A Sallah Without Salary

By Femi Alabi Onikeku (Lagos), Ann Godwin (Port Harcourt), John Akubo (Lokoja) and Charles Akpeji (Jalingo)   |   20 September 2015   |   1:09 am  
SALLAH

Ram market in Jalingo, Taraba State PHOTO: JOHN AKUBO

Expensive Rams Pursue Unpaid Workers
UNLIKE past Sallah celebrations where families trooped to markets, beaming with smiles, confident of the ‘strength’ they packed in their wallets, the reverse could be the case this year, except salaries owed workers by some state governments are paid before September 25.

Following months of harsh financial ‘draught’, Osun State is said to have commenced paying its debt to workers, handing out very little of so much. “The situation in the market is dull. Cash is not flowing. Unless a miracle happens, it is uncertain how somebody owed six month’s salaries would be able to cope, except such has extra means of raising funds,” said one respondent.

Another noted: “Somehow, people will still find a way to celebrate Sallah. But it is going to be very low key. Even if workers are paid all that government owes them, I’m afraid if most of them will not use the money to settle debts, rather then pour it into celebration.”

In Kano State, government workers are yet to receive salaries, amid cries that the crunch is biting hard. Prices of items were said to have gone up by about 20/30 per cent. There was indication, however, that the workers could be paid beginning tomorrow (Monday).

Many people have been complaining about the situation. They are saying government is insensitive to their plight, as Sallah draws near. Children have been asking parents when they would bring home the usual Sallah goodies, like new clothing, shoes etc.,” one respondent said.

On Thursday, some civil servants, said to be Kogi State teachers, protested non-payment of their salaries. The leadership of the teachers’ union in the state, however, said it was not aware of the demonstration.

The state government workers are owed one month’s salary. There has been an ongoing percentage payment for workers under the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB). Some teachers, however, are saying that for the month of August, they would rather have their plates full from a bailout package released to states by the Federal Government, rather than make do with another paltry percentage.

The cost of rams in Lokoja, the state capital, meanwhile, cares not whether workers are owed salaries or not. Although low patronage was observed at both Felele and Old markets, prices have continued to shoot up, propelled by the approaching festival.

The chairman of the Goat Sellers’ Association, Mr. Abubakar Sani, said: “A small ram, formerly N12,000/N13,000, now costs N15,000. A medium size animal, formerly N26,000, is now N45,000. The biggest that was sold N70,000/N80,000 now costs N100,000.”

According to one Jumai Omale, a Muslim, not even the salary she takes home, in the past two years, has witnessed increase like the present cost of rams.

Except Kogi State government pays before Thursday, some of its workers could celebrate Sallah wearing a long face.
During the Muslim festival that followed Ramadan fasting in Taraba State, many people held low-key celebrations due to the inability of the government to pay salaries, a situation attributed to the dire financial condition of the state. This unhappy scenario could repeat itself, as money expected at the end of the month now drags into the first and second weeks of new months.

A trip to the Jalingo main market in the state capital showed that business activities are dull, with the good old hustle and bustle that often characterized the period conspicuously absent. Apart from the regular daily patronage, there is little to show that the biggest of Muslim holidays is around the corner.

But ironically, the price of items such as clothing and livestock has continued to increase. As at the time of filing this report, rams which sold at N30,000 or N40,000 had shot up to between N55,000 and N60,000. And as though that was not customer-alarming enough, a bag of imported rice, which in the past weeks sold at N9,500, is now to N11 000. The rise in prices has also affected fabrics such as Super Print and Veritable Wax, which are usually in vogue during the celebration.

Some people, who spoke to The Guardian, lamented that with the present situation, they might have no option but fold their hands and watch.

One Mohammed Bala, a civil servant, said marking the festival will “depend on the state government.” Recalling the last celebration held without salaries, Mohammed said, “Our prayers is that God will touch the minds of our leaders, so that they will pay us before Sallah.”

He noted that many families, especially those of civil servants have not yet commenced shopping for the festival, and that should government fail to pay before the day, the event would be very low key.

At the ram market, hundreds of animals were seen, their owners standing beside them, waiting for prospective buyers.
According to one Mallam Usman who had about 15 rams, many people were willing to purchase the animals, but the uncertainty around when salaries would be paid was keeping them away.

He said: “This time, last year, we had started smiling to the banks because buyers from within and outside the state were rushing to buy rams. Some of them even made bookings ahead. But as I talk to you, right now, in the past one week, since I brought these rams here, people only come, ask for the price and then turn back, without buying even one.”

Faulting government’s failure to pay salaries, he was pessimistic that even if the price of rams were brought down, people would still find it difficult to buy them.

In Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital, a Muslim faithful, Mohammed Bello, noted that the economy generally is at low ebb. He said new policies by the present administration, especially probes, are causing apprehension in the market, adding that shortage of money in circulation is also affecting buying and selling. “The prices of essentials are skyrocketing, and that would affect Sallah. But we trust Allah for a joyous festival,” Bello said. On her part, Mrs. Ayo Odengwuru, another faithful, said: “There is no money in circulation, hence the celebration would be mild.”

A market survey showed that the prices of items in Port Harcourt are on the rise. A moderate size fowl, formerly N1,800/N2,000 now costs N2,500. A regular basket of tomatoes, formerly N6,000/N7,000, now costs N8,000, while the medium basket has jumped from N500 to N6,500.

According to Mrs. Grace Effiong, a tomato seller at Rumokoro market, the hike might not be unconnected with the approaching Sallah. One buyer at the Mile One market also attributed the price increase to the religious holiday, adding that a basin of garri, formerly N1,500/N1,600 is now N1,800/N2,000.

The festival, though, could be merrier, at least for salary earners. After months of unpaid wages, a delighted John Edeh, a staff of the state Ministry of Information, said: “This year’s Sallah celebration will be better because civil servants are not owed anymore; we now receive bank alerts before month end. The economy of the state is returning to normal and people are happy. The last salary alert we received was for August and we are waiting for the September alert.”

It was gathered that payment of August salaries began in Gombe State Thursday, and is expected to continue Monday. It was also rumoured the workers could soon be paid September wages.

One resident told The Guardian: “Some people bought rams last week, and some are just doing so. As at last week, the price of rams was low, because people had no money. A ram that might have been sold for N60,000 was picked up at N30,000. And what might have been sold N50,000 stood at N25,000. But as at yesterday (Thursday), it was gathered that the price had gone up, obviously in reaction to news that workers were beginning to receive payment.”



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