Kwara: Concerns Over Workers' Unpaid Salaries

Date: 2016-01-17

Talks about the salary arrears owed some category of workers in Kwara State dominated public discourse in Ilorin, the state capital during the week.

As at the time of this report, workers of the four state-owned tertiary institutions are being owed as much as eight months salaries, their counterparts in the primary and junior secondary schools are owed four months salaries while staff of the 16 local government areas and those of the Primary Education Board are being owed four months salaries.

To drive home the demand for their outstanding pay, the affected workers have embarked on indefinite strike.

Calls by various stakeholders on the workers to call of the strike action have yielded no positive result. Disturbed by the refusal of the striking workers to return to work, the state government and the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON), last week organised series of events to explain why workers' salaries could not be paid as at when due.

ALGON, led by Barr. Amodu Okandeji, chairman of Ilorin East Council kick started the sensitisation programme last Monday.

Okandeji, in company with 15 other council chairmen and the entire executive of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state, visited the Emir of Ilorin, Alh Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari in his palace to explain their predicament to the foremost monarch. They briefed the Emir on the shortfall in their allocations from the federation account and efforts they were making to offset the backlog of salary arrears of local government council workers.

It was the turn of the state government the following day, who organised a stakeholders forum at the government banquet hall, Ilorin to seek the striking workers' understanding on the financial situation of the state and ALGON. At the forum, which attracted a huge audience, representatives of government, got more than they bargained for as the striking workers demanded that the governor should use his security vote to pay the salary arrears.

They equally asked the state government to stop the salaries and allowances of political office holders including those of members of the state house of assembly with immediate effect and that such money and the security vote should be used to pay their salary arrears. A former chairman of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) in the state, Comrade Olateju AbdulKareem spoke on behalf of the teachers at the forum.

Olateju posited that, "government should desist from embarking on projects that do not have any bearing on the welfare of the people of the state. Henceforth, salaries, allowances and estacode of all political office holders including members of the state House of Assembly should be stopped . These monies should be translated into funds that will be used in paying salaries of the workers in the state.

"Our members are hungry, they are in bad conditions. Therefore, the security vote of the state should also be accounted for and used for the welfare of Kwara workers. This is the only way out of this ugly financial situation. No teacher will resume work without salary payment."

He added that though the NUT was not against the verification exercise planned by the government, the exercise should be carried out after all salary arrears are settled.

"All our members are tired of trekking. As at now, no money to even take vehicle to anywhere for any official commitments," he added.

Earlier, the commissioner for Finance, Alh Demola Banu, had appealed to the aggrieved workers to embrace dialogue in resolving the impasse, stressing that "government has been making efforts towards solving the lingering financial crisis."

"I have not been a happy man since as the person in-charge of the finances of the state, the state has not been able to meet its statutory responsibilities of paying workers' salaries. It has been very difficult for me to cope with this ugly situation.

"Prior to this period, as the lowest on the allocation ladder, the state was taking a monthly allocation of N3.4 billion but presently, as I speak with you, during the last FAAC meeting, we took the sum of N1.4 billion. With this, the state, apparently cannot do anything. Even workers' salaries alone was estimated at N2.4 billion monthly. So, what can we do in this challenging period?" Banu lamented.

Also, a chieftain of the APC in the state, Alhaji Sulyman Kayode Yusuf has advised residents of the state to shun rumours over the lingering salary crisis affecting some civil servants. Yusuf, a former chairman of the state Local Government Service Commission, said contrary to insinuations in some quarters, neither the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki nor Governor Abdulfattah Ahmed should be blamed for the situation that is affecting close to 23 states of the federation.

According to Yusuf, while Saraki as Senate President was working seriously to make the promising change of the ruling party realisable, the state government ought also to be commended for making concerted efforts to offset outstanding salaries of workers.

"It is obvious that 22 states of the federation have not been able to pay salaries promptly due to low allocation. The whole of Nigerians regardless of race,religious and political parties ought to embrace the policy of a better Nigeria of President Muhammad Buhari to sail out freely from the previous self-centred ideology of past administrators in Nigeria," he said.

Furthermore, he pointed out that Saraki has currently embarked on an empowerment project to contribute his quota to helping the people of the state as is his tradition and has also instructed all his aides to embark on similar steps. Yusuf called on stakeholders in the state such as traditional and religious leaders to rise to the duty of reorientating Nigerians on the values of truth and patience.

The APC chieftain reiterated that given the stance of the current government in Nigeria, the era of mismanaging public fund is gone for good. Meanwhile,the state government has debunked a media report that 500 workers in the state have died over unpaid salaries, describing the report as untrue and misleading.

The state government in a statement by the senior special assistant on media and communications to the governor, Dr. Muhideen Akorede, described the report as totally untrue, misleading and mischievous. He stressed that the report was inciting and capable of rupturing industrial relations in the state.

Akorede explained that the delay in the payment of workers' salaries was as a result of the financial challenges facing local government councils and indeed central and state government, which according to him, was occasioned by the drop in federal allocations.

He however disclosed that both the state and local governments were taking serious measures to ensure that the salary crisis was resolved on time, adding that the affected workers would soon be paid.

"While the state government empathises with the affected workers, and is working round-the-clock to ensure that they are paid as soon as possible, there is, however, no official confirmation of the workers' death or that the delay in salary payment was responsible," he stressed.

He maintained that the administration of Governor Ahmed remains committed to the welfare of workers in the state, despite the dwindling allocation from the federation account. Akorede also denied report that parents and guardians of students in public primary and secondary schools in the state had commenced mass movement of their wards to schools in neighbouring states.

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