The recent call by a colleague on governors indebted to their workers to pay up is expected to be taken seriously, especially by those who have turned their civil servants to beggars. REGINA OTOKPA reports
In a manner devoid of camaraderie and sentiments last week, the Governor of Yobe State, Ibrahim Gaidam, came down hard on his colleagues following their habitual failure to pay their workers’ salaries.
Obviously miffed by the development, the governor told his colleagues that they had no reason to owe considering the funds that flow into their coffers from the centre and what they generate internally.
For a very long time, this is about the first time a fellow governor would take his fellow administrators to the cleaners over their deliberate refusal to meet their obligation as regards payment of salaries and pension to retirees.
Specifically, Geidam said governors had no reason whatsoever to owe workers’ salaries or pension in any state of the country.
As at the last count, at least 10 states were identified as being indebted to their workers. The situation, which has subjected most of the workers to begging, is indeed lamentable for the fact that the state governors have not only received their monthly allocations but also got several bailouts and refunds huge enough to offset whatever they owe.
According to a survey by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in the North Central zone, some of the states still owe workers in spite of the bailout funds provided by the Federal Government.
The survey also found that all debt-ravaged states that collected the Federal Government intervention fund as well as the Paris Club loan refund still owe some categories of workers salary arrears.
In Benue, for example, the state government owes state and local government workers seven months and 10 months’ salary arrears respectively.
Sources at the state Ministry of Finance indicated that the state government had received N12.5 million and N6.8 billion in the first and second installments of the Paris Club refund.
The state Governor, Samuel Ortom, had blamed government’s inability to settle workers’ salaries on huge wage bill, which he said was “too weighty” for the resources available to the state.
Putting the wage bill at about N8 billion, he pointed out that a committee had been set up to determine the veracity of the list of government workers.
Similarly, in Kogi, where the government have received more than N6 billion in the second tranche of the Paris Club refund, workers are being owed many months in salary arrears.
According to a top official of the administration, Mr Petra Akinti-Onyegbule, he said the government was doing everything possible to settle salaries owed workers.
According to findings, some workers received 60 per cent of their salaries in the last four months of 2017 (September to December) while others were being owed between 11 months and 22 months.
The situation in Taraba also showed that some workers had received their salaries up to December 2017 while others were still being owed many months in arrears.
Also affected are the state’s pensioners, whose Chairman, Hassan Abubakar, said that his members were owed gratuities totalling N14.9 billion.
“The state government owes its pensioners N9 billion, while local government pensioners are owed N5.9 billion in gratuities.”
Conversely, in Plateau, the state Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Mr Jibrin Bancir, confirmed that the state government did not owe any worker.
In Nasarawa State, Mr Abdullahi Adeka, the state Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), said that civil servants were being owed only one month salary arrears.
Adeka said staff salaries for March 2017 was outstanding, stressing that some workers, who participated in the industrial action called by the NLC last year, were not paid for two months as the state government invoked the “no work, no pay” policy.
In the same vein, states such as Osun, Bayelsa, Imo, Ondo, Ekiti, Ebonyi and Zamfara, among others, are also indebted to their workers with some of them resorting to paying half salaries.
Prioritising workers’ welfare
Calling for an end to the awkward development, Gaidam advised defaulting governors who were not up to date in the payment or salary, pension and gratuity arrears to ensure they make it a policy to pay workers and pensioners their entitlements.
According to him, there is need for federal and state governments to put in place, a policy that would ensure payment of salary, pension and gratuity becomes the first line charge once money drops from the federation account, before any other expenditure is carried out.
“There is no reason why any governor should not pay salaries to its civil servants and pensioners,” he said.
“While many states had backlog of unpaid salaries, pensions and gratuities, Yobe State is one of the few states, which had consistently paid salaries of staff without resort to the bailout funds from the Federal Government. We have also made it a deliberate policy that all civil servants in our state start receiving payment of pensions one month after retirement.
“I urge governments and other employers of labour to emulate our gesture so that the transition of civil servants from benefiting in payment of salaries to pensions will be a smooth and hitch free process devoid of unnecessary delays that tend to frustrate pensioners despite their selfless service to the nation.
“I advise them to be prudent and accountable to the management of the scare resources that are accruing from the federation account. If you are prudent, if you are organised, it help you to properly plan on how to apply the little resources you are receiving from the Federal Government to ensure salaries are paid as at when due and achieve all others things in your plan,” he said.
The clarion call has indeed become necessary since the affected state governors can hardly justify the situation considering the amount of bailout and refunds they have so far received from the Federal Government.