By Dapo Akinrefon
PRIOR to the 2015 general elections, the level of bankruptcy in many states of the federation reached a disturbing level where civil servants and pensioners resorted to begging to feed their families.
Activities in many states were virtually grounded. In fact, the issue of unpaid salaries became endemic in many states. Perhaps, this could be attributed to some of the state governments, who embarked on white elephant projects, procurement of private aircraft, construction of airports and taking loans and bonds to finance various projects, which have no direct impact in the lives of the people.
The need for bailout was imperative and this led to the Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF, proposing a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari for that. Having sensed the importance of a bailout, the Federal Government swung into action and released bailout to states in order to alleviate the sufferings, especially on the part of government workers and pensioners.
So far, 19 states have benefited from the funds doled out by the federal government. The Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, explained that the bailout was released for the purpose of the workers’ salaries. The CBN’s spokesman, Ibrahim Mu’azu, said that the bailout was in line with the recent resolution by the National Economic Council, adding that it would encourage the affected states pay the backlog of their workers’ salaries.
The package has a 20-year repayment tenure for all states, except Ogun State, which opted for a 10-year tenure. In the South-West geopolitical zone, all the six states except Lagos benefited from the bailout package. States like Ogun (N19.00bn), Ondo (N14.686bn), Osun (N34.988bn), Oyo (N26.606bn) and Ekiti (N9.604bn) have so far taken delivery of the bailout packages but tongues are wagging as to the appropriation of the funds by the state governors.
Ekiti building an airport
In Ekiti State, things seem to be falling apart as the Governor Ayodele Fayose administration has come under heavy fire after taking delivery of the funds. Rather than commence on infrastructural projects that would have direct impact on the lives of Ekiti people, the state government has been accused of plots to divert funds for his personal use.
To the amazement of Ekiti people, the state government is accused of using part of the fund for the construction of a multi-billion naira Airport . Angry reaction is already trailing the project as it is perceived as a conduit- pipe through which the governor intends to loot the state’s treasury. The project is indeed portrayed as a misplaced priority as it does not proffer any immediate solution to the needs of Ekiti people, who view the project as a mere waste of tax payers money.
The project is seen by the administration’s detractors as not going to serve any economic importance because a 30 minutes’ drive will take one to the Ondo state capital with a functional airport.
Bail-out inadequate – Ajimobi
In Oyo State, civil servants are not pleased with Governor Abiola Ajimobi, who despite taking delivery of N26.606billion has failed to pay salaries and pensioners in the state. The workers have persistently decried non payment of their salaries. To make matters worse, Governor Ajimobi expressed worry that the Federal Government bailout of N26.6bn to the state was inadequate to offset outstanding workers salaries.
Ajimobi said the state government must source for more funds from other areas to ensure all outstanding salaries of workers were paid this month. Interestingly, Oyo State receives about N3bn monthly allocation from the federation account while its Internally Generated Revenue is put at N1.2billion. Though the workers are yet to explore the option of embarking on any strike action but they may be forced if the need arises.
Ondo workers on strike
A similar scenario is playing out in Ondo State. In spite of the bailout fund, workers are not finding things easy. Perhaps this informed the decision of the organised labour to issue the state government a-24-hour ultimatum to pay all the outstanding salaries of workers or face strike. A fortnight ago, civil servants in Ondo State embarked on two-day warning strike following the non-payment of their two months salaries by the state government from the Federal Government’s bailout fund.
The Joint Negotiating Council (JNC), Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) leaders took the decision at an emergency meeting of the unions. The angst of the unions was that Gov. Olusegun Mimiko was no longer sensitive to workers’ plight despite collecting the Federal Government’s bailout package for salary payment.
Adeleye, who decried the payment of only one month, said the strike would continue because the agreement with the state government was to pay at least two months and the outstanding balance of May salary.
Osun unable to offset arrears
Osun State has come under public searchlight over the inability of Governor Rauf Aregbesola to offset salary arrears of civil servants and pensioners in the state. Civil servants in the state have not been paid their salaries in the last six months. The governor, however, attributed the unpaid salaries to the state’s dwindling revenue but stakeholders in the state are not pleased with his excuse.
The situation got worse in Osun State that prompted Justice Folahanmi Oloyede of the Osun State Judiciary to petition the Osun State House of Assembly, accusing Governor Aregbesola of corruption.
Aside payment of workers’ salaries, the governor was accused of keeping the bailout fund in a fixed account in one of the old generation banks, a claim faulted by the governor. Some stakeholders in the state are not ready to sweep the matter under the carpet as they say the governor is out to deny workers their entitlements. Also, Aregbesola was accused by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the state of paying N20 billion, to a construction company, out of the N35 billion bailout funds released to the state for payment of workers’ salary arrears.
The party accused Aregbesola of using the bailout to pay the construction company – Slava Yediteppe which is handling Oba Adesoji Aderemi road project in the state. While the party wondered why Aregbesola failed to pay the salary arrears of the workers before paying the contractor, the party described the governor’s decision as a misplacement of priority, lamenting that civil servants in the state are wallowing in abject poverty due to unpaid salaries.
The governor has denied all of the allegations.
Ogun owes no salary but deductions – Amosun
For workers in Ogun State, though the state government claimed it was not owing workers’ salaries contrary to an earlier media report but agrees it has failed to pay the backlog payment of deductions owed the state’s workers. The governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun has pledged to commence payment of the deduction soon.
Amosun, who noted that he was not unmindful of the fact that the success or otherwise of any government largely depends on its relationship with its workers, stressed that he would continue to create enabling environment that would foster harmonious relationship between the government and its workforce.
He said: “We are determined to continue to do the needful, provide better condition of service and pay up all the monies owed the workers soon in order to motivate them to get the best from them. The totality of the deductions owed the workers is equal to one month salary for the workers. But we cannot afford to let other sectors suffer. Should we concentrate on paying salaries alone, we won’t be owing any money but we can’t afford to render other sectors comatose. And I know the workers would not like that because they are also beneficiaries of the social services we render”.
But feelers from the Gateway state indicates that workers will wait a bit longer before the backlog is paid.
Lagos, biggest debtor that needs no bailout
The only state in the South West that was not bailed out by the federal government is Lagos. This is because its Internally Generated Revenue, IGR, is enough to carter for workers’ salaries and other sundry expenses. In-spite of this, the state’s debt profile is arguably the highest in the country.
Meantime, as a way of monitoring how the package will be expended, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, warned state governments not to tamper with the bailout funds released for their respective states by the Federal Government for immediate payment of workers salaries. The anti-graft Commission said it would consistently monitor the funds and how they were dispensed in all the states that benefited.
It said its interest in the disbursement of the funds was for the good of workers which it said had been owed by their respective states for several months. With the bailout funds released for the purpose for which the Federal Government offered them, it is expected that the relevant anti-graft agencies beam their searchlight on state governors in the zone that pilfer the funds.