Workers threaten showdown with governors over bailout funds

By The Citizen

Civil servants in the various states across the country have warned their governors against the diversion of the Budget Support Funds recently released to them by the Central Bank of Nigeria.

The workers, who spoke with through their leaders in the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress, threatened to embark on a strike if the money was not used to pay their outstanding salaries.

About 27 states owe workers salaries ranging from two to seven months, as of June 30th 2016.

Some of the affected states include  Abia, Bayelsa, Benue, Delta, Ekiti, Imo, Kogi, Kwara, Nasarawa, Niger, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo and Plateau.

It was gathered that Edo, Lagos, Delta, Ebonyi, Anambra, Cross River, Akwa Ibom,  Kano and Enugu states were paying  their workers' salaries and allowances  as of May this year.

Rivers State was said to have paid salaries for March and pensions up to February and Borno State had paid up to  March with the exception of its Hosing Corporation workers, while Ogun State, though paying salaries regularly, was having challenges  with the workers over the remittances of pension deductions from their salaries, and payment of gratuities.

Our correspondent in Imo state reports that workers are sad about the  non-payment of four months' salaries.

The workers, who spoke on condition of anonymity in separate interviews, noted that life had been miserable for them, members of their families and other dependants.

A 43-year-old widow in the state ministry of education said, 'We are frustrated. Most of our colleagues have died and many others are dying because of hunger and ill-health.'

The Chairman of the state chapter of the National Union of Local Government Employees, Mr. Ambrose Onuoha, told SUNDAY PUNCH that workers were experiencing hardship.

He  said council workers and other civil servants in the state could not afford good food, and were unable to afford health care services or buy drugs , among other responsibilities.

Onuoha confirmed that many workers had died since the salaries had stopped but refused to disclose the exact figure of the casualities.

Also, the Chairman of the state council of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Austin Chilakpu, frowned at the poor conditions of workers in the state.

He said, 'Our stand now is that workers should be paid 100 per cent of their salary as at when due. The organised labour in the state is planning a showdown with the state government if it tries in any way to divert the fund, like it happened before.'

The Chairman of the NLC in Nasarawa State,  Abdullahi Adeka, and his counterpart in the the TUC, Danladi Namo,  told SUNDAY PUNCH that the current strike in the state would continue since the state government had remained adamant by deducting over 50 per cent from workers' salaries despite their plight.

Adeka said, 'We are not concerned about whether the state government would execute any capital project or not. What we are asking the state government for is to pay us our salaries. We are demanding our annual increments and our promotions'

He explained that the indefinite strike  by the workers in the state followed the inability of the state government to pay their salaries and  reverse its decision to cut their salaries by 50 per cent.

On the N1.3bn received by the state government as budget support,  the union leader said, 'This is what we have been saying. The state government will continue to collect loans and our allocations will continue to reduce from the Federation Account.'

The NLC  Chairman in Benue State, Godwin Anya, advised the state government to use the Budget Support Funds for the payment of the six months' salaries it was owing civil servants.

Anya noted that only one month out of the six months salaries had been paid. He warned that the workers would not hesitate to protest if the balance was not paid.

He said, 'Workers in the state have waited patiently for six months and would not hesitate to frown at any attempt to deny them what is due them.'

Cross River
In Cross River State, labour unions have vowed to strictly monitor the disbursement of the Budget Support Funds.

Although SUNDAY PUNCH learnt that it was not clear as of Friday if the state had received its share of the bailout, union leaders said they would not stand by and  watch government channelling the funds to other areas.

The Chairman of the NLC in the state, Mr. John Ushie, said the union would ensure that government resumed the payment of gratuities and pensions as soon as the bailout was received.

Ushie said, 'Fortunately, we have just finished taking decisions on the huge gratuities and pensions being owed by state governments. In Cross River State, our focus will be to address this. We will not allow the government to be at peace if they do not comply.

'For those states whose workers are being owed salaries, the governors have no choice but to start payment with the bailout funds released by the Federal Government. We will not allow what they did with the last one to continue.'

