The Abuja Latecomers and the Chant of “Umahi Must Go” -By Abdulkadir Salaudeen

Governance in Abuja under this new regime seems to be a serious affair. That is good for our crawling democracy. Abuja is the Capital of Nigeria where civil servants should not be negligent in their duties. This does not mean civil servants should toy with their jobs elsewhere. But any form of negligence of duty in Abuja affects many things and affects other parts of the country. Latecoming to duty is ethically wrong. That should not be tolerated under any disguise without a genuine reason.

Abuja has been in the news recently. It started with the FCT Minister, Nyesom Wike, who have never hidden his madness; he does not pretend about it. So when he hit the ground running immediately he was appointed and resumed work as FCT minister, I was personally not caught by surprise. A mad man should behave madly and exhibit many traits of madness to convince people that he is mad. But madness here should be construed in the positive sense. What is meant by madness here is Wike’s ability to exude too much energy. The FCT Minister once said, then as a governor, that “It takes a mad man to govern Nigeria.” He continued; “The energy in me is too much. I want to use the energy to work for the country.” Perhaps that is what we are witnessing in Abuja. I just hope Wike’s “madness” does us good and the too much energy yields many good results. I wish the FCT minister a successful tenure.

We read about some protesting civil servants yesterday in Abuja. What is the protest about? It is not about the palliatives that do not go round. It was about the Minister of works, Dave Umahi, at the Federal Ministry of works and Housing.

What really happened and why the protest? I think it is too early to protest against a minister whose stay in office is barely five weeks. And it is uncommon to protest against minister in Nigeria. It was not just a protest, it included a chant that “Umahi Must Go!” “Go where? What did he do?” He arrived office reportedly around 9:30am only to find out that many of the workers in the ministry are yet to resume work. This is serious! He ordered that they should be locked out. Consequently, over three hundred staff including directors were locked out. This led to the protest!
This is both thrilling and unbelievable. I find it exciting that we have ministers who are full of energy to work like Honourable Wike. To put it differently, Honourable Wike is not alone. Even though Honourable Umahi also came late to work by 9:30am, we can just ignore that. After all, he is a minister—though it is better to live by example. These latecomers were later allowed to come into the ministry after being locked out for four hours. What I found unbelievable was that the workers refused to enter. They protested over their latecoming when they should be pleading for mercy. It is as if latecoming to work is a virtue. That is Nigeria for you.

But things in Nigeria, at times, are not as they appear to be. These latecomers seem to have justification for their latecoming. They, in turn, prevented entry and exit into and from the ministry respectively. This implied that the honourable Minister could not leave the premises as well. In fact, receiving Governor Sanwo Olu of Lagos State who came to pay a courtesy visit became a problem. Hmm! Fear Nigerian workers!

But what is the justification for these workers’ latecoming? They claimed the Minister did not take into cognisance the fact that many of them live far away from Abuja. “Most of us live in areas as far as Suleja in Niger State, some in Gwagwalada, Kefi, Abaji, Kuje, Kwali, kaduna road,” one of the protesters said. He continued: “Most of us don’t earn up to N80, 000 as salary monthly, how do we feed our families and meet other obligations? We expect the minister to show a better understanding of the situation in the country instead of trying to run this place like Ebonyi State.” If this is not a justification for latecoming to work, especially with the skyrocketed cost of transportation due to fuel subsidy removal, I don’t know what is.

I have discussed the travails and wretchedness of civil servants on this page several times. How do you expect a graduate with less than N80, 000 monthly take-home to survive Nigeria’s hardship in Abuja? Can anyone with such salary survive the current hardship even anywhere in Nigeria? I always imagine how these Abuja civil servants survive with meagre and punishing salaries. For me, it is punishing to work as a civil servant in Abuja—with whatever qualification—and earns N70, 000 a month. That is N840, 000 a year which cannot pay for the rent of a room and parlour self-contain in any of the exclusive high brow areas in Abuja where some of these ministries are located. A civil servant dares not rent house in these areas.

Yet civil servants are not to engage in any other activities to supplement their earnings except farming. I find this too unstomachable; but that is the rule. Many civil servants in Nigeria are, according to design, to live a wretched life through out their lives. But I think amends could be made. It was reported that the minister later addressed the protesting workers and apologized. That is good of him. Ogas at the top, in this hard time, and in whatever capacity, should show some leniency to those working under them. This is not the time to bully workers whose take home is nothing different from what black slaves earned during the period of slavery.

That said, there are many things I don’t understand about this country called Nigeria. It is my fatherland, no doubt. And that is why I must be concerned. Recent unfolding events which led to the debilitating conditions of people compound my bewilderment. A worker who works in the Ministry of Works and Housing has no befitting house to live. Yet his work is to construct roads and build houses. Teachers and lecturers trade in knowledge. They impart knowledge to both the intelligent and the dullard. Yet they can hardly send their children to befitting school due to miserable salaries and poverty. Graduates with various degrees in Agricultural Science are complaining of hunger. Our universities and colleges of Agriculture could not produce what they consume let alone feeding their neighbouring communities. I will be grateful to anyone who can help remove this confusion.

May I use this medium to advise Honourable Dave Umahi to liaise with the FCT Minister, Honourable Wike, on how to solve housing problem in Abuja—especially workers in the Ministry of Works and Housing. The last time we had a workaholic FCT minister, I think, was during Mallam Nasiru El-Rufai. I understand it takes madness to govern Abuja. This madness should be dedicated to building enough housing units within Abuja to accommodate its low earning civil servants.

It is illogical for a civil servant who earns peanut to work in Abuja but live in neighbouring states (Niger and Nasarawa). The cost of transportation is killing.

Meanwhile, Dave Umahi should use his administrative experience, being a former governor, to help his staff on how to be earlycomers to work. Providing buses at some strategic locations to convey staff to and fro will be a great relief. If this, or something similar is done, Umahi needs not to go. “Umahi Must Stay.”

Abdulkadir Salaudeen

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