By Boluwaji Obahopo, Lokoja
Local government workers in Kogi State have continued to grapple with half salary for quite a long time. While some spoke about it in hushed tones or vented their anger during any discussion in town, most of them bemoaned their fate in silence.
The story of half salary for local government workers dates back to when liaison officers were in charge of council administration in the state in 2012. At that time, people believed the liaison officers were just appointed by the state governor not to carry out any projects aside payment of staff salary.
The workers and citizenry therefore prayed that election into the councils will be conducted to give way for elected chairmen who will be answerable to them.
They were wrong. Since the new crop of council chairmen assumed duties in May, 2013, the story of half salary has not changed. In fact, it has gone worse.
Sometimes, payment of a month salary could be spread across three months.
Only Lokoja, Ajaokuta, Okene and Dekina local government areas were able to pay full salaryto their staff in 2013; a story that has, however, changed this year as the local government areas have been paying 65% since January. When Governor Idris Wada was asked why local governments in the state could not pay full salary to their staff, he directed the workers to hold their chairmen accountable as the state government was not tampering with their money outside statutory deduction.
CHAIRMAN SACKED FROM OFFICE
This statement from the governor and other developments made the workers of Yagba – East Local Government to take their destiny in their hands on Monday, March 10 when they organised a protest at the LG secretariat in Isanlu, the council headquarters.
The aggrieved workers laid siege to the local government secretariat, sacking the Chairman, Alhaji Funsho Ibrahim. They vowed not to allow the Chairman access to his office until there was assurance that their January salary will be paid in full.
Sunday Vanguard gathered that the protest turned violent on Tuesday, March 11 when Ibrahim called security operatives to stop the demonstration. A source said the embattled Chairman arrived the council secretariat early that day and entered his office from where he called the security operatives. But the workers, on, sighting the security operatives, invaded Ibrahim’s office. The Chairman reportedly fled into the bush leaving his vehicle behind. The workers, on Wednesday, took the protest to town, visiting the house of Chief Jide Omokore, a political leader in the area who was said to have nominated the Chairman for the position.
The protest continued on Thursday and Friday of that week as the workers continued to burn tyres in front of the local government secretariat, vowing not to stop until the Chairman assured that their salary from January will be paid in full.
The grievances against Ibrahim were many. One of the workers spoke to Sunday Vanguard on the grievances. He said: “We have to resort to this protest because the Chairman is arrogant and will not see reason with us. The salary of his aides and councillors are being paid in full, but can you believe that since last year May when he assumed office, we have been collecting half salary.
“Also, he stopped promotion saying it’s only on the grounds of work recognition that one can be promoted not by year of service. He also recalled workers on study leave saying the local government is not a charity organization.
And for him to pay us full salary despite that he has failed to honour minimum wage has become a problem for him. We have been suffering in silence.”
The source stated that the Chairman has not initiated any project since he assumed office. He said the protest will continue until their demand for their legitimate wages was met.
CHAIRMAN DENIES BEING CHASED OUT
HOWEVER, the council Chairman denied he was chased out of office by workers during the protest.
Ibrahim, who spoke through the Special Adviser on Media and Strategy to ALGON, Ibrahim Obansa, said he was not even in the state at the time he was said to have been chased out of office by the protesting workers.”The Chairman, Funsho Ibrahim, travelled out of the state during the period; it is not possible for someone who was not in town to be chased out by protesting staff,” he said.
He said the report was the handiwork of some desperate politicians, who believed the only way to be relevant politically was to run their opponents down and called on the media to always verify their facts.
Meanwhile, Sunday Vanguard gathered that security agents, at the behest of the council boss, arrested the NULGE chairman of Yagba East LGA and other workers who they believed spearheaded the protest. The union officials have since been released.
In the meantime, Kogi State Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, linked the action of the council workers to the “operation” of the opposition. The State chairman of PDP, Comr. Hassan Salau, berated Yagba East council chapter of NULGE for embarking on the protest.