By Ohia Israel
From Oyo, Osun, Cross River, Rivers, Abia, Benue, Plateau and down to Bauchi states, civil servants are indeed under harsh realities of life, as many of them have not received salaries for months, a scenario that has made them to adopt strategies to survive months of unpaid salaries in their respective states.
As it is there has been blame game between some state governments of the APC origin and the Federal Government over the unpaid salaries of workers.
For instance, the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, last cleared the FG of blame over the inability of some state governments to pay their workers’ salaries.
Okonjo-Iweala, in a statement by her Special Adviser on Communications, Paul Nwabuikwu, said the governors of such states should be blamed for the development in their states because they were told through the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee to make the issue of wage a priority.
She explained that despite the 50 per cent drop in gross federally collectible revenue, the Federal Government had made the issue of workers’ salaries a top priority in order to ensure that the “people do not feel the negative impact of the revenue drop on the economy.”
The minister said contrary to the “misinformation being put forward by certain governors to the effect that federal workers are being owed, staff salaries at the Federal level are up-to-date.”
She said in the five paragraph statement that the states, being one of the three tiers of government that receive monthly allocations from the Federation Account, should be blamed for their predicament.
The statement read: “This is to clarify the misinformation put forward by certain governors to the effect that Federal workers are being owed salaries.
This is incorrect. Staff salaries at the Federal level are up-to-date; workers have received their April salaries.
Regarding difficulties in salary payments, certain governors are trying to blame the Federal Government for their predicament. This is wrong. They had been told through the FAAC to prioritise salaries but they chose not to do so, hence the backlog that some states are experiencing.
The 50 per cent drop in revenues simply means that salaries should be prioritised. The Federal Government should not be blamed for avoidable mistakes made at the state level.”
The APC governors had during a meeting with the President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, in Abuja last week expressed frustrations about their inability to pay workers’ salaries.
They therefore appealed to Buhari to consider a bailout plan for all the 36 state governments after his inauguration on May 29.
They said, “One of the issues that became of concern to all of us is the state of the Nigerian economy which is really in a bad shape.
“We have come to notify the incoming president of the challenges ahead of him. As it stands today, most states of the federation have not been able to pay salaries and even the Federal Government has not paid April salaries and that is very worrisome, by May and June, that (salaries) will be in cumulative of three months.
“We wonder with the huge expectation of Nigerians and people who have voted us into power, we are hoping that the president-elect will do everything humanly possible to bring about a bailout not only for the states but the Federal Government, at least for people to get their salaries and turn around the economy.”
However, Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has been faulted for blaming governors for their inability to pay salaries ranging from two to six months.
Okonjo-Iweala had said state governors should be blamed for the delay or non-payment of salaries in their respective states. But the Executive Secretary, Ayedire Local Government, Mr Gbenga Ogunkanmi, argued that federal government should be faulted for unpaid salaries challenge.
Ogunkanmi spoke while addressing members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) at a meeting held in Ileogbo, Headquarters of Ayedire Local Government.
Ogunkanmi who commended the perseverance of the Osun workers on the inability of the state to pay salaries, recalled that that when the state was buoyant financially, workers were collecting their salaries on the 25th of every month.
He appealed to the workers to exercise more patience with the state government, saying that their salaries would soon be paid as the APC will take over the federal government come May 29.
In Rivers State Civil servants and pensioners last Wednesday took over the Rivers State Secretariat in Port Harcourt to protest the non-payment of their salaries and pension arrears by the state government. The protesters as early as 9 am had besieged the secretariat even as staff declined attending to anybody that sought their assistance at the secretariat.
The protest caused a gridlock for some minutes as they chanted anti-government slogans. One of the leaders of the protesting workers, Mr. Tony Ochiagha, told journalists that the protest became necessary as a result of the two months salaries owed them by the state government.
Ochiagha noted that it was the first time in the history of civil service in the state that workers would be owed for upwards of two months, adding that the third month was already running.
The situation was not any better for pensioners as he disclosed that retirees of the state civil service were owed five months pension arrears.
Ochaigha said, “We are talking to Rivers State Government who is our employer. The Civil Service is the engine room and the platform on which every administration functions. So, why would they play on the impulse of the Civil Service?”
Also, the State Secretary of the Nigeria Union of Pensioners, Rivers chapter, Mr. Joseph Agbo, confirmed that pensioners in the state had not been paid for five months.
Agbo, therefore, urged Governor Rotimi Amaechi to pay them before leaving office, adding that apart from the five months being owed pensioners, other backlog of arrears such as the 14 per cent, 15 per cent and 38 per cent increases have not been paid, even when they have been computed and sent to the governor for action.
“Pension is a right and not a privilege. Before the governor came on board, salaries of civil servants and pensioners were regular, but all these are no more.
“We have, on six occasions, had demonstrations in the past over the anomalies and our members are dying without getting their entitlements”, he added.
While also for failing to pay March and April salaries to civil servants in Bauchi State, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in the state last week began an indefinite strike action beginning from midnight that last week.
Addressing a press conference last Wednesday at the Nigeria Union of Journalists Secretariat Bauchi, Chairman of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) Comrade Hashimu Mohammed Gital said that their meeting with the government on salary issues ended in deadlock.
