A Painful Comedy

By Muhammed Abdullahi

Sometime last week, Nigerian governors were again paid another tranche of the Paris Club refund by the Federal government. Since many of the governors hinted that they already had plans for the money, it was taking for granted that the welfare of workers, many of whom have not been paid for months, would form a central part of such plans. But we were wrong.

Many of the governors, upon receiving the much awaited money, decided that the unpaid workers can always wait. Some of them allocated paltry sums tosalary payment, a gesture that was even an undisguised attempt to keep the already angry workers at bay.

In my home state of Kwara, a public outcry resulted in an emergency meeting with labour leaders, after which the governor reluctantly agreed to push the initial 1 billion naira he released for the payment of salary arrears to 2 billion naira, but not without warning that he owed it a responsility to ensure that everyone in the state, not just workers, benefitted from the Paris Club refund. One would wonder which group of people deserve more benefit than those who dedicate their life and time to the service of the state. However, I perfectly understand the governor’s logic.

The issue was that while the public expected that the receipt of the Paris club moneywould bring succor to the workers who have beenfor months without salary; many of the governors had plans of how to spend the money already captured in their budgets. It was therefore difficult for them to adjust their financial plans to fit into the prevailing reality of biting hardship and pain that many of the unpaid workers had to endure.

In many States across Nigeria, I have been regaled with stories of how workers and their families are getting by. One civil servant in Ilorin told me of how a friend of his sent his firstborn to go and steal a pot of soup. My wife’s uncle, a local government worker, once told me of how he sold anabandoned tyrefor N500.00 so he could eat. Not too long ago, I boarded a taxi with a school principal in Kaduna State who told me of howhe withdrew all his daughters from school and sent them to work in a restaurant so they could bring home leftovers. Anytime I share some of these stories with friends, they laughed because they considered them funny. But I think this is a comedy fast assuming the shape of tragedy. These are painful comedies.
In 2011, the self-immolation of just one frustrated man led to a revolution in Tunisia. Here in Nigeria, we have millions of hungry and frustrated people, but they still continue to “hang on” and hoping and praying for better days. And whileour mostly selfish leaders are now beginning to take the poor for granted, the people have continued to show unparalleled patience and faith in the government.

No doubt, the resilience of Nigerians is quite legendary. We are calm, quiet and silent. We seem to have a huge ‘pain-absorbing’ mechanism that prepare us for any situation, no matter how difficult. But then, every strong man has a limit to the pain he can take.This is a fact our governors would do well to remember as they plan and budget their spendings.

Muhammed Abdullahi is the mid-week “The Advocate” columnist of The Discourse. He can be reached on Email: muhammed@thediscourseng.com, twitter:@mfabdullahi

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