The crisis of prolonged non-payment of salaries of public service workers took a new turn in Makurdi, the Benue State capital earlier today when civil servants made good their threat to down tools. Reports from Makurdi, the state capital about midday today spoke of a ghost town, totally shut down. Only banks and Federal workers were seen working once the state chapter of the Labour Congress formally commanded the strike action. The only exception are the enforcers of the strike seen driving people out of offices where such were the case.
The strike was not thought possible because there is an assumption that many factors inhibit a popular strike in the state. That has been broken by this one week warning strike involving different layers of workers, all united by non-payment of salaries. It involves those directly in the service of the state government, those in the service of the local governments and pensioners. While there is no consensus on how many months the civil servants are being owed, there is agreement that local government workers are being owed no less than a year and one month while that of pensioners is exactly a year.
In the absence of any industries in the state, non-payment of salaries is a crucial issue in the political economy of Benue State, perhaps more than would be the case in several other states of its age and endowment. Matters have been compounded by a recent flood which has affected the little food banks individuals have kept or developed access to. “So, you see people coming around to ask if they could cut the grass around your house and get something”, said a mini-businessman in Makurdi.
Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State had said recently that he would need N40 billion to pay a backlog of salaries that has stretched to eight months. The governor’s strategy of begging the workers along with members of the State House of Assembly not to embark on the strike has obviously failed with the successful commencement of the strike this morning. The workers have gone to the farms while most tertiary institutions in the state went on strike two weeks earlier.
There is no clear idea of where a resolution might come from but the strike action presents not just the governor but the ruling All Progressives Congress, (APC) with an image problem. Intervention learnt that people are calling the party a party of poverty in the state, an issue which might rouse the senior citizens of the state towards an early and amicable resolution.