Workers’ welfare as a factor in governance
The three years of stewardship of Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, governor of Enugu State, appears to be the golden years of workers in the state, whose welfare has taken the centre stage in his development programmes. With a people-centred administration, Ugwuanyi is running a government in Enugu State that has shielded workers from the pain of general economic distress.
As far as government-labour relationship is concerned, Enugu State is one of the most comfortable places for workers under the lingering economic hardship in Nigeria. To this extent, the governor has been described as a symbolic oasis in a financially arid economy.
He is consistently putting smiles on the faces of Enugu indigenes at a time that Nigerians generally are wearing long faces configured by hash living conditions and intensified struggles for daily survival. In some states of the federation, it has been harrowing experiences for workers and pensioners in the face of inability to pay salaries regularly.
The Enugu State governor is rated outstanding in the country in his commitment to human capital development. This has boosted workers’ moral, raised productivity and ensured one of the most cordial relationships with the organised labour seen anywhere in Nigeria over the past three years.
Ugwuanyi appears to be a demonstration that when the righteous comes to rule, the people rejoice. This means creating joy and satisfaction among the people does not depend on how good is the economy but how good is the leadership.
Despite that Enugu isn’t one of the crude oil producing states – that earn extra revenue through derivation, it is named one of the three states rated capable of meeting their recurrent obligations by BudgIT’s report. Workers testify that government’s prudent management of the state’s resources is yielding democracy dividends at state, local government and community levels in Enugu State.
The Enugu State governor is leading the way in terms of commitment to the welfare of workers and residents in the state at the same time that he is in the forefront of infrastructure development projects in the country. This is against the general revenue constraints in Nigeria when salary arrears of workers have piled up to historic levels in many states of the federation.
Many state governors claim they have hearts of gold towards workers’ welfare: the test is how regular is the payment of salaries and pensions to workers. In Enugu State, this happens on or before the 25th of every month. According to Ugwuanyi, “this is in line with the interest we have in the welfare of workers”.
Ugwuanyi believes that improving the welfare of workers is key to moving the state forward. He is driven by the desire to build a civil service that will be a model in qualitative service delivery among contemporaries. Incentives to motivate workers to increase productivity and discharge their duties efficiently constitute his ingredients for attaining that goal.
Prompt and regular payment of salaries and pensions has stood Ugwuanyi out in terms of who is a responsible governor in Nigeria from the point view of workers. A monthly sum of N100 million has been provided for the payment of gratuity to retired civil servants.
Workers themselves testify of regular promotions, prompt payment of leave allowances and other unprecedented incentives such as payment of 13th month salary without lobbying and the opportunity for low grade workers to win houses.
Other sweeteners that Ugwuanyi has added to motivate workers include the absorption of 54% of the total cost of 100 housing units at Elim Estate allocated to workers as well as elongation of terminal grade of qualified primary school teachers to level 16. Government has cleared N82.7 million unremitted national housing fund contributions of workers between 2000 and 2004.
Workers have also been impressed by payment of arrears of salaries of 731 former staff of some state parastatals, regularization of casual staff of Enugu State University Teaching Hospital as permanent staff of the institution and general improvement in the quality of governance that has improved the quality of life among residents in Enugu State.
The value of what the governor is doing in regular payment of salaries becomes elevated in terms of giving workers financial stability in a volatile revenue situation. This is considered the true function of government – the ability to balance fluctuations in the economy, good and bad seasons to create stability in incomes, prices and employment.
To the workers in Enugu State, as voiced out by the state labour leaders during the 2018 workers’ day celebration, their governor’s friendly disposition to their welfare is “the first of its kind since the inception of this state”.
As part of the effort to create that stability, the federal government made funds available to states through bailouts and disbursement of Paris Club refund. In many states however governors were accused of diverting the funds from the defined purpose of catering for the welfare of workers. Labour unions had to organise numerous strikes in several states of the federation to compel state governors to apply the funds for the purpose they were provided.
The story is different in Enugu State where the governor’s new ethos of leadership employed transparency in the utilisation of the funds. Ugwuanyi made organised labour [the beneficiaries of the bailout] part of the committee for the disbursement of the bailout funds, which was accomplished in record time and to the cheer of workers in the state. Over 60% of the funds had been disbursed to beneficiaries by the end of February 2016 – a record speed seen in the management of the bailout money.
Workers did not have to fight the state governor in Enugu State over the bailout fund because the governor made them part of the process, a transparent process that worked smoothly in settling arrears of pensions, subventions to state government parastatals and the only one month outstanding salary arrears to non-permanent staff.
Labour leaders themselves affirmed that the committee, comprising labour and the state government, was in charge of verifying, monitoring and disbursing the funds to the beneficiaries from a dedicated account opened for the purpose.
Ugwuanyi’s example in this regard earned Enugu State three major awards – “the best governor in the utilization of federal government bailout fund by the Senate” and “the most labour-friendly governor award in the history of Enugu State” by organized labour. A national recognition followed from the national leadership of the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria with “the most labour-friendly governor” award in Nigeria.
The same wisdom ruled over the management of the Paris Club loan refund in Enugu State. The governor went beyond the federal government’s prescribed 50% limit in using the funds for payment of salary arrears of workers in local councils. Moved by this humane gesture, the state chapter of the National Union of Local Government Employees commended the governor for the transparent management of the Paris Club loan refund.
With the commitment to the welfare of the people, the state government has equipped workers with productivity enhancing facilities at their work places as well as life improving conditions where they live. A workers’ estate has sprang up at Ogbeke as part of government’s welfare package for the people of Enugu State.
Also the state government paid 30% equity contribution to enable interested civil servants in the state from grade levels 01 to 10 to acquire one bedroom apartments at Elim Estate, Ibagwa, near Enugu.
Beneficiaries of the housing scheme won their apartments through an open lottery system.The government of Ugwuanyi has made it possible for the low and middle grade level workers to suddenly become landlords. Unlike other housing development programmes that sell to the highest bidders, the Enugu State’s programme is a channel for redistribution of wealth to the needy. It represents a new pace that the Enugu State governor has set in housing delivery initiatives in Nigeria.
Many instances abound where governments have collected deposits from intending house owners, who have continued to wait for years, having neither their money nor the house paid for. Ugwuanyi is the man, who has made people with the least expectations of ever owning houses to have received same in a choice location almost overnight. This is clearly a dividend of good governance.
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