It is not hiding anymore that Kogi State civil servants are being owed salary arrears, but what is confusing, clear is how much they are owed.
While the State organised labour has many times claimed that workers are being owed between eight and 39 months salary, Government claims it is only four or five months they owed.
Perhaps, what raised the angered of the workers was the recent press interview granted by Governor Yahaya Bello, when he said his administration did not owe workers a penny. He added that if he owed at all, it was the backlog left by the immediate past administration. His statement did not go down well with the workers in both the state civil service and Local councils.
A recent meeting at the Government House in Lokoja provided the opportunity for Labour to pour its anger. Recall that Bello’s administration embarked on a verification exercise shortly after assuming office in 2016. But the screening has never have an end.
Speaking during the May Day celebration in Lokoja, chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Onuh Edoka, said the origin of the problems statrted from poor handling of the screening exercise by inexperienced people.
Edoka, called for the sack of these persons which he said they were still very much around Governor Bello.
During the meeting, initiated at the instance of government to resolve grey areas on issues concerning workers’ welfare, the NLC chairman described Bello’s claim as very unfair, disturbing and most unfortunate.
Declaring he was not on a courtesy call as claimed by government, when his members were dying of hunger, Edoka said:
“When previously this type of statement was heard from political appointees of this administration, we paid no attention to them, as we felt they were just playing to the gallery. We believed His Excellency knows the truth. But now that we have heard it from the horse’s mouth, we cannot but reemphasise the truth of our situation, which His Excellency is trying to deny for reasons best known to him.
“For the avoidance of doubt and without fear of any prevarication, we wish to unequivocally state that His Excellency’s Administration owes Kogi workers and pensioners heavily in terms of salaries, pensions and other entitlements.
“We are even more bewildered, because at one time, the government acknowledged its heavy indebtedness to workers and at another time the denial card is played.
“We want to put it on record that at the inception of His Excellency’s administration on January 27, 2016, the state workers were down by three months salaries and pensions (October, November and December 2015). His Excellency’s administration received the December 2015 allocation shared in January 2016 and was thus responsible for the payment of December 2015 salary and pension.
“Equally, His Excellency accessed N20bn out of N50.8bn Bailout Fund meant to offset inherited salaries/pensions arrears. It should be stressed that while Government claimed to have used the Bailout Fund solely for salaries/pensions, it failed to utilise several monthly allocations for the current running months, thereby paving way for accumulation of backlog of salaries/pensions.
“Let me put the records straight. The former Governor, Captain Idris Wada, spent 48 months in office and he paid 45 months salaries, leaving December 2015 and January 2016 allocation for the Bello administration to access. This shows clearly that Wada owed only two months salary arrears at the point of his departure in January 2016. So, your administration is hugely indebted to Kogi workers and the Governor should find a means to defray it, rather than denying it publicly.”
He advised the governor to set up a committee to go round establishments to find out the true situation of poverty across the state, saying that students could no longer go to school, patients couldn’t access drugs, even as petty businesses have closed down, due to lack of patronage.
Bello, who was stunned by the Labour leader’s revelation, agreed to work out modalities to resolve the impasse.
He told Labour that his government had done much with the lean resources to develop the state, explaining that in less than three years, he built Kogi Board of Internal Revenue Service office complex, completed Ankpa township roads and several others roads across the state, among other projects executed by his administration.
He urged Labour leadership to support his administration for effective delivery of dividends of democracy to the citizenry, while assuring of better days ahead.
Edoka then continued: “Available records clearly show that every worker on the pay roll of the current government by calculation, has not been paid between December 2018 to May 2019, which amounts to six months.
“From the bailout fund, government only paid 60 per cent of five months to state workers. So, the accumulation of the unpaid 40 per cent of five months translated to two months. If this is added to the six months unpaid salaries, it amounts to eight months government owes genuine workers in the state.
“Where this administration got it wrong was when the bailout came. The allocation that followed was not used to pay workers salaries, and that was the beginning of workers’ problems, as far as salaries was concerned “We urge government to urgently commence payment of all outstanding salaries/pensions and other entitlement of workers and pensioners to stem this unfortunate tide of avoidable illnesses and death, as well as other deprivations workers and citizens of Kogi State have been subjected to since the inception of his administration.
“We must be frank in telling His Excellency that workers and pensioners of Kogi State and all their dependents are not happy, and we advise His Excellency to work harder to win back their hearts before the next election in November 2019 to avoid a repeat of what happened to his predecessor. Sycophants may paint a contrary picture for their own selfish interest, but Organised Labour has been telling His Excellency the truth and will continue to do so at whatever cost.
That Governor Bello was stunned by the Labour leader’s confidence to tell him the truth to his face would be saying the least.
So, he hastily agreed to work out modalities to resolve issues of salaries arrears.