Also, the TUC chairman in the state, Mr. Clarkson Otu, said his union would collaborate with the NLC to monitor compliance in the disbursement of the bailout funds.

He said, 'From next week, we should start asking questions on how they are going to apply the bailout funds. The  payment of workers is up to date, but we have chunks of unpaid gratuities running into billions of naira.'

The Chairman of the NLC  in Plateau State, Mr. Jibrin Bancir, noted that the N5.3bn received as budget support was not enough to clear the backlog of salaries being owed by the state.

He said  the state government had paid up to May, and that June and July salaries were still outstanding.

He said, 'We have assurances that the June salaries would be paid by next week. We don't have issues with the government because we are being regularly updated on the developments, especially with regards to finances in the state.'

Our correspondent in Ekiti reports that the state had yet to get the N1.3bn Budget Support Funds from the Federal Government as of  the close of work on Friday.

The Commissioner for Information, Youth and Sports Development, Mr. Lanre Ogunsuyi, said in Ado Ekiti, 'As of Thursday, we had yet to get the money. And there was no information about the money today (Friday ).'

However, Ogunsuyi confirmed that workers in the state received their February salary on Friday.

He said, 'We have paid one month's salary from the available money. We are still better than states planning to retrench. We won't do that here.'

The  state chairman of the NLC, Raymond Adesanmi, did not answer calls placed to his phone on Friday by our correspondent and he did not respond to a text message sent to his mobile phone.

The NLC Chairman in Osun  State, Mr. Jacob Adekomi, said the state government had paid salaries up to April  to its workers and that Governor Rauf Aregbsola had promised the leadership of the organised labour  that the bailout would be used to offset the arrears.

He said, ' The governor had promised us that the bailout will be used to pay our arrears. We don't have any reason to doubt him. Some few days back, representatives of the labour held a meeting with the chief of staff and the issue of the arrears was addressed at the meeting.

'We don't need to think that they would not honour what they said so we don't need to issue any threat yet. We believe the arrears would be paid, and we can only pray they fulfill the promise.'

He, however,  said workers from Grade Level 8 and above had been collecting half salaries since July 2015 adding that the workers had continued to support the state government despite hardship caused by the salaries arrears.

Meanwhile,   some workers, who spoke to our correspondent on condition of anonymity, said workers would mobilise against the state government if the salary arrears were not paid with the bailout.

The Chairman, Trade Union Congress, Ogun State chapter, Olubunmi Fajobi,  said the state government had taken the first tranche of the Budget Support Funds but  that it had not used the money to pay the arrears of  about 10 months' cooperative deductions owed the workers.

He said, 'We learnt that the government has taken the first tranche of the Budget Support Funds. But we expected the government to invite the unions to tell us how much they had received and how it would meet some of the challenges the workers are facing.

'One of them is the arrears of unpaid cooperative deductions. The workers cannot access the fund for what they are meant for.'

In Kwara State,  the Chairman of the TUC, Mr. Kolawole Olumoh,  said government had paid July salaries with the N1.3bn Budget Support Funds it got from the Federal Government but that many months of salary arrears were still outstanding.

He said labour leaders would   have a meeting with Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed on the issue.

Olumoh and the state Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress,  Mr. Yekini Agunbiade, threatened that  the state TUC and NLC would resist the state government, if it did not use the fund to offset the backlog of salaries of  workers in the state.

Olumoh said, 'They cannot divert the money. They will have another problem with us. That I know. We will sanction them because the reason for which N1.3bn is being released to all the states is to settle backlog of salaries.

'We  are going to use all measures within our capacity to sanction them. The national headquarters (of our union)  told us that we should make reports officially (if the money is diverted); and they will support whatever we want to do.'

However, the state government may be poised for a showdown with the state government over the bailout funds as the Senior Special Assistant on Media and Communication, Dr. Muyideen Akorede, said the N1.3bn would not only be used to settle salary arrears .

He said part of the money would also be used to resume execution of all stalled projects.

He said, 'We have received the money. It is for budget support. It is going to be used for all government programmes as entrenched in the budget. It includes salaries and projects.' - Punch.