By Demola Akinyemi
THESE are not the best of times for the administration of Abdulfatah Ahmed in Kwara State as a result of its failure to be up to date with the payment of salaries.
Virtually all the civil servants in the state have not been paid in the last five months, leading to industrial action embarked upon by the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees, NULGE.
The leadership of the union has vowed not to return to work unless the state government pays the accumulated wages.
In a chat with Vanguard, Secretary of NULGE, Comrade Abayomi A?folabi, noted that the strike would remain until the needful is done by the state government.
The worst hit is the education sector where both primary and post- primary schools have remained closed, resulting in discontent among parents and guardians.
Worried about the situation, 16 Local Government chairmen in the state under the aegis of Association of Local Government Council of Nigeria, ALGON, and the state chapter of the All Progressives Congress, APC, convened an advocacy meeting among stakeholders to find a solution to the impasse.
The forum was also aimed at sensitising the public about the factors responsible for the crisis and as well plead that they return to work.
To achieve their aim, the chairmen, who visited the three senatorial districts in the state, also made a stop at the palace of the Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Ibrahim Sulu Gambari.
While appealing to the Emir to prevail on workers to return to work, the chairmen disclosed that all revenue alternatives had been utilised without success.
From the state council of chiefs also came the call for synergy between the state government and the leadership of the labour unions in order to find amicable solution to the problem.
The traditional rulers, after their meeting, urged the ?state government to ensure that the welfare of its workers at all levels remain paramount as soon as the financial status of the state improves.
This among others was contained in a communiqué issued at the end of an emergency meeting of all the traditional rulers in the state.
Held at the Emir’s Palace and attended by members of the traditional council, representatives of all local governments and the leadership of the labour unions, the gathering was aimed at deliberating on the protracted funding challenges facing the state.
The communiqué reads: “Given the need to forestall any impending strike actions that may occur and in view of the fact that the masses are terribly affected by the paucity of fund to pay workers, it is therefore pertinent to appraise the entire gamut of the issue with a view to contributing to what may become succour to the problems.
“The council notes that the inability of both the state and local governments to presently provide adequate funds for the payment of salaries and allowances and meet other commitments of governance, at rates commensurate with past provisions, had arisen due to the drastic fall in the statutory allocation from the Federation Account.”
“The Internally Generated Revenue by both the state and local governments has not been adequate to bridge the funding gap noting that the newly established Kwara State Internal Revenue Service will assist in curbing leakages and enhance revenue base of the state.
“The council observed that the workers are entitled to their salaries because it is a right and not a privilege.
“We sympathise with the state government for not having enough money for their projects and to satisfy the needs of the people but appeal to the Kwara State government and the 16 Local Government Chairmen to continue to explore all avenues for stabilizing the situation.
“After an exhaustive discussion with the leadership of the labour unions, they have agreed to convince their members to call off the strike and further resolve that we should work to ensure that subsequent salaries are regularly paid as and when due.
“The one month salary arrears must be paid before the commencement of the bio-metrics exercise and to also urge the government to review the number of emoluments of political office holders? at both state and local government levels as their status cannot be compared to those of the civil servants.
“The state government is also urged to urgently set up a committee to address the issue of ghost workers and pensioners at the local government areas.’’
On its part, the state government had earlier convened a similar forum in Ilorin where it pleaded for patience over the paucity of funds in the state.
Paucity of funds
The Commissioner for Finance Alhaji Nurudeen Banu, who led the government delegation, had hectic time explaining the situation.
Those present include leaders of NULGE, Nigeria Union of Teachers , NUT, pensioners, health workers and market women among others .
Banu told the gathering : “The state was collecting N3.4billion before the fall of the prices of crude oil in the international market but now it has reduced to N1.4billion every month.
“Apart from this, the Internally Generated Revenue is N200million every month while the Excess Crude fund is N400million every month but this cannot resolve the current precarious financial situation in Kwara State.”
“Our monthly wage bill is N2.4billion and this is a serious deficit to the state government in view of the N1.4billion we collect as federal allocation.”
While appealing for patience Banu urged the stakeholders to come out with facts that would help the state out of the present financial logjam.
Proffering solutions, the NUT called on the state governor and other political office holders to forfeit their security votes and other fringe benefits pending the time the economy of the state improves.
This, they said would also help the state to meet its financial commitments to workers.