Some categories of workers in Kwara state are grumbling over unpaid salary areas and other entitlements due to them. UMAR BAYO ABDULWAHAB x-rays the situation as well as measures taken by the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, and Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed to placate them.
For different categories of workers in Kwara state, it is a case of different strokes for different folks. From local government, SUBEB to government parastatal, the agitations are endless.
While some are agitating for unpaid salary arrears, in some sectors, it is a case of poor condition of service, inadequate funding, and obsolete working tools, amongst others.
Health workers’ strike
In the health sector, the situation has gone out of hand thereby leading to industrial action by health workers at the local government level.
The workers under the aegis of Joint Council of Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria in collaboration with the National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives embarked on a warning strike to press home their demands.
A meeting between government representatives which included the hairman, Local Government Service Commission, Hajia Sarat Adebayo, and a representative of the Head of Service with the leadership of the striking workers held last weekend ended in a deadlock as the workers ontinued their industrial action.
The striking workers had given the state government one week ultimatum to implement 10 per cent increase of the 50 per cent Consolidated Health Structures Salaries (CHONHENSS) for their members working in the local government.
A benefit which they said is already being enjoyed by their ounterparts at the state level over the last five months.
Similarly, workers in the state-owned media establishments are not totally insulated from the situation.
Despite the transformation going on in the three state-owned media establishments and prompt payment of their salaries, workers in those organisations (Radio Kwara, KWTV and The Herald Newspaper) are still grumbling.
They are agitating over poor condition of services, working tools while in the Herald, the workers are not happy over skipping of production as a result of inadequate funding to procure production materials.
The Herald on Sunday which is one of the titles of Kwara State Printing and Publishing Company has been rested for some weeks now thereby raising concerns that some workers might be rendered redundant and eventually thrown out of job.
NULGE laments interference
The local government chapter of the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) has cried out on the overbearing influence and impeding effect of the state government on the functions of local governments in the state.
Addressing a press conference to mark the 40th anniversary of NULGE in the state recently, Comrade Yusuf Ayinla Saliu, the state president said that the local government system has been burdened by undue interference of the state government.
According to him, “the challenge has lingered since the advent of democracy in 1999 when local governments were put in the grip of the states with every subsequent relationship aimed at reducing local governments to a department in the governor’s office.”
What gave states the leeway to do this he said was the lingering contradictions contained in Sections 7 of the Constitution that arm-twists the autonomy of local governments putting it under the state contrary to Section 14 (4), 13, 1 (1).
He said “the provision of Section 162 in the 1999 Constitution overburdens the Joint Account Allocation Committee by 100 percent funding of primary education from local government allocations.”
This, he lamented, is contrary to participatory role as stipulated in the Constitution adding that funding of Junior Secondary School teachers from the local government allocations in the state, through JAAC, is particularly illegal and unconstitutional.
Other areas of challenges facing NULGE in the state, he said, include encroachment on constitutional responsibilities of local governments by the state government agencies like the Kwara State Internal Revenue Service (KWIRS).
He also said “non-appointment of local government workers as permanent secretaries, creation of Local Government Loans Board, arrears of salaries, non- implementations of 2016/2018 promotion financial benefits and non-release of 2018 promotion letters to our teeming members,” were part of the problem.
Saliu, however, commended the House of Assembly which had voted in favour of local government autonomy particularly Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed and the Speaker, Ali Ahmad, for their positive roles on the matter.
Also, the NULGE chief thanked the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, Yakubu Dogara, Speaker of the House of Representatives and the National Assembly for their interests in ensuring local government autonomy in the country.
The Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, said he would start off setting salary arrears owed certain category of workers in the state in a matter of days.
Saraki announced the cheering news during the PDP monthly stakeholders’ meeting at the Charity House in Ilorin.
The announcement was greeted with thunderous ovation by PDP supporters who had earlier stressed the need for the concerned authorities to find means of settling arrears of salary owed certain category of workers in the state.
Some of the PDP supporters had attributed one of the major reasons for the party’s defeat in the recent Ekiti/Oke-Ero/Irepodun/Isin House of Representatives bye-election to non-payment of teachers’ salaries.
Saraki, while speaking at the stakeholders meeting, said he would commence the payment of salary arrears with three selected local government areas; one each from the three senatorial districts of the state.
Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed, who was present at the meeting, had earlier blamed the inability of the government to clear the backlog of salary arrears on the ‘drop in the federal allocation to the state and the refusal of the federal government to release the state’s last tranche of the Paris Club refund.”
Ahmed announced that plans were on top gear to clear the salary arrears in order to make the affected workers and their family more comfortable.
The governor had earlier approved the recruitment of over 1,300 workers into the state teaching service commission and SUBEB in the state, a development which is already on-going.
He also approved the promotion of over 1,600 workers.
Investigation by Blueprint Weekend revealed that some of workers have received their letters.
But despite all these, a foremost labour leader and governorship candidate of Labour Party in the state, Comrade ISSA Aremu, said there was no excuse by the governor to owe salaries; therefore, his excuse was not tenable.
Aremu, a former Labour leader, said “governors who see the responsibility of paying salaries to workers as a burden have no business being in government.”
Aremu, who spoke with Blueprint Weekend on the side-line of this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities which he organised in Ilorin, said “it is a disgrace that governors see salary as a burden.”
He said at a time when the Organised Labour is pressing for pay rise some governor still owe salaries despite receiving first and second tranches of bailout.
Aremu, who is a member of National Minimum Wage Committee set up by the federal government, urged President Muhammadu Buhari not to “bow to pressures by governors who are not willing to pay N30,000 minimum wage.”
He urged President Buhari to lead by example and sign the New Minimum Wage bill into law when the process is completed.
“Those lousy governors, electorate will face them very soon. Leave us with those governors who say they cannot pay; we will handle them,” he said.
As it is, ahead of the 2019 general elections, the situation seems dicey for the ruling PDP in Kwara.
Investigation revealed that civil servants constitute the major percentage of voting populace in the state and unless the government is able to assuage their feelings.
Analysts say the workers may be another factor to contend with during the 2019 general elections.