SPECIAL REPORT: Unpaid salaries, poor working conditions mar Plateau workers scheme for women

By Ijeoma Okereke-Adagba

In 2007, the Plateau State Government, under Governor Jonah Jang, contracted some women to sweep the streets of Jos, Bukuru and its environment as part of government efforts to support widows and the elderly.

They were placed on a monthly stipend of N8,000.

At the onset of the scheme, about 2,400 women were employed by the Plateau State Ministry of Environment. They were given customised reflective uniforms, boots, brooms, hoes, waste bins and face masks to curb the hazards that come with the job. Their salaries were paid on time and the scheme appeared to be a success.

The government later decided to expand the scheme to widows and aged ones outside the state capital.

Each local government (LG) had 150 ‘environmental women workers’ as they were called, and paid by the Ministry of Environment from the Joint Account. By estimation, over 2,500 widows were employed as street cleaners in local governments, alongside the 2,400 women under the payroll of the state government.

Their monthly stipend, about N1.2 million per local government, was disbursed from a joint account, co-owned by the state government and all the local governments but managed by the state government. However, over time, the payment became an issue between the LGs and the state government.

In 2021, the LGs took ownership of the payment of salaries to the widows assigned to their jurisdiction. There is no data to show the current number of women in the scheme.

Picture of women sweeping at Namua Junction, Jos
Women sweeping at Namua Junction, Jos

Lami Dalyop (48), a mother of six, joined in 2012 after she lost her husband in 2010. Her husband, a mason, was the sole provider of finance for the family. After the demise of her husband, her uncle, a civil servant, reached out to her and enrolled her in the scheme.

“My last child was only four months old when I lost my husband,” Ms Dalyop narrated in Hausa.

As early as 5:30 a.m., she would leave her house at Gwarandok, in the Abattoir area, and walk a distance of about 3km every day to Namua junction, her place of assignment.

Each of these street sweepers has specific locations and portions on the street allocated to them that must be kept clean daily. These women work round the clock – no break, no holidays. Every day, they must sweep their apportioned areas, which is usually about 1km.

“The N8,000 we get from the Ministry of Environment is not enough, so I sell ‘kunu’ at construction sites to support me and my family,” she told this reporter.

A large chunk of the money she makes is spent on food whose prices have risen over the months. Food inflation has remained high in Nigeria over the last two decades.

For instance, the food inflation rate in April 2023 was 24.61 per cent, which was 6.24 per cent points higher than the rate recorded in April 2022 (18.37 per cent). According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the rise in food inflation was caused by increases in prices of oil and fat, bread and cereals, fish, potatoes, yam and other tubers, fruits, meat, vegetable, and spirits.

The high food prices drive more and more women into multi-dimensional poverty.

FAO price of food items. Source FAO
FAO price of food items. Source FAO

Doris Ogedegbe (60) is the ‘women leader’ for sweepers around Old Airport Junction to Fototek and among the 147 women placed under Jos South Local Government Area.

Mrs Ogedegbe brings out her phone and shows this reporter the credit alert (for one out of 4 months) that was received on 5 June.

“It was just last week that we received an alert of N8,000 from the secretariat, out of the 4 months they are owing us,” she said.

screenshot of credit alerts as shown by the women 2
screenshot of credit alerts as shown by the women 2

According to the credit alert seen, one Kwaplong Justina was the creditor. Jonathan Nashan, the director of the Department of WASH in Jos South LGA, confirmed that the creditor works with the Department of Finance at Jos South LGA and is responsible for preparing vouchers for their payments.

“Even though civil servants are on holiday, we don’t go on holidays because they say it is a contract,” Mrs Ogedegbe said.

The same credit alert for only a month was received by Nirat Jerry (not her real name), who has been working since 2010 with Riyom LG. Street sweepers in Riyom are currently being owed for nine months. Although not a widow, Mrs Jerry joined the scheme because she had no job and needed to support her husband financially.

According to Samson Dung, director Department of WASH, Riyom LG, the council is aware of the predicament of these women and is working towards reviewing their salaries.

“There is no provision for any other package for these women apart from the salaries being paid. By estimation, about N1.2 million is budgeted for their monthly stipends by each local government.”

“Personally, the most important thing is for the women to be recruited into the Local Service Commission and then they can benefit from other incentives that accrue to local government staff. Unless that is done, we may never get it right,” he noted.

But it looks like the government’s hands are tied. Since May 2023, Plateau civil servants have been on an indefinite strike to demand payment of salaries (February and March) and other entitlements. Currently, civil servants in Riyom local government only enjoy 55 per cent of the N18,000 minimum wage.

When asked if any form of documentation was done upon resumption of the work, all the women interviewed noted that they were called to the local government secretariat to register their names and pick up their cards.

