By Jethro Ibileke
No fewer than 200 ad-hoc workers of the Edo State COVID-19 Mobile Screening Task Force on Tuesday took to the streets of Benin City, the state capital, to protest their alleged dismissal and non-payment of their two months remuneration.
The protesters, comprising medical doctors and related experts who went round the state during the period of the lockdown to take random samples from residents of the state, blocked the gates to the State Hospital Management Board office, and also went to lodge their grievances with the State House of Assembly.
One of the data collectors, Mr Emmanuel Ojie, said they had worked for over two months with the attendant risks associated with the job without being appreciated.
According to him, “We are owed May and June. We only reported to our duty post today to discover that we have been relieved of the job without being paid. We have no fewer than 26 groups, consisting of eight persons per group.
“The group consist of doctors, medical laboratory scientists and others.
“In the course of this job, we staked our lives. At least three of my colleagues in the same group went on isolation as a result of Covid-19.
“We have been working everyday in the last three months, including public holidays. They said they were going to pay us N90, 000 per month.
“Nobody has told us why we are being owed and we really do not care why we are relieved of the job, but we need our money because we worked for it.”
Speaking in the same vein, another data collector, Patience Efe, said they had to embark on the protest because of the method of dispersal by the Incident Manager of the task force, Dr Andrew Obi.
“The development is annoying because Dr. Andrew Obi chose to disperse us through a social media platform. Things are not done that way because for over two months, we risked our lives without pay.
“We need to know where we stand. It is not easy to come out as front liners to risk our lives without being paid for it. That is why we had to embark on this peaceful protest,” Efe said.
Efforts to speak with the State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Patrick Okundia, failed, as he did not pick up several calls on his phone.
Also, when contacted, the State Covid-19 Incident Manager, Dr Andrew Obi, said he was in a meeting.
“I am in a meeting right now and will call back in two hours,” he said.
However, the Special Adviser to Governor Godwin Obaseki on Media and Communication Strategy, Mr. Crusoe Osagie, in a statement, said the taskforce was demobilised after the state exceeded its target to screen and test over 500,000 and 5,000 persons respectfully.
According to him, “The screening exercise was massive and crosscutting. The officials were inundated with lists of persons, who were said to have participated in the exercise.
“So, we are carefully vetting the lists before making the final payment. The outstanding allowances would be paid before the end of the week.”
Osagie added that “The taskforce for the screening exercise was set up in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The government, upon the outbreak of the pandemic in the state, based its response on the data polled from an epidemiological study done in partnership with the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH).
“This led to the setting up of a taskforce to embark on a massive screening and testing of 500,000 and 5000 persons across the state.
“The target has been achieved and surpassed. This has led to the modification of our response to the pandemic. With this, the taskforce was demobilised across the screening centres at mobile posts, borders and several other locations.”