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Labour, governors and burden of salaries


The President of the Nigerian Labour Congress, Ayuba Wabba PHOTO: NAN

The President of the Nigerian Labour Congress, Ayuba Wabba PHOTO: NAN

The payment of salaries by employers may not be a new development in Nigeria but owing salaries by governments is indeed fast becoming discomforting.

While in some climes, it is a crime for employers to contemplate delaying payment of salaries, not paying for months by governments who are elected to ensure the welfare of the citizens is indeed a worrying to labour unions in the country.

Expectedly, the two labour centres – Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) – have taken on suggestions from many quarters calling for downsizing in the public service. To the labour movement, providing jobs by governments is one of the constitutional responsibilities of the chief executives of states and local councils.

They argued that the prevailing low oil prices that have left Nigeria and other oil producing countries in financial predicament is not enough to embark on mass sacking which may also endanger social cohesion and escalate the social ills blowing across the country.

They equally posited that what is needed is to stimulate and energize the economy in order to device creative means of engaging the populace in productive activities instead of seeking to suffocate the economy through mass sack.

For instance, the both labour centres undeniably do not have kind words for those that have suggested reduction in the workforce as a way of alleviating the financial burden of the state governments.

Firing a vociferous salvo, the President of NLC, Ayuba Wabba, in Abuja lambasted Doyin Okupe, former Senior Special Assistant to former President Goodluck Jonathan for urging governors to retrench civil servants as a panacea to irregular payment of salaries.

Indeed, Okupe was quoted to have said that virtually all the state governments in the country have over-bloated civil service. To underscore his point, Okupe said 2008 and 2009, Ogun State received N2 billion monthly from the federation account and paid out N1.8billion as staff salaries, wages and overhead costs to civil servants not more than 50,000 in a state with a population of 5,000,000.

NLC was quick to explain that it believes in the equitable distribution of the nation’s resources and will therefore not subscribe to a situation where 10 per cent corner 90% of the resources of any state.

It therefore urged Okupe to do a forensic audit of what Ogun got, what was paid to civil servants, contractors and politicians and what was used to run the Government House.

NLC stated: “Okupe does not need a soothsayer or an economic guru to tell him truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth. If he falls for statistics like this, he will fall for anything, like he has done all his life.”NLC posited that it does not believe staff salaries and allowances are the main reason(s) the economy of the states is in shambles.

It explained: “Unlike Okupe, we do earnestly believe the states are where they are because of serial acts of corruption in the past, failure to save for a rainy day, high cost of governance (via employment of unneeded aides on criminally high salaries), unlawful and equally unacceptable severance packages for ex-governors and their deputies, cost of political expediency, failure to invest, etc.

By the way, we would want Okupe to let us know how much his monthly gross was before President Obasanjo showed him the door. He should also be patriotic enough to let us know what he did before his disorderly exit.”
We would want Doyin Okupe to know the following facts:

NLC submitted that it indeed not a favour when states employ its citizenry, saying it is merely doing its duty as prescribed by the Constitution.

It stressed that a careful and honest assessment of the overheads of states will reveal that salaries do more good than any other overhead.
It argued that it in realization of the stability the payment brings to the economy that influenced President Buhari’ decision to bailout state governments in order to pay salaries.

NLC submitted that Okupe should have been calling for the sanction of governors that diverted the bailout funds rather than urging the downsizing of the workforce.

“Thus, instead of calling for the sanction of these governors, who by their conduct have created misery as well as overheated the polity, he is calling for the blood of hapless civil servants,” it stated.

On its part, the TUC said any line of argument could not sustain the claim in some quarters that the inability of governors and Local Government Area Councils to pay salaries of workers is linked to the over-bloated public service.

It flayed the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun and Okupe, who separately asked governors to downsize because government is committing huge resources to the payment of salaries.

The Minister’s position is that the N165 billion monthly salaries to federal civil servants was over-bloated and could no longer be sustained by government.

TUC recalled that it was widely reported that the immediate past administration discovered hundreds of thousands of ghost workers within the civil service.

It added: “The present administration has also told us that they have discovered some and adopted series of measures to curb such cases. We are upset that the available information technology platforms and the Biometrics Verification Number (BVN) recently introduced by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) would have helped to iron out these things.”

However, it lauded the Minister for faulting the Integrated Payroll and Personal Information System (IPPIS) introduced by the last administration.

The Minister was reportedly said the system was sabotaged by elements benefitting from salary fraud.
“We also welcome her claim that she has “created a unit assigned with the sole responsibility of checking the salaries and catching those behind the over-bloated salary.” Our question now is, “Is the new unit a set of new employees or were they drawn from the same system?” Are we faced with a situation where a witch cried yesterday and a child died today? If so, do we need any soothsayer to inform us that it was the witch that killed the child?

For us there is no difference between the unit set up by the minister and the “elements” she alleged to be benefitting from the salary fraud,” TUC said.

TUC posited that though it might not know the exact amount the country gets from the sale of crude and the internally generated revenue, but it knows it is in trillions of Naira. TUC insisted that the challenge is that the cost of running government in the country is too expensive.

It added: “It is mindboggling that a senator who barely initiates a bill throughout a 4-year tenure earns more than the United State President in a country that is yet to find its feet. It beats our imagination how a government contemplates and suggests sacking a worker that earns N18, 000 national minimum wage while leaving politicians whose salaries and allowances are in millions. This does not make economic sense.”

The central labour unions stressed that it would fight to finish any attempt to sack Nigerians for errors that are clearly not theirs.
“It is peak of injustice to sack a worker who earns a stipend just to be able to sustain payment of millions of naira to politicians. We cannot be made to bear the brunt of what we do not know about just to massage the ego and pockets of a privileged few. Nobody or group should prompt a disruption of the prevailing peaceful industrial atmosphere in the country,” it said.

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