The cards would then serve as a means of identification. The women (until 2021) would queue at the state Secretariat monthly to receive their stipends. For those who have grown old and unable to sweep, their daughters/granddaughters or relatives, would go to the place of assignments and sweep. On pay-day, the main beneficiaries would go and collect their wages.

Registration card 1
Registration card 

Accident on duty; no financial support from the government

One such beneficiary is Esther Philip (68), fondly called Mama. She assigned another woman to sweep on her behalf because she could no longer afford to do the job as a result of an accident she experienced on the line of duty. This accident happened in 2011 at Fototek, Jos South LG.

“I saw a child fall down from a motorcycle that climbed gallop and I ran to help. I became unconscious for a second and by the time I realised what was going on, another motorcycle had climbed my leg and broken my bones.”


Mama has remained bedridden since then. She was among the first set of women drafted into the scheme when it was introduced in 2007, two years after the death of her husband.

Although she reached out to the supervisor, there was no financial assistance other than a condolence visit. Thankfully, her children were able to raise almost N1 million for her surgery and treatment. To date, she is still on pain relieve medicines.

However, each time she receives payment from the local government, she would take only two-thirds of the salary and give the rest to the other woman filling in for her.

Despite her predicament, Mama is hopeful that the new government will look into their matter and increase the salary of the women.

“They should add more money for the women even if it is to N15,000. Some of them are borrowing food.”

Minimum wage vs street workers stipend since inception in Plateau state (1)
Minimum wage vs street workers stipend since inception in Plateau state (1)

Perhaps, her prayers may soon be answered. Last year, the Ministry of Environment submitted a proposal for an upward review of the salaries of these women. It also requested extra funds for the purchase of their working equipment as most of them use their money to buy brooms and face masks.

Albert Chaimang, the current Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Environment, said the proposal was approved but lack of implementation stalled the process until the last government was phased out in May 2023.

“This is a new government and we want to reapply for an upward review of their salaries,” he said.

A street sweeper without PPE
A street sweeper without PPE

According to Mr Chaimang, the state secretariat is prompt to attend to issues such as accidents and deaths by providing support to the victim or the family of the deceased.

“For me, this adhoc thing is not right because as a state we are contravening the labour laws, you are not supposed to employ somebody on an ad-hoc basis for a long time but that was not the intention when the scheme was first initiated,” he added.

NLC incapacitated, women lack an organised union

This is not the first time the women have been owed salaries. In 2014 and April 2023, the street sweepers thronged the governor’s office due to non-payment of salaries. However, the main workers’ union, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), has remained silent on their matter, but with a valid reason – they are not registered members of the NLC.

Eugene Manji, NLC chairman in Plateau, said the NLC only fights for the rights of its members.

“Except the women decide to come together and form a union and register as an affiliate of the NLC, that is when an action can be taken, not just for Mama, but the women generally. That is what the NLC Act stipulates”, he told this reporter.

Plateau salary structure

The Plateau State government is not the first to employ widows and elderly in environmental sanitation schemes. States like Lagos, Cross River, Ogun, Enugu and the FCT operate similar schemes. But Plateau pays one of the lowest wages.

Salary structure of street sweepers in Nigeria, by state
Salary structure of street sweepers in Nigeria, by state

“The payment is made from the local government funds. Even while they were at the state, the LG pays the Ministry of Environment who then pay the women,” noted Mr Dung.

Scheme is impactful

Despite the challenges experienced by the women sweepers, Mr Dung believes that the scheme has been impactful as it has been a source of livelihood for many of them.

He, however, said the scheme needs to be reviewed.

“The fact still remains that we will have to go back to the drawing board,” he said.

“Some of them may have died or are unable to work and they have just been replacing them with their relations, which was not the original intention.”

Mr Chaimang also said there will be considerations for accidents or other issues that may arise as they engage with the new government.

“For me, this ad-hoc thing is not right because as a state we are contravening the Labour laws. You are not supposed to employ somebody on an ad-hoc basis for a long time and that is why we see these issues happening”, he said.

For Jos South where 137 sweepers are currently engaged, Mr Nachan said he cannot say when the salaries will be reviewed.

“We have been trying to see how the government can add a little amount to the stipend being paid but the request is always ‘kept in view,’” he said.

Mr Manji advised the women to form a union or co-opt with an existing one, as that is the only way the NLC can intervene on their behalf.

“Some things are rights and some things are privileges. The major problem with this is that they have no organised system and leadership to handle their case.”

“The NLC must follow a procedure. It has its own laws and these laws are beyond me,” he said.

This report was supported by the Wole Soyinka Center for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under its Report Women! Female Reporters Leadership Programme (FRLP), champion building edition

Source Premium Times

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