In Nigeria, we seem too pre-occupied with criticising agencies and institutions of government that we often fail to realise that those public institutions are a reflection of our defective national character and the rot that has pervaded the society. I have always thought that though many of our public institutions have fallen deep into corruption and inefficiency, there are still individuals who have resolved to do things differently.
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In the course of my interacting with Nigerians, especially those working in the public sector, I have found out that not every government employee share in the general decadence that has become the face of public service today. While we are fixated on the dark side of these institutions, we often forget to commend some of them for the service they are rendering to the community. While some may argue that those working in government agencies and institutions are paid for doing their job and do not need any commendation, workplace ethics demand that when workers are motivated, they are productive and do their job better.
In the United States of America, citizens are celebrated as heroes when they perform heroic deeds or do something extraordinary. For example, firemen in the US Fire Department are often honoured for the risk they undertake on duty. A fireman that risks his or life in a burning building during a fire incident is honoured by the president, governor, mayor and the community. While we bestow honour on questionable individuals in our country, heroes are made of ordinary citizens in other climes. Closely related is how we look down on the plight of those who perform essential duties such as the traffic wardens, highway managers, refuse disposal officials and those who do sundry jobs we consider inconsequential.
In recent times, I have often wondered how those among us who perform jobs we consider lowly survive the excruciating and suffocating economic environment in the country. For example, labour authorities should be concerned about the condition of service for those workers who perform essential services but are poorly paid with worst conditions of service one can find. It is even worse that they work under situations that expose them to dangerous occupation hazards.
Some days ago, it was reported that an official of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority popularly known as LASTMA slumped on duty and later on the way to the hospital. The man was said to have collapsed while controlling traffic in Lagos. According to media reports, “he was initially taken to the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, but he could not be attended to because of the ongoing strike action. He was then rushed to the Randle Hospital, Surulere where he was confirmed dead.” According to the report, the official was among the LASTMA officials on duty at a private event. The sudden death of the traffic official should raise questions about the condition of service of public workers on essential duties not just in Lagos but in the entire country.
In Lagos, for example, LASTMA officials work in extremely dangerous situations. Just like the so-called highway managers, they are constantly exposed to the elements in extreme weather situations and at the mercy of hostile motorists. I understand all the criticisms that have been levelled against LASTMA, but we must also spare a thought for their well-being while on the job. What for example is the condition of service for the LASTMA and highway mangers in Lagos? Do they have insurance and health policies? The death of the LASTMA official revealed some familiar yet distressing facts. When he was rushed to the Lagos State Teaching hospital, he could not be admitted because medical workers were on strike. So we lost a life before he could even be saved. He was said to have died of accumulated stress according to his colleagues. I know for sure that LASTMA officials are being deployed to manage traffic even when the deployment is not official-an added burden to their daily duty.
I have often seen LASTMA officials deployed to private events around town. Do they get remunerated for such? Are they not overworked in the process? I was informed in the course of writing this piece that private postings are personal arrangement between the organisers and LASTMA management. I have a feeling that traffic officials are being exploited while the “big ogas” feed fat. At worst, they get a pittance for long, grueling hours managing traffic. The LASTMA official who lost his life was on one of such duties. His colleagues complained of being overworked.
LASTMA officials had lamented “We do not have any insurance policy. We do not have any hazard allowance. It is very painful. Since the government sacked some of us last year, there has been a burden on the workforce. Work posts, where seven personnel were handling, have been reduced to one or two.”
In Lagos, LASTMA and other essential duties personnel continue to face serious threats to their lives. In one incident, a hit-and-run driver killed a LASTMA official. In another incident, yet another official was run over by a reckless motorist driving in a one-way lane.
In one pathetic incident as reported in The PUNCH, September 14, 2014, a hit-and-run driver knocked down two highway managers of the Lagos State Waste Management Agency. These incidents should begin to give the relevant authorities a cause for concern. Significantly, accidents to LASTMA officials have increased in recent years. I am not sure if the authorities of the two agencies are aware of the dangers and are putting measures in place to minimise dangers to their officials.
I have seen highway managers without the basic kits and road markers sweeping busy highways in the early hours when visibility is poor. I really fear for their lives as they can be easily run over by reckless motorists. What does it take to procure theses kits? How much does it cost to kit LASTMA officials in decent uniform other than the untidy manner they appear on the highways? It certainly will not cost a fortune to buy reflective jackets for highway managers to make them visible to speeding motorists.
As a solution, Governor Akinwumni Ambode must scrutinise the operations of LASTMA and LAWMA and other agencies of government. It is not enough to have these agencies without demanding accountability. The government must take a second look at their condition of service. A situation where they put officials on the road without the necessary working tools and conditions being met must no longer be the norm. LASTMA and LAWMA officials must be employed and placed on working conditions commensurate with the hazards they face on the job. One also hopes that when LASTMA officials are deployed to manage private events, they get extra allowances for such off-duty posting.
In spite of the criticisms that have trailed the excesses of LASTMA, anybody familiar with the chaotic traffic situation in Lagos before the establishment of the agency will give them some credit for the way it has managed traffic in a city where breaking traffic laws used to be norm. But it’s time to create a better working condition for those who ensure free flow of traffic and make our roads clean.
- Bayo Olupohunda/Punch
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