OSUN: Workers Set To Severe Relationship With Aregbesola
THE cordial relationship that once existed between Osun State government and its workers when governor Rauf Aregbesola came on board is gradually being eroded, no thanks to the inability of the administration to pay workers salaries regularly.
Signs that the state is facing serious financial strain became manifest last year, just before the August governorship election, when the government faced a similar situation. It was the ingenuity of the state’s apparatus and the prompt intervention of the first civilian governor of the state, Senator Isiaka Adetunji Adeleke, and other party leaders that saved the situation.
These people advised the authorities to source for fund for the settlement of salary arrears the state government owed the workers. Adeleke, it would be recalled, had just dumped the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), for the All Progressives Congress (APC) and made the recommendation having seen the inherent danger his new party was going into close to the governorship election, while workers remained unhappy over salary matters.
In the beginning, the state accorded issues of welfare of workers top priority attention and ensures that workers receive their salaries latest on 26 of every month, before the state’s share from the federation account arrives until the financial crisis set in. The Guardian learnt that government is able to do this through creativity and savings from the oil windfall accruing to Osun.
However, the current financial strain is further compounded by a sharp drop in the prices of oil and the attendant shortfall in the state’s allocation from the Federation Account.
Aregbesola had, on several occasions, heaped the blame of the current financial crisis in the state on the Federal Government, alleging deliberate plans to cripple Osun and other APC-controlled states through excessive deductions. The Federal Government, on its part, had equally denied the claim, saying Osun government’s problem is self-inflicted because the state collected huge loans, which it has to repay.
President Goodluck Jonathan’s statement during his recent visit to traditional rulers in the state and the position of the Vice President, Namadi Sambo, when the PDP came for the presidential campaign in Osun late last year, that the state receives its rightful due from the federation account, have not helped matter.
The financial challenges in the state have not only affected payment of workers salaries, but also, caused stoppage of capital development projects including, the road infrastructure and construction of ultra-modern school buildings initiated across the state.
The PDP has blamed part of the financial challenges of the state on alleged huge debt burden and compulsory contribution imposed by the leadership of the APC on its states to finance the campaign for the March 28 and April 11 rescheduled general elections.
However, Aregbesola has denied the allegation that his administration engages in financial recklessness, rather, he said he has put the necessary machinery in motion to ensure the survival and sustainability of the system.
For instance, as part of the cost-saving measures to ensure fulfilment of his electoral promises and meet its other obligations, the APC administration has suspended appointment of cabinet members and other political offices. The state has only appointed few key government functionaries, including, Secretary to the State Government (SSG) and the Chief of General Staff (CoS) and retention of key heads of parastatals and agencies.
But some labour leaders in the state have accused the government of alleged ploy to neglect the welfare of workers in order to satisfy political commitment. The argument is that even with shortfall in the federation account, the state can still manage to pay salaries given the marked improvement in Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), which recently grew from barely N600 million to about N1.6 billion.
This reasoning, among others, drew the angst of workers last week, when they staged a peaceful protest against the non-payment of their salaries for about five months.
Under the aegis of Trade Union Congress (TUC), scores of the workers, armed with placards bearing different inscriptions, demanded the payment of salary arrears and other deductions, including, remittance of contributory pension fund and cooperative contributions, being held by the government.
Chairman Senior Staff Association of Osun State, Comrade Olatunji Akinyemi, Akinyemi told The Guardian that pushed to the wall by the state government, as members were facing untold hardship since last year when the government was unable to meet its obligation to workers.
He narrated the ordeal workers in the state are going through due to irregular payment of salary, saying, “a worker died about two weeks ago because he could not afford to buy just an inhaler, this is a pathetic situation we are facing here in Osun.”
However, the state government has denied the salary arrears owed workers was up to five months. While reacting to the development, the Chief of Staff (CoS) to the state governor, Alhaji Gboyega Oyetola, urged the protesters to be patient with government, blaming the development on the drastic reduction in revenue accruing to the state from the federation account.
He said, “as at now, we have paid up to the month of January and before the end of the week, the remaining salaries would definitely be paid to the workers without any delay, so, we don’t just sit down here doing nothing as we know and appreciate workers contribution to state development and what they are currently passing through.”
Also, the Director, Bureau of Communications and Strategy Office of the Governor, Mr. Semiu Okanlawon, said government appreciates the feeling being experienced by the workforce on the salaries owed them.
He said, “while we recognise the right of the workers to seek for the payment of that, which is legitimately theirs, we wish to repeat for the umpteenth time that the unfortunate owing of salaries running to about three months cannot be divorced from the crushing revenue crisis that has hit Nigeria as a whole.
“What is required at this stage is for all and sundry to properly understand the genesis of this whole saga, which will be helpful, rather than being viewed as a deliberate act on the part of the government.”