The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has said that President Muhammadu Buhari should go beyond lamenting the plight of workers in the various states of the federation and order the anti-graft agencies to investigate the use of anti-graft fund and the Paris Club refund before the last tranche of the refund is released to the states.
President of NLC, Comrade Ayuba Wabba told The Nation that giving more money to the states when they have not accounted for the ones earlier release to them, or utilize the money for the purpose it was meant for is synonymous with not addressing the problem facing workers.
Wabba said the non-payment of salaries by state governor is not because of the lack of funds, but due largely to lack of good governance, accountability and transparency, pointing out that constitutionally, the purpose of government was to ensure the security and welfare of the people.
At a meeting with representatives of the governors at the Presidential Villa, President Buhari had asked the governors “how can anyone go to bed and sleep soundly when workers have not been paid their salaries for months. I actually wonder how the workers feed their families, pay their rent and even pay school fees for their children.”
But Bauchi state governor, Barrister Mohammed Abubakar who was part of the meeting with the President told newsmen at the APC secretariat that the President did not indict any of the governor’s since they have utilized the intervention from the federal government judiciously.
On the Paris club refund which the governors are asking the government to release to them, he said “don’t forget, this is money that belongs to us. We are not begging for anything, but demanding what belongs to us and that it Shula be paid to us.”
However, Labour is insisting that the governors should be made to account for the bailout fund and the fiery two tranches of the Paris Club refund before the last tranche is released to them, adding that the governors have not made good their promise to utilize the money to pay salaries, pensions and other liabilities of workers.
He said: “It is unfortunate that despite the resources such Paris club refund and bailout that has been given to the states, some of them have not justified the utilization of those funds. That is why the problem of payment of salaries, pension and gratuity has remained a challenge.
“Before the last tranche was given, there was a template and a commitment by the governors to utilize the money to try and defray these liabilities. Going forward, I think the Federal Ministry of Finance should look at whether those commitments that were made have been fulfilled.
“Part of the way forward also is to try and institute good governance, transparency and accountability at all levels. Once we have that, those problems can be addressed because it has proven very clearly that the none payment of salaries, pension and liabilities of workers is not specifically about lack of resources. It is also about priority and commitment to doing what is obvious.
“From our analogy, we have seen states with little resources paying as and when due and they don’t have problems. Yet, there are states that are receiving as much as possible and have liabilities.
“You can situate this within the context of what is happening in the country where our political elites spend fortunes on birthday alone and yet cannot lay salaries in their states. People are busy erecting statutes of foreign leaders worth several millions of naira and yet cannot pay salaries and pension in their states. So, it is about priority.
“Therefore, I think that despite being a different tier of government, there is a way we can try and get those records because it is about transparency, accountability and getting your priorities right. We should try and do a process of verification to know whether or not, the commitment that was made earlier has been followed to the later and that should be the basis for which those funds can be released.
“Although strictly speaking, when you look at the present situation, there is the tendencies for them to argue that it is their money and must be given them their money. But in the context of good governance, the Presidency has an overall responsibility to uphold the primary purpose of governance which is the security and welfare of the people.
“It is a constitutional provision that the primary purpose of governance is security and welfare of the people and once you cannot take care of the security and welfare of the people, there will be social instability and a lot of other things can follow, such as extreme poverty which we are now trying to address.
“There is a category of pensioners that has not been paid for a period of between 5 and 21 months like in states like Kogi. They have been put in a precarious situation. They cannot send their children to school like the President has said, she cannot even feed their family and has caused social instability within those families and therefore, many things can happen.
“Our recommendation is that, yes, the federal government has done its best by trying to look at the problem, but it is like those governors who are not paying are not looking at the issue as a major national problem so, we should try to put in place some processes of check and balances.
“We have seen a lot of reports on the social media on how these monies have been diverted even though that has not confirmed yet. If it is true that these monies have been diverted as being speculated, we should try and follow it up and ensure that the process of recovery takes place.
“More importantly too, we should try and safely guide the diversion of these monies. This can happen if we have a tripartite committee in place. In some states, such committee has been put in place comprising organised Labour, anti-graft and security agencies and they function to ensure that the money is judiciously utilized.
“In some states, even to divulge the information was not possible and Kogi is one example. Our union wrote to the government, but nobody was willing to give any information on the utilization of either the bailout or the Paris Club refund because there was a commitment for them to use those funds to defray salaries.
“If it is done transparently, people can follow the process and even if the money is not enough, people will understand and know that the money is not enough. Beside those refunds, you know that the monthly allocations have been coming.
“But I think that it goes beyond requesting for money. It is certainly an issue of governance which we need to revisit. Going forward, fighting corruption must be across the board and across the three tiers of government. That is the only way it will succeed.
“Workers and pensioners will understand the meaning of fighting corruption better if they are paid because if they are on empty stomach, it will tempting for somebody to do the obvious.
“These are the real issues and we need to do a rethink and review the process of what went wrong despite those resources that have been given and how do we address the situation. I think that will be helpful. Giving more money and the problem still there means that we have not been able to bring everybody on board and for those states that are not paying to understand the importance of such an issue.”