By Ola Ajayi
The bailout released by the Federal Government has, in no small measure, provided a big relief to Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State and thousands of workers in the state. Before the bailout was released, complaints of the workers in the state reached the high heavens but now that part of the backlog of salary arrears has been paid, the workers have kept mum.
Vanguard learnt that N26.6 billion was released to the state government and Governor Ajimobi did not renege on his promise to spend the bailout on payment of the salary arrears. According to the state Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Mr. Waheed Olojede in a telephone interview with Vanguard, the governor has done well for fulfilling his promise to use the bailout to settle the salary arrears of workers.
Olojede, who said the government has been having series of meetings with the leadership of the NLC to keep them abreast of unfolding issues told Vanguard that before the bailout, the state government was owing them salaries of May, June, July and August. But, immediately the money was released to the state government, it paid the salary arrears of May, June and July.
“The government has paid for the months of May, June and July. We are optimistic that very soon the month of August will be paid too. As I am speaking to you, the governor has started paying teachers in the state the salary arrears of August. I have told the Accountant General to expedite action on other workers too and I have been told that it will be paid soon”.
“You know, we have to face the economic reality in the state. We cannot ask the government to pay everything at once. If we insist on that, we risk a lot of things. It could lead to reduction in the strength of workers and we don’t want that.” When asked if the governor actually used the bailout for settlement of the salaries, he said, “when the governor has paid for three months and August is in the offing, then we can say the governor used the bailout for the salary arrears”.
“In fact, we had a meeting this morning (Tuesday) where we resolved that the timing of the agreement, the governor had with us on the payment of the backlog is ripe. He had told us that the bailout money would be collected last week or latest this week, and that it is going to be used specifically to offset all the outstanding salaries.”
Though, the bailout will offset the salary arrears, Governor Ajimobi has hinted that there could be a problem paying salaries of workers every month as he said the state would find it difficult doing any other project. In order to prevent a situation where all the income to state will be spent on workers alone, he said there could be a need for reducing workers’ salaries.
Ajimobi, who spoke on a broadcasting station said, “there is consideration for salary cut. I am already discussing with the workers. I have laid bare to them the problems we faced. We have less than 100,000 workers in Oyo State, and they consume all the monies of Oyo State. We can’t even take care of the public; we can’t even repair roads, and we can’t even do anything”. He explained further that the state would have to settle contractors who are being owed.
“We are owing some contractors so much. We are not paying them. Last week, I held a meeting with the workers’ representatives and I laid it all out for them saying, ‘gentlemen, every month that we get salary, we are not doing anything else in Oyo State. We are just working for the workers of Oyo State. Oyo State is not created to be paying workers salary only. It is also created to take care of the masses; provide infrastructure; provide all the enabling environment for the people to live better and enjoy life.”
But, cutting salaries of workers is likely to cause a stir between the government and the labour. Ajimobi said, “Even, surprisingly, the workers empathised with us. But, we made them realise that it is not enough to empathise, but to take concrete steps to correct the situation, otherwise we are running a bankrupt setting.” But, Olojede claims he never entered into any agreement with the governor on salary cut.
He said, “the labour union did not have any agreement with Governor Abiola Ajimobi to cut workers’ salaries. How much is the salary in the first place that the governor is going to cut it again? Does the salary even take the workers home in the first place? Four to five months are in arrears already. If the government cuts the salary of the workers in Oyo State, to me, it is like going to the market to buy pesticide and putting it into the workers’ mouths.
“We have not heard from any of the states owing salaries that salary of their workers would be cut as a solution to the problem. If Osun State that owes more than Oyo did not talk of cutting workers’ salaries, Oyo state whose condition is not as bad as Osun cannot contemplate cutting our salary. Oyo is a pace setter in all good things. Other people copy us, and so, I repeat that our governor will not contemplate cutting workers’ salaries. Doing so will be counter-productive”.
As at now, the state is already carrying out verification exercise among the teachers. Some workers have been pre-emptive on the outcome of the exercise insinuating that the governor is planning to downsize the workforce. They ask what relevance does a primary six certificate have in this modern day that the state government is forcing them to produce it. They claim the governor is looking for any reason to sack them. But, the state government has repeatedly debunked this.