May 29: Benue, Abia, Taraba, Others to Inherit Huge Salaries Debts

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National Economic Council, NEC, meeting on Thursday.

In the next few days, many state governors will bow out of office. While some of them are leaving with their heads high, some could not be said of quite a number of them. BUSINESS EDITORNIYI JACOBS writes on the worries of some backlogs of salaries and pensions, some of them would be handing over to the incoming administration on May 29.

Indications have emerged that at least seven out of the 28 newly elected governors who are expected to take over power from their predecessors on May 29, will be faced with the turmoil of fixing the mess of the current administration, particularly on the issue of backlog of unpaid salaries and pensions.

According to some stakeholders, curtailing the hardship and pains birthed by the backlog of unpaid salaries in the states may constitute a challenging but doable task for the incoming governments.

In a country where payment of workers’ remuneration and other entitlements are recorded as achievement, it is regrettable that the plights of workers, particularly civil servants, are still heavily neglected, says Mr Anthony Oche, a civil servant in Benue State.

It would be recalled that the outgoing governor of Cross River State, Ben Ayade had in an interview on Arise Television on Wednesday, ranked his administration higher than that of his predecessors, claiming that he was able to pay salaries and pensions.

Apparently, the governor attributed his failure to execute essential projects in the state in the past eight years to his struggle to pay salaries and pensions.

More worrisome is the plight of workers in Benue, Abia, Plateau, Taraba, and other states where the outgoing governors are owing workers over one year salaries.

BENUE STATE

In Benue, aside from the security crisis bedevilling the state following the activities of killer herdsmen, abject poverty occasioned by the backlog of salaries and pension arrears is another killer disease ravaging civil servants in the state.

It was gathered that the outgoing administration of Governor Samuel Ortom is currently owing teachers in the 23 local government areas 11 months’ salary arrears.

According to the Benue State chapter of the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, other local government workers are being owed at least 10 months’ salaries while at the state level, workers are lamenting eight months’ unpaid salary arrears.

It was gathered that the Ortom-led administration is also owing members of the state House of Assembly about six months’ salaries which led to the suspension of plenaries last week.

The governor, according to reports, inherited parts of the arrears from the previous administration of the former governor, Gabriel Suswam.

There are, however, sighs of relief as the incoming administration of the Governor-elect, Fr Hyacinth Alia has promised to prioritise welfare of the civil servants when he takes over power on May 29.

One of Alia’s campaign spokesmen and currently the Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in the state, Mr Dan Morgan mentioned that Alia had begun moves aiming at clearing the backlog of arrears.

He said, “We have promised that we are going to pay salaries when we come in. We are aware that civil servants have suffered so much in Benue State and we wouldn’t want that to continue.

“We must pay salaries and pensions as at when due. We are moving in a direction that is far different from what they have right now. We are making everything ready to ensure that all salaries are paid.

“The governor-elect had promised that payment of salaries and pension would be prioritised in his administration.

“Benue civil servants trust us and that is why they voted for us.”

Asked how the incoming government would do the magic, Morgan said Alia and his team were making moves to partner with the incoming president, Bola Tinubu to offset the arrears.

“We are going to partner with the President-elect; he has also promised to help the state, so we are sure that with help from the central and our own internally generated revenue, we will pay the backlog of salaries and pensions”, he added.

TARABA STATE

It was reported that when the Taraba State Governor-elect, Kefas Agbu, finally takes over the mantle of leadership in May, 2023, he would no doubt buckle under the hefty yoke of over N200 billion debt left behind by the incumbent governor, Arc. Darius Dickson Ishaku.

 Apart from Ishaku’s alleged inability to implement the new National minimum wage of N30,000.00, pensioners, and workers all have different forms of woes to narrate.

Besides the government’s inability to pay pensioners their gratuities which has accumulated to several billions of Naira, over 1,000 of the retirees were also reportedly not adequately captured for the past eight years in the state.

Ishaku’s alleged refusal to attend to the plights of pensioners, the state chairman of the Nigerian Pensioners Union (NUP), Silas Jafta, and its Secretary, Yohanna Ajiya, said, has “sent some of our colleagues to our colleagues to the Great Beyond.”

Unlike other parts of the country, the reverse has been the case in Taraba as both academic and non-academic staff of the State University were reportedly denied their legitimate rights since Ishaku ascended the number one position of the state.

