Buhari HAD queried: “How can anyone go to bed and sleep soundly when workers have not been paid their salaries for months? I actually wonder how the workers feed their families, pay their rents and even pay school fees for their children.”
By Ehichioya Ezomon
AS Christians, and many non-Christians prepare to mark the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ this Christmastide, the Nigerian workers and retirees at the state and local government levels, who may not join in the celebrations due to non-payment of (arrears of) salaries or pensions call for a thought.
Their condition typifies what the legendary reggae maestro, the late Robert Nesta ‘Bob’ Marley, described as the “Rat Race” where “In the abundance of water, the fool is thirsty.” Nigeria’s workers are no fools, so, in the sobriety of this season, we should think about them, considering the unbecoming attitude of some state governors, who blame the current economic crunch for their failure to meet their obligations to workers. Yet, they continue to live a life that questions their cries of scarce resources.
If not downright insensitivity, how could $86.5 million of the N522.74 billion refunds from the over-deducted London-Paris Club loan find its way into an account of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF); N19 billion paid to alleged governors’ proxies as consultancy and legal fees for securing the refunds; and some billions got to National Assembly persons, who are not members of the NGF?
And why did the governors give cold-shoulder to the gentleman’s agreement they had with President Muhammadu Buhari that states would use 25 per cent to 50 per cent of the refunds for payment of outstanding salaries and pensions? So many “hows” and “whys” and yet no answers!
The Federal Government, to keep the states afloat, has practically been playing Father Christmas, doling out trillions of interventions, especially for the payment of salaries and allowances to workers, and gratuities and pensions to retirees.
In his broadcast to mark Nigeria’s 57th Independence anniversary, Buhari said that besides statutory monthly allocations shared by the federal (to the state and local governments), his government, had released N1.64 trillion to states and local governments between 2015 and 2017. These interventions were in the form of State Excess Crude Account loans, Budget Support Facility, and Stabilization Fund Release to state and local governments, as follows: N200 billion in 2015, N441 billion in 2016 and N1 trillion in 2017, totaling N1.64 trillion.
Said the President: “This was done to enable states to pay outstanding salaries, pensions and small business suppliers, who had been all but crippled over the years.”
Despite the interventions, state and local government workers continue to grumble and protest over unpaid salaries and allowances. During a visit of representatives of the NGF to the Presidential Villa on October 17, Buhari queried: “How can anyone go to bed and sleep soundly when workers have not been paid their salaries for months? I actually wonder how the workers feed their families, pay their rents and even pay school fees for their children.”
Noting that the challenge in payment of salaries in states “has taken a toll on the people,” the president said the Federal Government and state executives would “need to work closer together to ameliorate the situation of workers across the country.” It was a proposal an obviously stunned Chairman of the NGF, Alhaji Abdul’aziz Abubakar Yari, concurred with.
Yari, also the Governor of Zamfara State, said the governors “are concerned with the situation in our states,” and that the bailout funds, and part of the London-Paris Club loan refunds “were judiciously utilized to alleviate the plight of workers.” He however urged the Federal Government to do more to get the states out of the woods.
Like the fabled Oliver Twist, the governors, this time, want full refunds of the over-deducted loan, employing subtle blackmail, such as reminding the President about the agreement they reached with him for the balance to be paid after reconciliation; and for them to factor the refunds in their 2018 budget estimates, without specifically mentioning payments to workers and retirees – a point that didn’t escape the president. He made of point of that when he finally approved payment of the refunds to the states.
Buhari said: “This (refunds) should be done (applied) not only for next year’s budget, but for this Christmas. For Nigerians without sources other than their salary, I am concerned that workers should be able to pay rent, school fees, buy drugs and take care of their families. I am so much concerned that people should have something to eat at Christmas.”
It is hoped that the president’s appeal, which now sounds like a broken record, will not fall on “deaf ears” because, no sooner than the bailouts and the first tranche of the London-Paris Club loan refunds were released to the governors than they reneged on the promises made to the president to pay their workers and retirees.
For once, let the governors spare a thought for their states’ present and former workers who, as labourers, deserve their wages.
Mr. Ezomon, journalist and media consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.