The inability of Kogi State government to pay salaries to its workforce has resulted in hunger and an unpleasant yuletide celebration for public servants of the confluence state writes correspondent, LABARAN TIJANI.
“For the first time since 1999 when democracy returned to Nigeria, workers in the employ of Kogi State celebrated Christmas in hunger, this is despite the fact that the state government collected federal allocations….” This is a statement of fact from Kogi State organised labour leaders recently in Lokoja over the plight of workers in the state as a result of nonpayment of salary by kogi state government since October last year.
Before now, Capt Idris Wada’s led administration considered payment of salaries as a matter of responsibility and ensured its regularity. In fact, workers celebrated the prompt payment of their salaries 25th of each month, when the going was good.
But Nigerian Pilot Sunday’s investigation revealed that Kogi State has a workforce of over 30,000, including political appointees, with a total wage bill of about N3.2 billion.
Until April/May last year when the state’s allocation from the federal government came down to about N2.8/2.6 billion, it had been keeping faith with the payment of workers, who are said to be the highest paid in the North Central geopolitical.
The governor has hinged his inability to settle the salary of workers as scheduled to the precarious economic challenges resulting from the decline in the international price of crude oil and its negative impact on the state’s allocation from the federation account.
Faced with the challenge, the governor, mid last year, proposed a 40 per cent reduction of the salary of workers. But the workers turned down the proposal, advising him (governor Wada) to evolve a formula for full payment of their salaries or risk industrial action.
Governor Wada dropped the idea of pay cut and opted for two-month Federation fund allocations to a one-month salary pay basis, pending a way out. The workers bought this idea, hoping that the situation will improve and normalise the payment schedule shortly.
They were mistaking. It was learnt that Captain Wada soft-pedaled his move because of the impending governorship election of which he was a candidate, and eventually lost, as he wanted workers’ total support to revalidate his mandate.
It was said, doing anything contrary to the workers’ interest then would spell doom for his ambition. So, both parties struck an understanding, blended and cooperated at that period, unfortunately, Captain Wada lost the said election and worsened the workers situation. He has told them (workers) directly that there is no money to pay their salary any more. The last salary paid to the workers was in September 2015.
But the workers are saying that the governor is playing on their intelligence by his posture of “no money” to pay salary any more. To the workers, the governor’s stance is at variance with the information of the financial status of the state at their disposal.
According to the leaders of the Organised Labour in the state, governor Wada claimed in their meeting of December 31 that the December 2015 allocation that came into the state was hijacked by banks to settle all outstanding facilities earlier granted the state; that there is no hope of any payment of salaries until the next administration takes over governance and that no bank is ready to offer him (Wada) any facilities to augment what is available now.
The state Chairman of Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, Comrade Onuh J. Edoka, who led others in the said meeting with Governor Wada, added that the governor only made available the record of monthly Statutory Revenue allocation, SRA, to them, saying, by that document, all hope of paying October 2015 salary and others as promised were finally dashed after perusing through the records in the document.
The organised labour leaders however noted that in as much as the SRA showed red, the administration of Captain Idris Wada has to shed more light over issues of finance on the alleged N10 billon collected Development fund from Federal Government; that the government is spending N700 million for security in one week.
They also required to know what happened to non-oil differential allocations for October to December 2015; that the governor in three days spent N78 million as his travelling allowance and that he should explain where is the Value Added Tax, VAT, for the months of October to December, among others.
Addressing journalists in Lokoja, recently, over the plight of the state workers, the labour leaders said that they were tired of Governor Wada’s lacklustre attitude to state and local government workers, primary school teachers and pensioners.
The state NLC Chairman, Edoka who led TUC and JNC leaders in the state in the outing, called on the rest arms of government (state House of Assembly and judiciary), including traditional rulers, political leaders and other well meaning people of the state to intervene now before things get out of hand.
While the labour leaders directed workers to remain resolute and prayerful in this “trying period”, they said that the workers can no longer continue to borrow money to go to work in the Wada led administration.
“The state workers and tertiary institutions staff have done this for three months while local government workers and primary school teachers have done it for several months in the past. We appeal to workers to remain calm, peaceful and be prayerful as the strike continues indefinitely”, the labour leaders said.
However, checks by this paper revealed that the present financial challenge of the state did not just begin in the manner it has degenerated and that the Captain Wada led administration did not just run into cul-de-sac of nonpayment of salaries to workers as a result of the dwindling federation funds, but that he inherited a great number of personnel related problems, from the previous administration, among which were unpaid salaries of teachers, arrears of salaries to local government workers, cases of ghost workers and unqualified persons using fake certificates to gain employment or earn outrageous salaries, etc.
Though several screening exercises were carried out to correct the over bloated wage bill; but even at that, in 2012 Wada inherited the increased relativity and minimum wage to workers of the state that have become the kernel of the problem of his administration.
It was gathered that out of the N40 billion earned by the state government from the federation account in 2015 and N4.7 billion from internally generated revenue, bringing the state total inflow to N44.7 billion, the state expenditure in the year amounted to N46.8 billion; thus leaving the government with a deficit of over N2 billion.
According to the breakdown of the analysis of expenditures for 2015, salaries gulped N22.5 billion, pension and gratuity got N4.2 billion, while monthly imprest to MDAs stands at N1.8 billion.
The state’s Overhead and Capital expenditure was said to be N11.5 billion and N7 billion respectively.
According to the government, the state was among the first states that applied for the federal government’s bailout. But despite the CBN’s approval of a N50.9 billion loan to enable the state pay its workers, N5.9 billion for the state level and N45 billion for the 21 local government councils, the state’s share was withheld for no reason other than political consideration.
It argued that though the state didn’t access the bailout funds which would have helped to clear the two month arrears of the state workers, the governor has managed the state’s resources in such a way to guarantee a fair deal for all, as the state is better placed in salary payment when compared to other states that even collected bailout funds.
The government added that the state has great concern for the welfare of workers, but had to resort to taking overdrafts from the banks to augment federal allocation to pay their salary all this while.
It added that in view of recent political development, that it was no longer feasible, as the banks have stopped giving the state more facilities following the defeat of the incumbent governor’s party, People Democratic Party, PDP, in the last election.
The government said it was surprised to witness another strike over salaries, despite the explanation over the situation at hand to the labour leaders, adding that the labour’s action was ill timed.
The government further called for understanding of the workers and pleaded with them to call off the strike.
However analysts are of the view that until the state government is able to get the relative numbers of its workforce to block the ghost workers syndrome, which has become synonymous with subsequent administrations, check the number of political appointees, and possible a review of the current wage bill of workers, which was mismanaged by the then administration of Ibrahim Idris, Kogi State will find it impossible to effectively pay workers’ salary without running into hitches.