By Rotimi Olaleye
From all indications, the bailout package received from the Federal Government to pay arrears of salaries and other benefits owed workers by various state government across the country is beginning to look more like a poisoned chalice. This is as state governors and their workers are at daggers drawn over what categories of workers’ entitlement should be paid and whether the pensioners should get a bite of the apple.
Ekiti State is no exception to the crisis of mutual mistrust, since Governor Ayo Fayose, announced reception of the bailout package, tension has gripped the entire workforce as to the disbursement of the fund.
Despite the payment of September, 2014, salary arrears to workers and assurance of the payment of all deductions and leave bonuses as soon as possible, yet different interpretation continue to dog the governor’s body language, rumour mills were busy churning out different speculations, in-spite of the repeated assurance from Governor Fayose that the bailout would never be diverted for any other purpose other than what it is meant for.
Worried by the disquiet among the state workforce, the governor had to call for a meeting with the leaderships of the Unions in the state to discuss the bailout, allay their fears and debunk allegation of diversion from the opposition.
Reasons for the fear
Problem started when the Governor hinted that certain category of workers in the state might be excluded from the federal government bailout largesse, saying what was released to the state by the Central Bank was a far cry from what it requested, he told them that the state only got N9.6 billion out of the over N29 billion it applied for in the Federal Government’s bail-out funds for states.
At a meeting with labour leaders in the state last week Monday, the governor also revealed that out of the N5.6 billion applied for by the 16 local governments in the state, the FG only approved N991 million, adding that pension arrears and gratuities were also not approved.
He said pensioners, whose gratuities arrears of three years, from, 2012 till date and three month pensions were not captured in the bailout, also, local government workers would only get a paltry N991m from an arrears totalled N5.6bn, a sum regarded as insignificant by the leadership of Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees, NULGE.
Also speaking at a retreat organized for Commissioners, Permanent Secretaries and Heads of Agencies recently at Ikogosi Warm Spring, Governor Fayose said; “You people know that I don’t hide anything from you when allocations come. We applied for N29 billion from the bail-out fund. It is to cover the August and September 2014 salary arrears left by the Fayemi government, leave bonus, pensions, gratuities and others. But for reasons we don’t know yet, the FG only approved N9.6 billion for salaries leaving other issues.
“The 16 local governments applied for N5.6 billion and we did all the necessary papers and presented them to the appropriate authorities, but only N991 million was approved. We were later told by the Central Bank of Nigeria that about 14 states had similar problem with the small amount approved for local governments”.
But he assured the council workers that in a matter of time their entitlement would be paid, he said; “I have since written to them to rectify the situation and I hope they will do that quickly. It is only the federal government that can explain why they only approved one item, salary, out of the many items we presented to them on the workers’ issue. We have nothing to hide and people should appeal to the FG to release the money in full. We know it is loan that we will repay with nine per cent interest”.
Grievances of the council workers and outstanding debt
With the way things stand now , only core civil servants, together with those in agencies, parastatals and teachers would benefit from the bailout funds, while the local government workers would be left in the cold until things are sorted out, but the Local Government Workers under the aegis of Nigerian Local Government Employee (NULGE) are beginning to blow hot.
Speaking with Vanguard, the Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, in the State, Mr Raymond Adesanmi said; ‘’N5.6 billion is needed to settle the outstanding of Local Government Workers and Health workers inclusive.
Giving a breakdown of the arrears, Adesanmi said Medical and Health Workers in the service of the 16 Local Government areas of the state are being owed 22 months arrears of CONHESS and CONMESS, totalling N2.3billion
Also, primary school teachers are owed salary arrears of August 2014 and June 2015, totalling N1.4 billion, while additional N899.1million stood for Local Government staff salary arrears for the month of June 2015.
Aside from this, pensioners are being owed pension arrears of three months and three years of gratuities arrears, which is from September 2012 till date.
While those in active service have gotten the assurance from the governor of getting all these issues sorted out and all the outstanding arrears paid, hope appears dim for the pensioners, as the Central Bank had told the state government in clear and certain terms that Ekiti state did not key into the contributory pension scheme and those states who had stake in the scheme were given bail-out for their pensioners.
Unhappy at the omission of 22 months arrears of CONHESS and CONMESS owed Medical and Health workers in the local Government Areas, the Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria, Ekiti State chapter, described the neglect as unfair and unjust.
A Communiqué issued last Friday at the end of its meeting, however resolved to give the state government time while awaiting the response from the Central Bank.
APC’s allegation of bailout fund diversion
Unglazed by the explanation of Governor Ayo Fayose, the All Progressives Congress, APC, in Ekiti state alleged that the announcement by the governor that pensioners’ entitlements and other categories of workers were not captured in the bail-out cash was an attempt to divert the money to other uses.
Speaking through its publicity secretary, Mr Taiwo Olatunbosun, the party said Governor Fayose may have to explain to the anti-graft agencies, if any part of the N9.6bn bail out is diverted to other use.
APC, not only insisted that the Governor must declare the breakdown of the bailout fund publicly, failure, which will lead to the employment of the Freedom of Information Law to demand for same at the Central Bank and the Debt Management Office.
It disclosed that the CBN, DMO, EFCC and ICPC have been put on notice to monitor the governor in the disbursement of the fund to ensure compliance and apply sanctions when necessary.