to take care of their families, pay accumulated bills, treat themselves or their sick family members, civil servants and pensioners become frustrated and hypertensive. Whereas many died of preventable deaths, some resorted to suicide as their last option.
Edward Soje Commits Suicide
Mr. Edward Soje, 54, who was a director in the Kogi State civil service, committed suicide by hanging himself on a tree behind the barracks in Lokoja, the state capital on October 16, 2017.
Mr. Soje was reported to have taken his life barely 10 days after his wife gave birth to a set of male triplets in a private hospital in Abuja.
Soje, a Grade Level 16 Officer in the Kogi State Teaching Service Commission, who hailed from Ogori town in Ogori-Magongo Local Government area of the state, was being owed 11 months’ salary arrears as at the time he took his life.
It was reported that Soje had before the incident been going through a lot of financial pressure due to non-payment of his salaries for 11 months by the Kogi State Government as he was among thousands of civil servants being owed between two and 21 months’ salary arrears by the state government.
Haruna David, slumps and dies in the office
In June 2018, Haruna David, who was a staff of the Ministry of Education, Lokoja, slumped and died in his office, when he heard that his March salary would not be paid as proposed by the state government.
Haruna was said to have complained to his colleagues about the hardships he was going through following the non-payment of salaries by the state government.
It was reported that he had complained that in the past few weeks before his death, it had been difficult meeting his family obligations, adding that in the past three days, he had to beg from neighbours to feed his family.
Sources in the ministry confirmed that the last time he collected salary was the half salary paid in February 2018 which could not pay the backlog of debts he incurred before the payment of the 50 per cent salary.
David was reportedly full of life earlier in the day he eventually slumped and died immediately he got information that his March salary would no longer be paid.
Dr. Rosemary dies, Dr. Nuhu, three nurses, Maternity attendant slump
Also in June, 2018, Head, Department of Internal Medicine, Kogi State Specialist Hospital (KSSH) in Lokoja, Dr. Chukwudibe Rosemary slumped and died while on duty.
Rosemary’s death was attributed to the non-payment of salary as her name was omitted on the list of the March salary, which made her situation so bad because some tests such as Pylori which she was to have, were not run on her because she said she had no money to pay.
Her colleagues said she died as a result of lack of money to buy her drugs as she was not paid March salary when others were paid, “and for somebody who has not been paid since February and has been missing her drugs, it will not be difficult to understand the complications that set in at night.”
There was more confusion and perplexity as another doctor, Idris Nuhu, three nurses and an attendant in the maternity ward slumped on hearing about Rosemary’s death. It was learnt that they had not been paid since February this year.
Yakubu Nataala Slumps and Dies
Early October this year, (2018), a lecturer with the Kogi State Polytechnic, Lokoja, Mr. Yakubu Nataala, reportedly slumped and died at his Kogi Poly quarters’ residence in Lokoja, the state capital.
He was reported to have last received his salary in July 2017.
The Public Relations Officer of the institution, Luke Tijan said Mr. Yakubu who was operated upon as a result of ruptured appendicitis, died as a result of complications arising from the operation, contrary to the information that he slumped and died.
Tijan however, confirmed that he was among some of the lecturers that have not been paid salaries due to the screening exercise by the state government.
Government Claims on Salary Payment
Despite multiple reports on the nonpayment of workers’ salaries, the Kogi state government has consistently debunked every allegation related to salaries issue.
Governor Yahaya Bello maintained that workers’ welfare has always been his priority. He has directly and through some of his aides debunked several deaths and suicide of any civil servants linked to nonpayment of salaries.
On January 2018, Governor Bello said his administration borrowed N10 billion to clear four-month salary areas before the December, 2017, Christmas celebration.
Governor Bello said the loan was added to the over N1.2 billion that accrued to the state from Paris Club refund as well as the state’s November and December allocations.
He was quoted to have said, “In Kogi State today, we are up to date as far as salary is concerned… We didn’t just stop at that, we borrowed up to N10 billion and we added November/December allocation to our figures and we were able to clear four months at a stretch before Christmas and some leftover were cleared before this January in Kogi State.”
Bello said civil servants and pensioners in the state are all happy with his administration.
Responding to the death of Mr. Edward Soje whose suicide was linked to nonpayment of his salaries, the head, Kogi state civil service, Ms. Deborah Ogunmola, in a statement said the death of Edward Soje should not be blamed on the state government.
Ms. Ogunmola maintained that Mr. Soje was caught in false age declaration practices during a staff verification exercise introduced by Governor Bello.
She said Soje’s pay was stopped after proof emerged that he falsified his age records, maintaining that his confession to the offence is on video.
Ms. Ogunmola was quoted to have said in the statement that “following engagements with Labour which spanned several months, the Kogi State Governor magnanimously commuted the disciplinary action due against certain categories of offenders by grant of pardon. Mr. Soje fell into one of the categories…”
Kogi state government has also in other instances debunked allegations of nonpayment of workers’ salaries and its claimed unfortunate effects.
Governor Bello said On January, 2018, that the state was up-to-date in payment of workers’ salaries.
However, interaction with some workers revealed that some of them who have been cleared are yet to receive their 2017 salary arrears which stand between five and nine months.
On Tuesday, November 13, 2018, the state government commenced table payment of all its workers in Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
The table payment involves payment of between three to four months’ salary to workers over a period of two weeks.
It should be understood that table payment means that all the workers under each designated centre should be in queue at the centre on the designated date(s) for the centres to collect cheque for their salaries.
While the measure has no doubt brought some succor, workers in the state have continued to cry out, as many say what they have received has only gone into paying for debts owed over the months the salaries did not come. They still cried out that government hasten efforts to pay the remaining outstanding to ameliorate their sufferings.
Credits: Sunday Elom | Ripples Nigeria