One of the reasons civil servants under the aegis of the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC embarked on a nationwide protest yesterday, was to show their displeasure at the killing of two of their members on July 29 while some civil servants were awaiting the outcome of negotiations with the Nasarawa State governor in Lafia, by trigger-happy policemen drafted to maintain order at the government house.
I was in Keffi, Nasarawa State days after that incident in Lafia, the state capital, and I was reliably informed that the official number of dead was conservative at best. The case of Nasarawa state causes me so much heartache because I’d thought that the state may just be one of the good news from the north, that most often than not manages to produce some of the most disheartening headlines in Nigeria. For instance, this week alone we were welcomed with news of the burning of the house of a good Samaritan in Zamfara State, in which eight occupants were burnt to death, because he dared to rescue a student accused of blasphemy against Islam and it’s prophet, and had been descended upon by a mob, to the hospital.
Umaru Tanko Al-Makura’s first term as governor of Nasarawa, like some other governors in Nigeria was one that heralded some infrastructural development, and I wrote about many of those in my earlier missives following visits to the state severally in the past. However, things started to go awry just before the last election when it appeared that the majority Eggon indigenous people of the state had decided to have one of their own in power by all means necessary. So much so that they, at some point were at crossroads with Nigeria’s security agencies, leading to the abduction and killing of some policemen and members of the state’s secret service, with the tacit backing of a strong priest and diviner, who served then as the rallying point for the political agitations of the Eggon.
This action invited a crackdown from the security agencies, as well as the state government, whose position appeared threatened. Interestingly, many villages were attacked by Fulani herdsmen, leaving the survivors no option but to seek refuge in safe places in town for a long period, such that by the time of the elections they were still in refugee camps scattered across the state, and couldn’t exercise their democratic right and franchise. The political capital this earned the incumbent governor at the time, leading to his reelection, is one reason why many think the attack on the villages had the blessing of the governor, seeing as he was the beneficiary of that action, though I mustn’t discountenance the fact that the majority ethnic group also shot itself in the foot by presenting two of their own as candidates in two opposition parties. The strong man and diviner, Baba Alakyo has kind of gone under the radar, immediately before the election in March 2015 to this present time.
Al-Makura won reelection, but there now existed a heightened level of distrust between the government and the governed. This, coupled with the fact that the federal allocations to states began to dwindle due to the falling price of crude oil in the international market, as well as attacks on oil and gas exploration infrastructure in the Niger Delta ensuring a reduced production capacity, meant that the Nasarawa State government like many others in Nigeria couldn’t meet up with its financial obligations, including the payment of salaries of civil servants, as and at when due.
Even when bailouts was approved by the federal government to the states, the situation barely changed either because the governors considered settling of debts from contractual agreements of a higher priority than paying staff salaries, or by the time the bailout funds hit the state governments’ accounts they were immediately held down by the banks from which they had borrowed to fund governmental and nongovernmental activities, including politics for which many of the governors had been blamed for plunging state funds into, first to perpetrate themselves in power, and also, in the case of the All Progressives Congress, committed to the cause of dealing a defeat to the then ruling People’s Democratic Party, PDP at the center which at the time had the power of incumbency, state instruments of coercion, and as we now know a war chest of funds initially allocated to the battle against the Boko Haram insurgency in the Northeast of Nigeria, that was diverted for political and electioneering purposes.
During my last visit, I had encountered a senior civil servant whose salary is about =N=170,000, but was paid =N=14,000 in August as salary for July this year. In fact when he received an SMS he’d thought he saw =N=140,000 till he looked properly to find the actual amount, before coming to his wits end. This man has three wives and many children and was at a loss for words as he handed me his phone to peruse (of which I noticed that he invested also in sports betting). Because I had visited during the long vacation period and schools were closed, I wasn’t able to meet the headmaster of a school who was said to be in the habit of coming in the morning, attend the assembly, settle a few issues in his office, before heading to his farm only to return in the afternoon to lock up his office after school, since Governor Al-Makura led government began to default in paying his salaries as and at when due.
This headmaster appeared to be putting into practice already, what Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State planned for his workers in proposing a 3-day work week, where the last two days will be devoted to workers finding other sources of income to put their hands to in a bid to reduce the load from salaries of civil servants employed full time, through the work week, though this headmaster in question did his during the work hours. The trend in Nasarawa State now is, once any workers union go to protest or on strike, he simply orders the premises where they work shut and security agents dispatched there to ensure that workers don’t access their workplace for any reason whatsoever, while drumming it in their ears that the “NO WORK, NO PAY” rule will be applied.
Governor Al-Makura has become so unpopular in Nasarawa State that the last time he traveled on land, he was stoned and since then elects to reach his destinations, when outside the capital by helicopter only, leaving almost immediately after inspecting projects he intends to implement but never do, before cameras that are not intent to show the discontent in the face of heavily screened audiences. Last night, when I was picking the last news for the day before nodding off, the attorney general of Nasarawa State was on the news reacting to the NLC strike. He explained that what his governor did was to withdraw the bogus benefits accruing to workers after the increase in minimum wage in 2011, which the state was magnanimous to be paying till the economic situation went south. I wondered how true that was considering the case of the senior civil servant I shared with you. Before I could turn off the TV in anger, power supply to my street went out.