2019 Polls: Governors in desperate moves to clear salary backlog – Report

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With barely less than 150-days to next year’s general elections, some state governments are still indebted to their workers-serving and retired-despite receiving tranches of Paris Club funds in billions. Some governors have embarked on desperate moves to settle the backlogs for ‘political’ reasons, as investigations by Daily Trust on Sunday reveal.

It was barely eleven days to the conduct of the just concluded governorship election in Osun State when Governor Rauf Aregbesola reportedly released the sum of N19.8bn as payment to workers and pensioners who had hitherto been owed in arrears for over 10 months.

The governor also directed that workers who had been put on half pay should henceforth be paid in full. The state’s Commissioner for Finance, Bola Oyebamiji, who disclosed this in a statement on Tuesday, September 11, 2018 reportedly said the governor had authorized the release of the sum of N19,801,328,271.22 for gradual disbursement as salaries and other entitlements owed state workers and pensioners

“In line with labour unions’ demands and current financial position of the state, the government of Osun State led by Rauf Aregbesola has authorized payment of four (4) months’ salary arrears and 2016 leave bonus to its workers. Also, the Governor has directed that going-forward, workers in the state should be paid their full salary as and when due to demonstrate his commitment to his earlier promises,” Oyebamiji said.

Although the finance commissioner said the release of the fund was a show of the government’s commitment to state workers, not a few observers raised the suspicion that he was trying to ‘buy’ voters more so that it followed just days after reports emerged that the Federal Government paid the state N16.6 billion as part of the Paris Club refund.

Ahead of the 2019 general elections investigations by Daily Trust on Sunday have revealed that like their Osun State counterparts, many other state governors who owe workers’ salaries and retirees’ pension arears running into billions are making desperate moves to assuage the workers in their respective states.

However, with barely less than 150 days to the conduct of the 2019 general elections, there are indications that such governors may be stepping into the election year with huge backlog of unpaid salaries.

Kogi

In Kogi State, our checks reveal that civil servants are being owed over six months’ salaries. Kogi State Chairman of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Comrade Ranti Ojo, said there was an outstanding of 40% arrears of five months in 2017 which added up to two full month salaries.

Although the monthly wage of state was put at N2.7 billion currently, it could not be ascertained the exact amount the government is indebted to civil servants and pensioners even though it runs into billions.

The TUC chairman, however, said that workers were also being owed salaries for the months of June to September 2018 which adds up to another four months.

According to him, there are other categories of workers that are owed several months of salaries due to the fallout of the prolonged staff verification exercise embarked upon by the state government.

The State Commissioner for Finance, Alhaji Idris Asiru, said workers have been paid up to May and that efforts are on to block all leakages and reduce cost of governance in order to be able clear arrears owed workers. This move is viewed as intended to pacify the workers ahead of the 2019 elections.

Benue

In Benue State, the last minute effort by Governor Samuel Ortom to settle outstanding salary arrears running into six months before going into the 2019 polls has hit the brick wall as the Federal Government reportedly recalled its share of the Paris Club. The embattled governor had reportedly directed the disbursement of the N14.9 billion Paris Club refund received by the state government to offset at least four months backlog of salaries before the federal government thwarted the arrangement by recalling back the fund.

As at now the Benue State government is said to owe workers in its employ six months’ salary arrears while those at the local government councils are being owed for 10 months with teachers owed for 11 months.

The state’s Chairman of Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Godwin Anya told our correspondent that pensioners in the state are currently being owed for 14 months and gratuities running into billions of Naira.

The Deputy Governor of the state who is the Chairman of the State of Emergency on Salary Committee, Engr. Benson Abounu in a recent appearance before the state’s House of Assembly maintained that based on the findings from his committee, the total wage bill of the state had been reduced from N7.8billion to N5.5billion.

Nasarawa

In Nasarawa state civil servants are being owed three months’ salary arrears, while their local government counterpart are receiving percentage salaries, Daily Trust on Sunday gathered.

However, the state government is said to have promised to settle all outstanding arrears of civil servants before 2019 election. Last week the state government summoned a meeting over arrears of secondary school teachers with the Academic Staff Union of Secondary Schools (ASUSS).

Bayelsa

Ahead of the 2019 elections the Bayelsa state government is said to have promised to use N8 billion from the N24.16 billion received from Paris Club refunds to settle backlog of salary and pension arrears of the civil servants and retirees in the state.

The state commissioner for Information and Orientation, Daniel Iworiso-Markson, who disclosed this in a statement last week, also announced that the state government has received a total sum of N24.16 billion from the Paris Club debt refund.

Civil servants in the state have been crying for their unsettled arrears spanning many months, Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that civil servants are also owed three to four months’ salary arrears.

Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in the state, John Bipre Ndiomu, recently raised alarm that workers in the state were still being owed three months’ salary arrears and urged the state government to pay the backlog owed workers since 2016 in order for them to improve their well-being.

“Yes, we have been owed for three months by the state government. We call their attention on the need to pay the arrears now that we have come out of the recession. We agreed that for the past two years, salary have been paid regularly but the arrears are still our major concern, especially now that the economy is improving.”

However, Information Commissioner, Iworiso-Markson said Governor Henry Seriake Dickson, had directed immediate payment of two out of the outstanding three months’ salary arrears to workers and four out of seven months’ pension arrears in the state.

Kwara

The Governor Abdulfattah Ahmed led administration of Kwara State which will be coming to an end by May 29, 2019 will be leaving with huge outstanding salary arrears being owed some workers and pensioners, checks by Daily Trust on Sunday reveal.

The State Chairman of Nigerian Labour Congress, Mr Yekini Agunbiade confirmed that the state government still owes some salary arrears. In a telephone interview with our correspondent he said the state government is still owing SUBEB teachers and non-teaching staff some salary arrears, including local government workers, local government pensioners, some parastatals and tertiary institutions.

Concerned Teachers of SUBEB in Kwara state recently protested at the state capital Ilorin over their unpaid salary arrears insisting that they will not resume for a new academic session. Spokesperson of the teachers, Mr Abubakar Abdulwha’ab said Kwara SUBEB teachers have endured for long and cannot endure anymore.

“Our staff is dying. Kwara SUBEB teachers have turned to beggars. They beg all over the streets. We implore the Kwara State Governor, and the Senate President to come to our aid. We are tired of being patient. If they do not pay us, we will not resume academic activities.

“We do not have promotion since 2010. They gave us two letters without money. They cannot bring their wards to our school. It is as if they do not have blood in their vein. It was scheduled that we will resume by September 17, if they do not pay us, we are staying at home and no Jupiter can force us to resume. No money, no resumption”, he maintained.

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