In Ondo, inherited salary burden heats up polity
Members of Ondo State workforce are on the warpath with the state governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, over government decision not to devote the entire money from the Paris Club refund to paying salaries owed by the previous administration of Dr. Olusegun Mimiko.
The once cordial relationship between the state workforce and the government of governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State that was engendered by the pledge to pay six-month backlog of salaries inherited from the immediate past administration of Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, is gradually turning sour.
After the receipt of N7.6 billion Paris Club refund by the state government few weeks ago, the expectant workers, who are still owed salary arrears from September 2016 to January 2017, had expected payment of outstanding arrears as promised by Akeredolu.
But the governor informed the labour unions that 75 percent of the fund, which is N5.7 billion, would not be enough to offset all the outstanding salary and pensions for September 2016, thereby suggesting grade level and fractional payment of 80 percent for September 2016, which the unions rejected.
The unions under the auspices of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and Joint Negotiating Council (JNC), urged the government to source for the estimated balance of N500 million to pay the workers their full salary.But the Senior Special Assistant to the governor on Special Duties and Strategy, Dr Doyin Odebowale, accused the union leaders of deceiving their members and misrepresenting the decision they took together with the government concerning the payment formula.
According to Odebowale who was piqued by the amount of opposition the position of the union leaders has generated against the government, “It is the height of irresponsibility, therefore, to tell lies on a fact released without any prompting. Keen watchers of events of this administration, since inception, should see through this lie.”
Odebowale disclaimed the N7.6 billion figure which the Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Mr. Segun Ajiboye officially declared six weeks ago, saying “The Paris Club refund accruable to Ondo State is N6.38 billion (Net) and not N7.6 billion as claimed. This fact was made known to the representatives of the union at a public forum.”
He disclosed that that some states in the federation only allocated 50 percent of the total refund to offset salaries and the remaining 50 percent for capital projects whereas, “Ondo State has agreed to allocate 75 percent of the total sum to pay pensioners in full, offset part of the gratuities owed retirees, release subventions to institutions and parastatals and to pay 80 percent of the September 2016 salary.
“The remaining 25 percent is for capital projects. It is rather disturbing to note that those who claim to serve the public will insist that the government should reserve nothing for the generality of the people who constitute over 95 percent of the populace. The reference to the July salary paid to Local Government workers appears disingenuous.”
The governor’s aide stressed that “Selfless union leaders owe their members a duty to always speak the truth and to act in their best interest at all times. Local government workers are not even in a position to demand full payment of September 2016 salary.
“There has been a consistent shortfall in the allocations released to the Local Governments since May, 2017. The state government received 67 percent (N4.467 billion) of the refund while the councils got 33 percent (N2.169 billion). The July 2017 salary was paid with this fund, not September 2016 salary, as mischievously peddled.”
He, however, noted that it is “probably unnecessary to dignify those who over assume their relevance that their support secured the resounding victory for the governor. While we will continue to acknowledge the unalloyed support of the workers in the state, we must hasten to debunk this snide suggestion.
“The good people of this state voted for the realistic manifesto presented. We promised that their welfare would be the directive principle of state policy under our watch. The allegiance of this government is to them and not a select few. No worker should be afraid of persecution in this dispensation. No one will, however, enjoy unmerited privileges.
“No amount of blackmail can stampede this administration to take decisions which will be inimical to the interests of the generality of the people who are not in the employ of the government.”
Odebowale who reiterated the commitment of the administration to the welfare of the workers, by saying “The deserving will be promoted,” alleged that the union leaders were responsible for the problems, which the workers are presently facing in the state.
“Those who are just waking up to their mandate as union leaders must be asked to explain their roles in the pauperization of the mass of workers in the not too distant past. They should be able to tell workers how their affairs got to this sorry state.”
In reaction to this and the subsequent payment of the rejected 80 percent by the office of the Accountant-General, the union leaders: Mrs. Bose Daramola (NLC), Sola Ekundayo (TUC) and Adeleye Oluwole (JNC), convened an emergency meeting to express their dissatisfaction over the “unilateral decision.”
The unions accused the governor of forcefully introducing percentage and fractional salary payment into the state, insisting that workers would not accept anything less than their full salary for September 2016.Rising from the emergency meeting, the affiliate unions said despite their efforts to dissuade Akeredolu against percentage payment like a neighbouring state, the state government still directed the Accountant-General to start paying 80 percent.
The unionists noted that meetings held with some government’s representatives and the governor himself only agreed on the utilization of the second tranche of the 75 percent of the debt refund for workers on grade levels one to 14.They affirmed that the entire state workers appraised the 80 percent payment made to them as a gift and not salary until government made full payment of the September 2016 salary arrears adding that the government’s decision was not an agreement with the organised labour.
They said it was too authoritarian, erroneous and elementary for any political appointee to be claiming that the present administration did not owe workers, adding that it was well known that state governors statutorily inherited both assets and liabilities of their predecessors.
According to them, “If Governor Akeredolu’s administration can spend money left in the account by his predecessor, he should also pay in full, the debt and salaries owed by Mimiko’s government whenever funds are available instead of using his aides to attack labour unions. We will do everything to reject introduction of percentage salary in Ondo State, no matter of government propaganda to blackmail us.”
The union leaders expressed disappointment over the attitude of the State Head of Service, Mr Toyin Akinkuotu, saying he was not doing enough to protect the interest of Ondo State workers under the present administration. They also berated Odebowale for using what they called “unprinted names and unguided statements” against indigenes of the state and labour leaders warning that the labour movement would be forced to put in the public domain, damaging information about the governor’s aide.
The union leaders, who reminded the SSA that government is a continuum, advised Akeredolu to call him to order, emphasizing that his recent utterances showed clearly that the present administration would not be worker-friendly.While noting that the Paris debt refund, which Akeredolu’s administration claimed could not be used to pay salary and pension in full, was a dividend of his predecessors, they warned political appointees to always remember that running a government is not a personal or private business, hence the need for those in the helm of affairs to obey the extant laws of the civil service.
The aggrieved workers added that elected and appointed political office holders only hold offices in trust for indigenes, as “no worker would accept gradual introduction of percentage or fractional salary in the state irrespective of political blackmail or propaganda by the Akeredolu administration.”