Monday, December 6, 2021

‘Despite Federal Govt bailout, Paris Club refund, states still owe salaries’

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Jaafar Jaafar is a graduate of Mass Communication from Bayero University, Kano. He was a reporter at Daily Trust, an assistant editor at Premium Times and now the editor-in-chief of Daily Nigerian.
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A survey by the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, in the North Central zone has revealed that state governments 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 refunds are still owing some categories of workers salary arrears.

In Benue, for example, NAN learnt that the state government owes state and local government workers seven months and 10 months’ salary arrears respectively.

They were said to have received salaries last in May 2017 and February 2017 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 instalments of the Paris Club refund.

Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue 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.

Mr Ortom said that the wage bill was about N8 billion, adding that a committee had been set up to determine the veracity of the list of government workers.

His Deputy, Benson Abounu, said recently that the state government would start paying workers steadily from the end of January 2018.

Mr Abounu told NAN that a committee on emolument which he heads, had scrutinised the emolument requirements of the entire work force in Benue, adding that the exercise brought down the wage bill to N4.9 billion from N7.8 billion.

“The wage bill in 2017 was N7.8 billion; now, it is N4.9 billion. So, we shall strive to be consistent in payment.”

Mr Abounu, however, said that the reduction in the wage bill would be achieved either by pruning the workforce or a downward review of salaries across board.

According to him, pensioners’ bill stands at N500 million monthly, adding that they are being screened to ensure that genuine beneficiaries are paid.

“Some pensioners have died but they are still being paid. We cannot accept that any longer,” he said.

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Similarly, in Kogi, where the government was said to have received more than N6 billion in the second tranche of the Paris Club refund, workers are being owed many months in salary arrears.

Petra Akinti-Onyegbule, the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Yahaya Bello, told NAN that the government was doing everything possible to settle salaries owed workers.

NAN learnt that 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 respectively.

Idris Asiru, the Commissioner for Finance, who spoke with NAN on the issue, expressed regret over government’s inability to pay full salary and arrears across board in the last four months of 2017.

Mr Asiru said that the situation would improve as government’s drive for more internally generated revenue continued to record more success.

“The Federal Government owes us N14 billion for projects executed; once we get that money, the workers shall smile,” he said.

However, organised labour in the state has accused the state government of reneging on all agreements it reached with the workers before the suspension of the industrial action in November 2017.

Onuh Edoka, the state Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and Ranti Ojo of the Trade Union Congress, TUC, gave this indication in a joint statement issued in Lokoja.

The labour leaders also expressed shock at the statement credited to the state government that it had cleared salary arrears owed civil servants up to December 2017.

They said that available record showed that government unilaterally paid 60 per cent and 40 per cent to state and local government workers respectively, from August to December, 2017.

The unions further said that the salary arrears due to some staff owed between six months between 22 months before August 2017 were still hanging.

They wondered why the state government would claim that all workers had been paid up to date.

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The unions also expressed shock over of Governor Yahaya Bello’s pronouncement that the government had borrowed N10 billion to pay salary arrears.

“It is evident that the state government collected over N6 billion Paris Club refund in addition to the monthly allocations of October and November 2017.

“The total sum ordinarily could have been enough to pay full salary to all categories of staff going by the wage bill of N2.6 billion presented by the state government.”

The organised labour described the governor’s pronouncement that workers had been paid up to December 2017 as “mere political statement that could not be justified’’.

In Taraba, NAN survey also showed that some workers had received their salaries up to December 2017 while others were still being owed many months in salary arrears.

Members of the Taraba Football Club were said to be owed between 15 and 19 months’ salary arrears while local government workers were being owed between two and 10 months’salaries.

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.”

Meanwhile, the state government was said to have received N6.8 billion as the second tranche of the Paris club refund.

Conversely, in Plateau, the state Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Jibrin Bancir, confirmed that the state government was not owing any worker.

“All civil servants have been paid up to December. Pensioners have also been fully paid.

“The only issue in the state is that of gratuities; those who have retired have yet to receive their gratuities and that is what we are working to see that it is addressed.

“We have been assured that the situation will soon be addressed,” he said.

The Plateau Head of Service, Izam Azi, who spoke with NAN, said that the government “will never play with the welfare of its workers”.

“The workers are our backbone and our priority; we shall not play with their welfare,” he said.

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In Nasarawa State, Abdullahi Adeka, the state Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, said that civil servants were being owed only one month salary arrears.

Mr Adeka told NAN that staff salaries March 2017 was outstanding.

He also explained disclosed 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.

He, however, said the labour union was negotiating with the government to resolve the matter.

The labour leader further said that local government workers were being owed arrears of percentages on their salaries since October 2015.

Commenting on the issue, Haruna Osegba, the state Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, attributed the situation to paucity of funds occasioned by the recession.

He explained that stakeholders, including labour, met and agreed that instead of allowing salaries to pile up due to lean resources; workers should be paid in percentages pending when the economy improved.

According to him, local government workers were initially being paid between 50 per cent and 70 per cent of their salaries.

He said that the payment had increased to between 65 per cent and 85 per cent due to the recent improvement in the revenue inflow from the Federation Account.

Mr Osegba maintained that part of the Paris Club refund was being used to augment salaries of local government workers monthly as instructed by the Federal Government.

He said that government was working assiduously to end the percentage payment of salaries and also clear the backlog of percentage arrears.

Meanwhile, the state’s Accountant- General, Zaka Yakubu, confirmed that the state government received the sum of N4.5 billion from the Federal Government in November 2017 as the last tranche of the Paris Club loan refund.

Mr Yakubu said that N2.9 billion from the amount was for the state, while local government got N1.6 billion.



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