Meanwhile, in Delta State, the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) last Wednesday carried out its threat by embarking on a strike action over the backlog of salaries being owed its members by the government.
Normal activities at the 25 council secretariats across the state were grounded as the aggrieved workers who had last week issued a one-week ultimatum on the state government to pay the salary arrears commenced an indefinite strike action to protest the non-payment of their salaries in the past four months.
In the same vein, the Ekiti State Chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Ekiti State faulted Governor Ayodele Fayose’s comments on the e-payment system introduced by former Governor Kayode Fayemi’s administration, saying discrediting the scheme as harbouring ghost workers with attendant inability to pay workers was insincerity taken too far.
Ekiti APC Publicity Secretary, Taiwo Olatunbosun, said Fayose’s claim was another lie to explain away his alleged greed, insensitivity and lack of commitment to the welfare of Ekiti workers.
The Bauchi NLC boss said, “the organized labour gathered that the failure of Bauchi State Government to pay the outstanding salaries was because the last federal allocation for the state was used for the payment of severance benefits of the outgoing political office holders and contractors leaving the workers helpless without the salaries.”
Gital said that all workers in the employment of the Bauchi State Government have been directed to stay away from their duty posts and remain at home with effect from 12am Tuesday until they get further directives from the organized labour.
The president of NULGE in Delta State, Comrade David Ofoeyeno, lamented that 21 out of the 25 councils in the state have defaulted in the payment of salaries to workers for over four months.
The Delta NULGE chief, Ofoeyeno, listed the names of the defaulting councils as Aniocha North, Aniocha South, Patani, Isoko South, Isoko North, Udu, Ika South, Ika North-East and Oshimili South.
Others include Oshimili North, Ndokwa West, Ndokwa East, Ukwuani, Ughelli South, Ughelli North, Okpe, Sapele, Ethiope West, Ethiope East, Uvwie and Warri South.
The unionist vowed that the striking workers would not go to work until the backlogs of salaries are fully paid, adding that the situation has brought untold hardship to council employees.
He said: “The SEC of NULGE met and decided to call for an indefinite strike, and the strike will not be called-off until the salaries are paid. The councils shall be under lock and keys.”
Olatubosun queried, “The e-payment system is the system embraced all over the world, including many PDP-controlled states and at the Federal level. The e-payment system has proved very effective in Ekiti State, as workers were not owed any salary for the period Fayemi was in the saddle. The system has also been used by Fayose in paying workers since he assumed office; and so when did he suddenly discover that the e-payment system is not good?’
He said if there was any system that had potential to eliminate fraud in salary payment, e-payment was the answer. The APC spokesman alleged that by his claim, the governor was up to a systematic sacking of more workers some of whom he had sacked since he assumed office.
“We are aware of his plans to bring into Ekiti civil service outsiders from Ibadan who are his cronies against the civil service rules,” Olatubosun alleged, adding: “Ekiti workers should ask Fayose why the same e- payment system ensured their regular salary payment as at when due under the Fayemi administration but it is now impossible under his administration despite reduction in the work force as many workers, including permanent secretaries, have been sacked.
“Many employment schemes that take millions of naira from government’s treasury have been cancelled by the governor, six months moratorium was granted in bond debt repayment, which enables him to save N3 billion.
There is 60 per cent cut in running grants and allowances to workers and traditional rulers. This is apart from N22 billion refund on federal roads constructed by Ekiti State and N2 billion Ecological Fund he had received. The question is; what is Fayose doing with all these funds,” Olatunbosun asked.
He added that it was height of wickedness for the governor who claims to be a friend of the masses to allocate N200 million monthly to himself as security vote and another N250 million running grant as first line charge while at the same time blind to the suffering of workers whose average salary was N28, 000.
“How many times will this governor conduct verification exercise after the first two exercise during which three teachers died in a road crash along Ise-Ekiti road while travelling for their verification exercise?” he queried.
Olatubosun challenged the governor to tell Ekiti people how much he pays monthly to his Anambra and Ogun states election sponsors who, he alleged, helped him fix June 21, 2014 governorship election.
While sympathizing with the workers for “falling prey to the antics of Fayose,” he urged them to use all legal means to demand for their pay and “resist any disguised attempt to sack them as the current verification exercise is another smokescreen for a fraudulent agenda against workers’ interest.”
Meanwhile, a Federal High Court in Abuja has ordered the freezing of accounts belonging to Benue and Plateau States in four commercial banks, over their alleged refusal to release funds for the payment of wages and allowances of court workers in the states.
Justice Ademola Adeniyi , who gave the order while ruling on two ex-parte motions filed by the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), who sought to attach the states’ accounts in the banks over their alleged refusal to pay about N1.6 billion to satisfy the January 13, 2014 judgment given by the judge.
The Judge ordered the state governments to show cause why an order nisi should not be made absolute by the court.” Justice Ademola, in the 2014 judgment, affirmed the financial autonomy status granted the judiciary by the constitution and abolished funding of the arm of government by the state governments.
The Union stated, in their ex-parte motions, that the amount due to Benue State Judiciary “as at March 2015, is N957.6 million” and the amount due to the Plateau State Judiciary for the same period is N673.01 million. Justice Ademola adjourned the case to the 1st of June 2015.