By Wole Mosadomi
Minna -Their zeal for work was palpable; which is why everyday these workers, mostly women, some with their babies resting firmly on their backs, defy sun and rain as they stormÂ major streets of Minna, the Niger state capital, with brooms and rakes in their hands to keep the streets clean. And with time, theyÂ succeeded in transforming the once dirty environment to a more friendly and habitable place.
Unfortunately, the popular saying that a labourer deserves his wage has not applied to them in recent time. These women who are said to have been engaged for almost one year by a private environmental agency through the state government to keep Minna clean by sweeping the major streets of the state capital claim they are being owed one year in salaries.
In anger over this unjustifiable development, the women, numbering over 200 took to the streets of Minna and marched to the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) to protest against the non-payment of their salaries. To add more salt to their injuries, the gate of the NTA which they saw as their final resort was locked against them.
Though they did not carry placards, the aggrieved women, with some carrying their babies on their backs, angrily brandished green leaves and chorusedÂ various protest songs in Hausa demanding governmentâ€™s response to their unpaid salaries. It was a pathetic scene as some of them wept uncontrollably as they narrated their ordeal to our correspondent who stumbled on them during the protest.
Spokeswomen of the group, Mrs. Jummai Moses told Vanguard Metro that most of the women are aged and widows who have no other means of livelihood. She said the women numbering about 500 were engaged as casual workers by Remi O Nigeria Limited to sweep some portions of the major streets of the town. According to her, they were engaged in July last year and started work immediately, saying: â€œUp till now, nobody has been given even one kobo since we started the workâ€.
Besides non-payment, the women said they personally provided working tools to sweep and even go as much as using their bare hands to park all sorts of garbage dumped indiscriminately by the road sides. Each of the worker is expected to be paid N8,000 monthly which, however, not been paid in about one year.
Twice they attempted to storm the streets of Minna to protest the non-payment, but twice they were pacified to jettison their plans and they complied.
â€œWe have to resort to this because we donâ€™t have an alternative and we want the state government to intervene immediately by paying us our one year salaries of N8,000 each,â€ Mrs. Moses pleaded.
…As buck-passing trails allegation of non-payment of salaries
Reacting to the development, the Managing Director of Remi O Agency, Mr. Ihedoro Remi Ojinnaka admitted that though he engaged the women but that the Niger State Environment Protection Agency (NSEPA) was expected to settle their salaries.
In an interview with our correspondent, the MD said though there was no official documentation of the contract between him and the state government, the Agency gave him a verbal approval to mobilize to site and commence work which he did.
Mr. Ojinnaka said what gave him an assurance of recognition by government was an official letter from NISEPA commending his organisation for a job â€œwell doneâ€; that is,Â keeping Minna clean after three months of commencing the work. He said the letter of commendation was enough assurance of governmentâ€™s endorsement of his work and an encouragement to keep the work going.
He said the worst, however, came between November and December last year when the workers accused him of denying them of their legitimate salaries. He said that but after pleading with them again, they returned back to work thinking that sunshine will surely come after the rains. However, the hope of both the private agency and the 500 workers is now hanging in the balance as there is no indication that the salaries will be paid any time soon.
The General Manager of the Niger State Environmental Protection Agency (NISEPA), Dr. Yakubu Muhammed Bello while reacting to the development disowned Remi O. Nig. Ltd., saying: â€œNISEPA and by extension the state government does not recogniseÂ any agency so-called by that name because there is nothing on record to show that there is an agreement with itâ€.
The General Manager said though NISEPA had discussion with 33 private waste collectors but that none met the requirements of the Agency and that invariably, no contract was entered into with any of them.
â€œWe are surprised about the claim by Remi O of engaging about 500 workers to keep Minna clean without signing any form of Memorandum of Understanding (M.O.U) with it or entering into any form of contract with it. More shocking is the fact that while the other so-called agencies are not making noise since they fall into the same category, the MD of Remi O is inciting his acclaimed workers against government,â€ the GM remarked. Dr. Bello further explained that the agreement on record was a tripartite agreement between his Agency, the private waste collectors and revenue collectors which was 60 per cent of proceeds from the collection of refuse to the private collectors, 20 per cent to the Revenue collectors, 10 per cent to the Agency, five per cent to be saved while the balance of five per cent was expected to be used for data collection and management.
The General Manager said since the agreement collapsed, no MOU of contract paper was signed between government and any private waste collector adding that those on the pay roll of government engaged as casual workers to keep the city clean are only 200 and they are paid N5,000 monthly without any default.
Dr. Bello therefore called on the MD of REMI O to desist from parading himself as a contractor engaged by the state government to collect waste on its behalf and stop inciting the women against the state government as it could lead to a break down of law and order.
He advised the company to go to court if he is aggrieved or feel cheated instead of taking laws into his hands.