Nigeria: Tackling the Plight of Road Sweepers

3 July 2020

One of the ways of keeping our urban roads clean is through the employment of daily road sweepers. These "highway managers" also help to control the indiscriminately-dumped wastes by our undisciplined road users to ensure they do not block the drains and worsen flooding.

In states like Lagos, the engagement of road managers is also a commendable means of giving unskilled labourers, especially the womenfolk, a means of livelihood. They are some of the lowest-ranked public sector workers who risk their lives keeping our cities clean and healthy.

In a recent viral video, some Lagos road sweepers were seen dumping their work overalls in a heap as a gesture to call the attention of the Lagos State Government to prevail on the Lagos State Waste Management Authority, LAWMA, to release their three months unpaid wages.

They complained that they had continued to work for the state even during the pandemic lockdown, which means that they are a residual part of the pandemic's frontline workers and should be treated as such.

We call on all governments and private corporate organisations to take the welfare of the lowest cadres of their workforces very seriously. These are grunt workers who provide services that only they are in a position to do.

The toiling nature of their work and the typical low wages they earn predispose them to health challenges which are worsened when their wages are not paid when due.

The Lagos State Government is particularly in a position to adequately take care of its workforce (including the casual workers like the road sweepers who are paid through contractors) without stress.

Kano State, which budgeted N206bn for this year caters for a 151,000-strong workforce without frequent news of strikes.

Lagos State with a budget of N1.16tn for this year should be able to pay all categories of its workforce without stress.

Apart from their roles in helping to combat the pandemic by keeping the streets clean, the Lagos street sweepers have also borne the great brunt of coping with the consequences of prolonged traffic gridlocks on major Lagos highways.

The drivers and conductors of thousands of trucks from all over the country which have blocked major roads and bridges for over ten years generate ugly and toxic wastes which LAWMA and the street sweepers are left to clean up.

This is one of the many ways in which Lagos State is bearing the burdens of Nigeria as the main theatre of its non-oil income.

It reopens the discussion on the need to restore the special status of Lagos which, during the first Republic, had a specially dedicated Ministry of Lagos Affairs.

The Federal Government should share more of the burdens the melting pot status imposes on Lagos State.

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