Nigeria: Pain for the people of Plateau State: Any palliatives?
by Justine John DYIKUK
Travelling back home from South-South Nigeria for the yuletide season was one of great joy, eager expectation and an irresistible homely-summon. As the writer was preparing to crouse through the hinterland and picturesque plains of the Niger via the River Benue on 12 December, he got Mummy’s call about the possible blockage of road
due to an on-going strike action in Plateau State. Would this deter a determined holiday-maker? Not at all, despite the seeming low morale!
With mix feelings and random thoughts, the voyage went; slowly but steadily. The decision was to arrive in a clandestine manner in case of any eventuality. Upon arrival around 7:pm, the town was chill, calm and indeed welcoming. The home-sweet-home intrigues came pouring but of course with the question, ‘what will the next day be like?
Upon reaching the Plateau Riders motor-park along Tafawa Balewa Street the next morning to drop a priest-friend and co-traveller who was travelling to Maiduguri, the story changed. We were greeted by a closed motor-park with both human and vehicular traffic along the road reminiscent of any earthly pilgrimage. Hawkers were on ground, ceasing the opportunity to do their bidding, motorists scouting for passengers and commuters trying to locate cars of their destination.
All over the place, people were discussing about the industrial action embarked by workers in Plateau State. This took place as a result of the deadlock between labour and government occasioned by the non-implementation of the 18 thousand minimum wage and government’s inability to pay worker’s their complete salaries for the months they remained on strike. It should be noted that civil service (local government), health and educational institutions have been on this strike action for about 8 months now. The current one came on the hills of a joint-injunction by the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress and it paralysed the whole State.
The walkout paralysed almost everything on the Plateau with the sight of road-blocks, protesters and security agents at various locations. In Pankshin town for instance, I was stopped and the protesters demanded why my car was not carrying leaves indicating identifying with workers. It took the intervention of those who identified me personally for me to be allowed to pass. Upon driving back the next day, I saw a group of workers all in black praying at the Barkin-Ladi Local Government complex. I kept wondering what the content of the prayer would be. Could it be for the strike to end? For government and labour to broker peace? For their daily bread or for God to arrest the situation as Christians of Pentecostal persuasion would say?
This commentator is not interested in the litigations involved in this matter but the untold hardship the common people wo/man is undergoing. A regular sight on the streets of Jos is women with babies on their backs and yam on their head hawking to make ends meet. Civil servants turned traders overnight to keep body and soul together as well as family. Will a Civil Service State turn to an economically-entrepreneurial State? ‘At what cost?’ one may ask!
This analyst conceives two things as essential for good governance in a true democracy. Human capacity building and infrastructural development (the so-called dividends of democracy). These make for the functionality of state apparatus, growth, development, peace and concord and enhancement of good rapport between government and the governed.
Human capacity building entails education, employment and empowerment. Good education enables people to know their left from their right and sharpens their moral and spiritual arsenals; employment puts food on their table and provides for their dependence; empowerment entails equipping them materially and giving them a sense of self-worth and duty challenged by diligence. Doing this is a further appreciation of our being created in the image and likeness of God with dignity and nobility. It must be admitted that it is expensive which is why it should involve strategic and systematic planning and purposeful implementation oiled with a spirited political-will.
It has been observed that most governments prefer capital projects to human capacity building. The reason is simply, pecuniary. The former is much more costly (of which dankwali zai samu rabon sa – kickbacks and personal benefits) than the latter. For instance, access roads are good but it is human beings who will drive on those roads. If they are out of work, without salaries for a long time, children are out of school (for 8 months) and health care centres close, what becomes of the roads? Is it animals that would ply on those roads? Even a car needs fuel!
This quagmire has rightists and leftists. Those sympathising with the people and those on the side of government each begging for membership as the face-off lasts. Those on the side of government are either coming out openly on social media to accuse the Labour Unions for staging a near anarchy situation or blaming workers for stubbornly refusing the bidding of government. Some Nicodemusly romance government supporting its decision (of course with the hope of favours) to pay deaf ears to the plight of workers. Those with the people are equally pouring their sentiments on government’s insensitivity to the cry of the masses and the fate of the young who are out of school for so long a time; the psychological/health and economic impacts has resulted to the loss of lives and property in some parts of the State. What is more!
A candid submission is, our people have suffered ravages of crises. Bringing further trouble to an already comatossed people is a lesson too hard to take. The saying ‘a hungry man is an angry man’ comes to the fore which has necessary security implications. The sight of security agents around some government parastatals and those in power is reminiscent of the Arab spring. If it is for purely security reasons, it is a welcome idea but if it is meant to cow the people or stop them from justly demanding their rights, posterity will accost those involved. Governments come and go, the people remain!
No sane person would support disruption of law and order, violent protestation and destruction of property as was the case in Langtang South. Our hearts go with those who lost loved ones and property. May their souls rest in peace. Like Mahatma Ghandi, Labour/Trade Unions and the people must learn to demand their rights by non-violence resistance – in a just and true way other than resort to militarism. Government on its part must avoid a Gadhafi-like approach to issues. Let us look beyond solitary comfort and safe our dear State from total collapse. The story should not be that of selective payment but giving workers their full due. The Labour Unions and government must act quickly to salvage the future of our young ones. In sum, any PALLIATIVE worth the headache should be quickly taken by all to ease the PAIN OF PLATEAU PEOPLE – God bless Plateau State!
Fr. Justine John DYIKUK, a Catholic priest, freelance writer/poet and Public Affairs Commentator currently a post-graduate student in Pastoral Communication at the Centre for the Study of African Culture and Communication, Catholic Institute of West Africa, Port Harcourt, Rivers State wrote in from Jos, the Plateau State capital!
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