By IKE UCHECHUKWU
CALABAR—NUMEROUS workers of the Cross River Geographic Information Agency, CRGIA, and Cross River State Water Board Limited, CRWBL, Calabar, thrown out of their homes by their landlords for inability to pay house rent currently sleep in uncompleted buildings and churches.
Some of the affected workers owed a backlog of 15-18 months salaries by the state government have also been dragged to court by the landlords.
Penultimate Thursday, angry workers of the two agencies barricaded the Governor’s Office, Calabar, saying they were exhausted.
They noted that different government officials had promised them that something would be done when the arrears were about six months, only to surprisingly renege and now, it has soared to 15 months for CRGIA and 18 months for CRWBL workers.
We’re treated like beggars – Ibor, CRGIA worker
One of the affected workers and a staff of CRGIA, Nelson Ibor, confirmed that his landlord charged him to court because he could not pay his house rent that elapsed in November, 2017.
His words: “Our situation is like a nightmare which we are begging God to wake us up from. We are being owed 15 months salaries while our directors and other management staff have received salaries till date. We are treated like beggars; I have three children and all of them have been sitting at home for more than two terms.”
16 workers thrown out by landlords
“To make matters worse, nobody is doing anything about it; we have been left in the dark. As we speak, 16 of my colleagues have been thrown out of their houses already, some sleep in churches while some sleep in uncompleted buildings. We are really suffering. His Excellency, Prof. Ben Ayade should look into our plight because it has already gotten out of hands. Many of us collected bank loans that we do not even know how to pay back,” he asserted.
“As I speak with you, I will be appearing in court on Tuesday, my landlord sued me because I have not paid him since July, last year. Two of my children have dropped out of school, I am a widower, and I have three children. I now live from hand to mouth. We generated a lot of money in 2017 – over N200 million – I do not understand why they have turned us to beggars. We live at the mercy of friends and good spirited people.
I and my children live in uncompleted building – Casual staff
A casual staff said: “I now live in an uncompleted building with my children and my wife had to go back to the village, Okpoma in Yala. Because I cannot afford to allow my children to drop out of school, I live in an unfinished building with my children hoping that I will be able to raise money before the end of March to pay rent, even if it is a one-room apartment.
“We were thrown out in November last year because I have owed my landlord for a year and two months, he ran out of patience and I do not blame him at all. Not everyone will even be as patient as he was with me for that long.
“We are pleading with His Excellency, Prof. Ben Ayade and Commissioner for Lands to please help us, they should pay our money, we are dying, we have become destitute and internally displaced persons, IDPs, in our own land. A labourer deserves his wages, we have worked, we should also be paid,” he asserted.
SOS to Gov. Ayade
In a letter to the governor, CRGIA workers said: “We want to bring to the notice of Your Excellency the non-payment of salaries at CRGIA for over 15 months. It would interest you to know that the agency generated N260 million in 2017, N400 million in 2016 while it generated N800 million in 2015, but our salary was just a meager 55 million, yet, nobody wants to attend to our plight.
“We are appealing to His Excellency to come to our aid and help us clear the backlog of our salaries, most of our colleagues have died, many are sleeping in churches because they have been thrown out of their houses, we are going through a lot of psychological, physical and emotional trauma because of this ugly development,” they said.
CRWBL workers also cry out
On their part, CRWBL staff, who also blocked the entrance to the Governor’s Office, demanded their 18 months salaries, adding that they could no longer continue to work without pay.
“They owe us for one year and six months. Many of our counterparts have died, some of us have put in 12 years as ad-hoc staff (casual workers), we want the meager allowances to be paid now, some of us receive as low as N25,000, yet they have owed us this money for 18 months. We know Ayade has a listening ear, he should help us.
6 staff almost suffocated in the office last week’
“We are the heart of Water Board, amongst us, we have highly technical personnel who have been working with water board for over a decade, yet they have not been absorbed into the system.
“But that is not even our problem now, they should pay us, those who work in the chemical section, the main people who mix the chlorine and do water treatment. I cannot even remember the last time I got milk from the office. Last week, about six of our colleagues almost suffocated because they could not get milk,” he stated.
Gov working on the matter already- Orji, Commissioner
Contacted, Commissioner for Water Resources, Mr. Odu Orji, said: “The governor whose philosophy is to make sure that there is food on the table of every citizen of the state has already directed an official, Dr Stephen Odey, to take charge of the place in a bid to ensure that the matter was handled appropriately.”
“You people should exercise more patience, the matter will be resolved in the soonest possible time,” he assured.
Director-General of CRGIA, Patrick Agida, referred our reporter to Mr. Christian Ita, Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, who was unreachable as at the time of this report.