Non-payment of earned academic allowances, promotion arrears, fractional payment of salaries to staff, as well as unsettled staff pension and gratuity scheme, were among the numerous reasons the state debt profile under Ishaku skyrocketed.

The State University ASUU Chairman, Samuel Shitaa had expressed sadness that the Governor also reneged all the agreements he signed with the Union, among which include perimeter fencing of the institution.

 Admitting that under Ishaku, Taraba workers were relegated to the background, the state chairman of the NLC, Peter Jedeil said the outstanding six months salaries of local government staff and five months for primary school teachers in the state, as well as the non-payment of yearly increment which was stopped for three years now, has been one of the major plights of Taraba workers.

The NLC boss who went ahead to cite the backlog of gratuities for retirees in the state from 2015 and inability to capture over one thousand retirees into the monthly pension, said the incoming administration has a lot of debts to grapple with.

The inability of Ishaku’s administration to hasten the implementation of the new minimum wage for workers in the state, is also a major issue impacting negatively on the performance of Taraba workers.

Apart from toying with workers’ remunerations which he admitted to have accrued to several billions of Naira, Ishaku, according to him, has also failed in training and retraining of civil servants in the state throughout his eight years in office.

He also identified non-release of dues meant for the state wing of the Nigeria union of Teachers, NUT, by Ishaku’s administration, as one of his weakest points, which according to him led to the huge debts he is living behind for the incoming administration.

 Confirming the debt profile of the state, the Commissioner for Budget and Economic Planning, Solomon Elisha mentioned that he “cannot claim that the state is not indebted, because government and debt are synonymous, but this administration”, according to him, “has ensured that it does not incur loans unnecessarily”.

The Commissioner who could not give the exact figure of the state debt profile said the amount been quoted is not up to N200 billion.

ABIA STATE

It was gathered that the Abia State government led by the outgoing Governor, Okezie Ikpazu has the highest unpaid salaries in the country.

This means that Dr Alex Otti, who emerged as the only Governor-elect of the Labour Party and will take over from Ikpeazu of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, on May 29, will be faced with the challenge of repaying over 30 months’ salary arrears to workers.

Recall that the NLC had recently declared an indefinite strike in the state over the huge indebtedness to the workers.

The NLC President, Joe Ajaero, in a statement before the commencement of the strike, stated, “The NLC is angry over no less than six months’ salary and pension arrears owed core civil servants and over 30 months’ salary and pension arrears to other public workers in the state.”

Recently, the Nigeria Medical Association accused Ikpeazu and governors of Imo, Hope Uzodimma, and Benue, Samuel Ortom, of giving health workers in their states “sleepless nights” over unpaid salaries.

A local government worker in the state, Mr Igara Micheal  said that the unpaid salaries and pensions have plunged the state into a despicable situation.

According to him, “there is obviously nothing we benefited from the outgoing government, I can’t remember when last I received salary. We have been working on credit for over a year now.

“They are not paying salaries and there is no project you can point to that this government executed. Nothing.

“The same person wanted to be at the National Assembly, how is that even possible? He was shown the way out.”

PLATEAU STATE

The administration of Governor Simon Lalong would by May 29, handover power to the Governor-elect, Barr. Caleb Mutfwang with about five month’s unpaid salaries.

It was learnt recalls that the Plateau State workers had on May 11, announced the commencement of an indefinite strike after the extension of its earlier 7-day ultimatum to the government to pay salaries and other entitlements.

 Plateau State Chairman of the Nigerian Labour Congress, Comrade Eugene Manji on Saturday said  that the outgoing government is owing workers about four months salaries.

He said, “As I speak to you, workers in this State last received their February salary, and that does not even capture all MDAs.

“So we can say that some are being owed three months and others four, which includes this month (May); it is unfortunate we have found ourselves in this situation.

“But we are still discussing with the outgoing government despite being on an indefinite strike”, he explained.

However, staff of the Plateau State University (PLASU) Bokkos are owed five months, including the month of May.

According to a source in the University who spoke to on condition of anonymity, “Our monthly wage bill is N120 million, making it a total amount of N600 million for the five months being owed thus far”.

Recall that the State-owned tertiary institutions had last week threatened to embark on an indefinite strike if their demands were not met by the government.

It was reported that Governor Ayade of Cross River and his Zamfara State counterpart, Bello Matawalle are reportedly owing at least two months’ salaries representatively.

 In Rivers State, the outgoing Governor, Nyesom Wike, has been accused of owing teachers of staff schools of the state-owned tertiary institution for seven years.