The Jonah Jang administration in 2007 sought to provide relief to widows in the state by recruiting them as street cleaners, thereby giving them a means to make a living. However, in this Daily Trust Saturday report, some of the cleaners decry the poor salary and its late payment and other poor working conditions they are faced with.
It is very common to see women with broom and dust pans on duty in the streets of Jos. These are women recruited by the Plateau State government to sweep the streets and ensure they are kept clean all year round.
These street cleaners are widows carefully sorted out for that service which was introduced in 2007. In engaging the widows for this job, government thought it was one of the ways to help them make a living after the death of their bread winners.
While this gesture from government was applauded by all and sundry at inception, this humanitarian gesture is, however, beginning to attract criticisms and condemnations from segments of they society who may have observed the condition of service of these widows. Some of them are within the age bracket of 70 to 80, wile majority are relatively younger.
One of them, Mrs Titi Musa, who sits along Lamingo Road, told Daily Trust Saturday, that “I am among the pioneer staff of the ministry. We were recruited by the Jonah Jang administration and our salary is N8,000.00 per month. They say they are helping us, but in some months, they don’t pay us. I am doing it because I don’t have anyone to take care of me. I have five children but two of them died after I lost my husband. The remaining three have no jobs. So, I have to do something to take care of myself.”
Another street cleaner sited at Miango Junction, Mrs Keziah John, also said, “It’s been 11 years now since I joined the street cleaners, and my salary is still N8,000.00 per month.”
At Rukuba Road, you will find another female street sweeper, Mrs Naomi Song who became a widow over 30 years ago. She said, “My problem is that this N8,000 cannot buy anything. I don’t see it as government helping us; we are just toiling for us to eat. We have been expecting government to increase our salary but they refused and there is nothing we can do about it.”
Some of the criticisms are that those aged among them should be allowed to retire and remain at home to be paid their salaries. “Must these aged widows be made to sweep the streets before government can cater for their welfare? It appears that the only means through which the state government can cater for the welfare of its senior citizens is to recruit them as street cleaners and keep them on the highways,” said one of the critics.
These criticisms cannot be waved off as the work of the opposition for the fact that the nature of the service make these widows visible for public admiration and sympathy on daily basis.
The idea of recruiting street cleaners was initiated in 2007 by the Jonah Jang administration. The concept, Daily Trust Saturday learnt, was to engage able-bodied widows who are younger and energetic to carry out the rigours of street cleaning daily. And they are to be paid a stipend of N8,000 per month. The program is domiciled under the ministry for environment. The recruitment was done through the ministry and the street cleaners were meant to be closely supervised by the ministry.
According to the former commissioner for environment Nankin Bagudu who saw the take-off of the program in 2007, “The concept was to get the streets of the state clean to boost tourism and improve the sanitary conditions of the state in a way to attract foreign investors and tourists. We started it at the state capital and subsequently extended the street cleaning to all the 17 local government headquarters.
In terms of remuneration, Bagudu said, “As at the year 2007 when we started the policy, the minimum wage was N7,500.00 (Seven Thousand and Five Hundred Naira only). So, our government resolved that since they are not civil servants and their recruitments cannot be subjected to civil service rules and procedures, it means they are not pensionable and not entitled to gratuity. Hence, we resolved they should be paid N8,000.00, that is N500.00 higher than the minimum wage then based on the understanding that they are not entitled to pension and gratuity.”
As at the time the administration of Jonah Jang wound up in 2015, the population of the street cleaners had grown to 5,000.
The humanitarian aspect of the widowhood policy is that 16 years after the recruitment of these widows, their take home pay at the end of each month has remained N8,000.00, meaning that the poor widows are still been remunerated based on 2007 minimum wage of N7,500.00.
In 2019, President Buhari’s administration introduced a new minimum wage of N30,000.00 for civil servants across the country. While the new minimum wage has been implemented in Plateau State, the state government remained silent on that of the street cleaners. Many in the state see this as Simon Lalong’s administration of insensitive to the socio-economic wellbeing of the aged widows. Nankin Bagudu said, “It appears the state government has pegged the wages of these widows to N7,500 irrespective of the economic situation of the country. I therefore consider the government as irresponsible over its inability to increase the wages of these widows.”
The state Commissioner for environment Hon Elisha Bitrus Shehu, said “Recently, Governor Simon Lalong approved the increment of the salary of these street cleaners from N8,000.00 to N15,000.00. The commissioner confirmed that the payment of the new wage to the widows was meant to commence from February 2023, however, even in April, the widows were yet to receive the new salary.
Daily Trust Saturday gathered that the widows are being owed two months salary arrears at the old rate of N8,000.00. And there is no indication that the new wage will be implemented in the life of the present administration that will fold up by May 29, 2023.
Regarding the ages of these widows, Hon Shehu said “As you know, these women were engaged 16 years ago, they would have been younger then. However, government gave them the freedom to bring their daughter or grand-daughter to replace them if they feel too weak to continue with the work. This is to ensure that the little stipend they are receiving remains. We have told them that they can swap the employment by bringing anyone they like. But in spite of that, some of the aged widows prefer to do the work by themselves. This does not mean government is compelling them to do the work by themselves. So, government cannot be said to be insensitive to the condition of these widows, we do, but the widows have their choices to make.”
Daily Trust Saturday observed that, aside the poor salary of the street cleaners, they are never seen putting on protective gears/kits like rain coat, rain boot, etc to alleviate the harsh cold weather during rainy and dry seasons.