By Olusola Fabiyi and Eniola Akinkuotu
Governors under the auspices of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, have said that they are not elected to only pay salaries of civil servants.
They argued they were also elected to provide good roads, electricity, education and other necessary amenities for the people.
They said there was no way they could perform magic if there were no funds to work with.
They therefore called for the examination of the national income in the last 14 years to enable them to agree on the contentious issue of minimum wage implementation.
Chairman of the NGF, who is also the Governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari, made their position known to journalists after the meeting of the governors in Abuja on Wednesday night.
One of our correspondents reports that the committee working on the minimum wage is almost concluding negotiations on the matter.
The Federal Government had set a September date to roll out a new minimum wage for workers.
The Nigeria Labour Congress is proposing a minimum wage of N65,000 for workers, but the governors are insisting on the gradual implementation of the new wage, if eventually approved.
Yari said it was a pity that state governors had been limited to the payment of salaries alone in their respective states.
He said the lack of funds had hindered them from carrying out their responsibilities in other sectors such as health, electricity, education, roads, among others.
On minimum wage, he said, “We have a committee of six which represents us in discussions in the committee headed by the Minister of Labour, Dr Chris Ngige.
“The committee has yet to give us the final report. They have given us an interim report that at the Federal Government level, over 82 per cent is being spent on overheads which cannot move the country forward in terms of infrastructure development and development that we need now.
“So, on our own part, we are saying we are going to look at how our income is taken from our final account from 14 years ago so that we can come up and stay in the middle.”
He added, “I don’t think you people voted us only to pay salaries. You are looking for good roads, electricity, education and others. So, we can’t do magic. It’s only when we have the funds that we can do all those things.”
He disclosed that the governors also deliberated on the way the anti-graft agencies had been handling the war on corruption in the country.
He said that the governors resolved that both the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corruption and other Related Offences Commission must adhere strictly to due process.
He said the agencies must not engage in illegalities.
He said while the governors supported the present administration’s effort to curtail corruption, they were however not comfortable with some of the actions taken by the nation’s anti-corruption agencies.
He berated the EFCC for freezing the accounts of both Benue and Akwa Ibom states, adding that even President Muhammadu Buhari will not support the illegalities perpetrated by the agencies.
“We believe strongly that the government of President Muhammadu Buhari would not sit down and supervise this illegality in the system.
“What we are saying is that we all support the government to fight corruption because it is endemic and has retarded the nation for over six decades. Definitely, it was part of what we discussed.
“What we are saying now is that we are going to support the government in terms of what it is doing to fight corruption, but due process must be respected in whatever action the agencies are going to take in the name of fighting corruption. That is the position of the governors,” he said
Resign if you can’t pay, workers tell govs
In response to the governor’s position, the Secretary-General of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Peter Ozo-Eson, has lambasted the state chief executives.
Ozo-Eson, while speaking with one of our correspondents on the telephone on Thursday, said it was ironic that governors who were mismanaging the resources of their states still had the guts to complain that they did not have enough funds to pay salaries.
The NLC official said governors should be mindful of the fact that payment of salaries was not a favour but a sacred obligation.
He said the civil service remained the vehicle through which any government could fulfil its campaign promises.
Ozo-Eson said that without the payment of salaries, it would be almost impossible for any governor to meet his campaign promises.
He added, “The issue that they were not elected to pay salaries alone is unfortunate. Salaries are not a gift to people; salaries are compensation for workers helping to deliver governmental services. So, let them not talk as if salaries being paid to people are gifts.
“Salaries constitute part of the cost of delivering government services. Some of these governors fly chartered planes even within the country all from the state’s purse. Are they elected to drain the coffers of the state they are meant to govern? It will be rather unfortunate if they start playing politics with salaries and if they so do, Nigerians should be wise enough to also meet them at the polls.”
On the issue of the N65,000 minimum wage, the NLC secretary-general said no figure had been agreed on by the organised labour.
Ozo-Eson called on the governors not to take decisions based on rumours.
He added, “So, the question of reviewing the N65, 000 downwards doesn’t arise. People are bandying figures and we do not know where they emanated from but if the governors who are represented on the tripartite committee by six governors act on a rumour that is outside of the committee and using it as a basis to take a position, then that is rather unfortunate.”
Also speaking, the National President of the Trade Union Congress, Boboi Kaigama, said any governor that was not capable of paying salaries should resign.
Kaigama said payment of salaries was the most basic form of good governance.
The TUC boss said the organised labour had been advising governors to be imaginative by increasing the Internally Generated Revenues of their states but many of them were too lazy to think outside the box, preferring to go to Abuja cap-in-hand for handouts.
Kaigama added, “It is not an issue of having other responsibilities. Why are they not talking of good governance, blocking of leakages? This will enable them to pay the minimum wage and deliver the dividends of democracy to their citizens.
“We are the wealth creators and we believe we are entitled to our wages which is subject to periodic review because the inflationary trend has taken its toll on the people. In fact, in the public service, no worker’s salary can last more than a week.
“We keep saying that if any governor feels he cannot pay salaries, it means he cannot govern the state and he should tender his resignation letter. We know some governors are doing extremely well in the area of IGR but we know of some others who are waiting for handouts from FAAC.”