Non-payment of salaries is economic crime – Labour leader

Tunde Akanbi,Ilorin

One of Nigeria’s foremost labour leaders, Comrade Issa Aremu says the lingering wage crisis permeating the workforce in the country has assumed a stage that requires a declaration of non-payment of salaries as an economic crime.

Aremu pointed out that the unpaid salaries to workers amounted to systemic destruction of lives resulting from a lack of means of livelihood.

Drawing a parallel line between unpaid workers and slaves, the unionist expressed regret that most states civil servants have been turned into glorified slaves due to failure of government to offset backlogs of salaries owed them.

“The difference between a slave and a worker is payment of salaries. Slaves like workers historically had jobs but had no salaries. It is a sad commentary that most states’ civil servants in particular and Nigerian workers in general have been turned into glorified slaves as they work without pay for months. In fact, most workers have unfortunately been turned to working beggars.

But for God’s sake, Let’s pause a bit and consider the plight of that worker who has not been paid for months. If he or she is the breadwinner, it is clear then that the family support collapses.  Food must have been difficult to find to feed the children with all the implications for malnutrition. Some kids must have been withdrawn from school on account of non-payment of school fees while Sallah cloth will necessarily elude them.  Pray the family is not sick either. “

Aremu spoke in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital at a Ramadan lecture organised by the Kwara State council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ)  in honour of  Hamudalat Abiodun Aremu, his late wife.

The unionist, who is the General Secretary, National Union of Textile and Garment Workers, decried the non-payment of salary to workers, saying that many of them could not feed their families and had to withdraw their children from schools as a result of financial crisis.

“Since the breadwinner cannot meet expectation, depression logically replaces love within the household. The options before unpaid workers in a society without social security like Nigeria are therefore better imagined. As a matter of fact, non-payment of salaries amounts to what I called economicide, which means systemic destruction of lives on account of lack of means of live hood.
Impeachable offence

Comrade Issa Aremu said it was an impeachable offence for any state government to owe workers.

“It is time Nigeria treated wage-related crimes, non-payment, low payment, wage diversions (so-called ghost payments) as economic crimes!

The governors swore to an oath based on 1999 Constitution. Chapter II of the same Constitution deals with the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy. It says that the duty and responsibility as well as the primary purpose of government is the security and welfare of the people.

The same section of the Constitution also says that the State shall direct its policy towards ensuring among others that suitable and adequate shelter, suitable and adequate food, reasonable national (minimum) living wage, old age care and pensions, and unemployment, sick benefits and welfare of the disabled are provided for all citizens. Indeed, based on the spirit and content of the Constitution.

It is not only shameful for some states to renege on salary payments, as President Muhammadu Buhari rightly observed, but it is also clearly an impeachable offence”, Aremu said.

Also speaking at the event, the state chairman of NUJ, Comrade Abiodun Abdulkareem, said the maiden ramadan lecture was put together to immortalize the late wife of Issa Aremu.

According to him, the union would continue to appreciate Nigerians who distinguished themselves in their service to humanity.