By Ezekiel Dontinna
IT was not just for the purpose of keeping the streets clean alone, but also a deliberate source of employment for widows and the less privileged women on the Plateau that street cleaners were employed. The exercise was carried out with the primary aim of cushioning the difficulties they are faced with.
The idea was quite welcomed and it received commendations across the state as a number of them were seen as early as 6am in their reflective jackets, clearing both natural and human waste across the state to respective dust bins.
Apart from the health benefits of keeping our environment clean, the programme no doubt has been able to put food on people’s table since they take home a token every month as their salaries. It is a step in the right direction. And it has also kept the state clean and healthy to live in.
Introduced in the first quota of the last administration and adopted by the present Lalong-led administration, the staff strength of Plateau State street cleaners, have risen to over five thousand (5000) with every local government area having at least one hundred and fifty staff.
However, in the past thirteen years of its existence, the women have been exposed to all manner of dangers ranging from rape, clearing of human dung and toxics, running into decomposed babies or bodies of mad persons to mention but a few. In spite of this, the women’s show of commitment to their work has been wonderful.
In as much as we appreciate government for the prompt payment of their salaries as at when due, we will also wish to draw its attention to the call for improved salary package for them. When Hon. (Mrs) Esther Dusu, member representing Jos-North-West in the Plateau State House of Assembly presented a bill before the House recently requesting for an improved salary structure for these streets cleaners, it received quick responses.
The widows were all over the streets singing praise songs eulogizing the member saying in Hausa “Mama akwai dadi”, meaning “Sweet Mother”. This, of course, is not far from the fact that, for the past thirteen years (13)yrs, they were receiving eight thousand naira (N8,00) as their salary despite changes in minimum wage from seven thousand to eighteen and now the struggle for thirty thousand naira.
It is possible that the House member being a woman and knowing the difficulties these women are faced with, even with the salary they take home every month, decided to take their cry before the House. She stressed that, the eight thousand naira (8000) cannot buy a bag of rice, not to talk of paying their children’s school fees hospital bills, electricity bills and house rent.
The fact still remains that government on the other hand is struggling with how to meet the needs of its citizenry, but it would be also good to consider the primary aim of introducing this programme by at least putting food on the tables of these widows and less-privileged women whose life-line is the N8000.
Luckily enough, we have a listening Governor whose passion is to see no tears roll down the cheeks of his people. So, it would be a thing of great joy to these women, if government looked into this request and reviewed the salary to at least a reasonable amount that could encourage them to do more.
Speaking to the chairman Plateau State Cleaners Association, Mr. Andy Alfred Gal, who could not hide his concern for the widows, said, “first and foremost, I would like to appreciate the Governor, Rt. Hon Simon Bako Lalong, who has not at any given time, failed us in the payment of monthly salary.
“He inherited six months’ salary arrears from the past administration but to be frank with you, as it is now he has cleared these arrears and has remained committed to paying our salary without any delay. We want to appeal that; he should please look at this N8, 000 that has been there for 13 years.
“Things are not the same anymore and you know, the salary was initiated by the past Commissioner of Environment, Hon. Nakin Bagudu, because the minimum wage then was N7, 000. So, he decided that instead of N7,000, we should be paid N8,000 since we are not pensionable staff that came to stay.
“And ever since then the salary of N8, 000 has been what we take home. The N18, 000 minimum wage came and went, we are still there, now the N30, 000 minimum wage is on the way and we are praying that Governor Simon Bako Lalong will listen to our cry, because the N8, 000 salary can no longer take care of our immediate needs not to talk of hospital bills, rent, school fees etc. We are pleading.
“To crown it, we will like to appreciate our mother, the member representing Jos-North-West, Hon. (Mrs.) Esther Dusu, for taking this bold step. Words cannot express how we feel. You can imagine there in the House, she is the only female, but all of the members supported her and the bill has passed second reading. I want to use this opportunity to thank all the members.
“Do you know that these streets cleaners are looking for where to meet this woman? I am sure when they see her they would like to carry her on their heads because of the joy. They want to also carry the wife of the Governor, Mrs Regina Bako Lalong because of the support she has given to them,” he commented.
The chairman revealed that so far, the association has, within the period under review, lost more than thirteen (13) members who were attached to the trucks evacuating waste due to the hazard they were exposed to and ten to thirteen (10 -13) women who were knocked down by moving vehicles on our highways in the course of the performance of their duties.
He commended the prompt attention given to them by the State Accountant General, Mr. Cyril Tsenyil, who happens to be their patron. The Permanent Secretary Security, the Director of Finance of the Ministry of Environment, Mr. Bitrus Salamu, and Mrs Talatu Goldina, (the Director) for them to succeed in their work and prayed that their plight be looked into.
It is a common saying that has come to stay. That, if you give or pay a Nigerian well, he wouldn’t mind to strip himself naked to give you the best. We are hardworking people, but just need to be motivated. We are sure that, these women will do their best when their take home takes them home”.
Therefore, Mr. Governor Sir, with due respect, kindly look into these women’s request which we know, you would do. Knowing how passionate you are in paying the salaries of workers in the state. This goes to say, same would transcend to the widows.
May God Almighty continue to give our Governor the wisdom of King Solomon and the strength of Samson to pilot the affairs of the state and the additional responsibility of being chairman, Northern-Governor’s Forum. These widows are our mothers! Let’s think Plateau, act Plateau for our widows to have hope! God bless Plateau! God bless Nigeria!