By GRACE AMADI
In Imo State, the drums of discontent are beating slowly but steadily among the citizenry.
Their grouse is the current lockdown of the State ordered by the State government to prevent the dreaded coronavirus from getting into the State, and allegations of non- payment of salaries of workers.
The State government through the State Commissioner of Information, Hon. Declan Emelumba, however insists it had paid salaries to workers before ordering the lockdown.
Governor Hope Uzodinma had however assured a review of the lockdown of the State if there is need for it. He gave the assurance when he inaugurated six Isolation Centers in the State in a bid to curtail the virus.
In Owerri, where the lockdown is intense, with armed security personnel mounting “roadblocks” at strategic areas in the state, residents lament that the lockdown is biting so hard as schools, markets, business outlets remain closed.
Mr. Chris Okechukwu, told this newspaper that the state government failed to comprehensively understand how lock-downs are done overseas, accusing it of strangulating the economy all in the name of fighting coronavirus
He said “We just copy things done abroad without understudying how it works. How do you expect people to stay at home when salaries were not paid and markets where they do businesses are being shut down all in the name of preventing the virus from getting to the State.
“Abroad, the lockdowns are done with procedure. The United States paid its citizens to stay at home in a bid to contain the virus. What do we have here? Federal Government giving out cash to those who it said are vulnerable. Where did they get the data to pay those stipends to those they say are vulnerable?
“Workers in the State are lamenting that they have not been paid. And pensioners at today 8th April, 2020, are saying they are yet to receive their pensions. How do you expect them to cope with the lockdown” he asked
A watch dog group, Imo Awareness Coalition, IAC had in it assessment report of the lockdown in the State, called on the State government to review the lockdown in the State “in view of present realities on ground”
The report endorsed by it spokesman, Fidelis Echendu, called on the state government to weigh the possibility of re- opening some major markets in the State capital, Owerri, within a period of time, to enable the citizenry re- stock food.
“We suggest some markets are re-opened temporarily to enable residents re- stock foodstuff. We suggest Fridays from 10am- 12pm under strict surveillance and enforcement by security agencies, particularly now that Easter is around the corner.
The lockdown in the State is coming on the heels of allegations that workers in the State have not been paid.
Some of the workers are vowing to ignore the lockdown order and begin the search for food and money to take care of their families.
Ad hoc staffs of Imo Broadcasting Corporation, IBC had alleged that their December 2020 salaries were not paid. In a whatsapp message to our reporter, they alleged that they were paid their October salaries in January 2020, while that of November came early in February 2020.
One of the adhoc staffs who spoke on condition of anonymity said, “hunger is tougher than coronavirus, knowing that you have not been paid for four months makes you wonder if you will steal, beg or borrow to survive this period”
Another civil servant in the State said “Do you know we may have returned to the Okorocha era where the government used civil servants like toilet paper. What is the excuse that this administration can give for not paying workers salary. We are in April now, 3 months and as the salary keeps cumulating, they will only pay a month and carry over the rest
Media reports quoted the Chairman, Imo State Trade Union Congress, Nkim Tangba, and NLC Imo State Chairman, Austin Chilakpu expressing worry over the statement credited to the State Commissioner of Information.
Daily Independent quoted the TUC Chairman in the State, Tangba to have said “the information Commissioner cannot say that the government has paid workers when they have not been paid since February this year. He should tell the people the truth on why they have not been paid instead of distorting the facts. All parastatals’ workers and pensioners in the state have not been paid.
He continued “We have written to the governor, demanding to know why salaries cannot be paid and in some areas, the salaries staggered. We cannot continue this lockdown without money and food for our families.
“We need an explanation why people cannot be paid. We need to know why payment of salary of workers suddenly changed against the promise of the governor that all workers must get their salaries on or before 25th of every new month. It is also worrisome that workers cannot be paid just as it was before the governor came to power. We really need to know so that if there are we can help, we will not fail to do so”. ?
Governor Uzodinma on assumption of office said he would forfeit his security votes so as to have enough funds to pay salaries and pensions .How has translated it to reality remains to be deciphered.
Efforts to speak to the State Commissioner of Information, Hon. Declan Emelumba, was unsuccessful at the time of filing of this report.
ADDITIONAL REPORT: RALPH EJIMKONYE