Our attention has been drawn to a press statement and a flurry of radio interviews granted by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) Chairman in Abia State, Comrade Uchenna Obigwe, supposedly on behalf of organized labour, with regard to the state of workers’ emoluments.
It is important that we correct some factual distortions and falsehood contained in the statements for the sake of posterity.
1. We agree that “a labourer deserves his wages,” and, hence, have worked very hard to prioritize workers’ emoluments in the state. As confirmed on Saturday by Comrade Obigwe, via a radio program monitored in Umuahia, Abia State, Government is not owing workers in the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of the state any salary.
Statutorily, these are the workers paid directly by the state government and they constitute more than 70% of the state workforce.
NLC leadership at both state and national levels confirmed that workers in our MDAs are not being owed salaries and we make bold to state that they have already received July 2019 salaries.
2. According to existing laws made by the state House of Assembly, the state government DOES NOT PAY workers in state parastatals as the management of those parastatals are permitted by law to make, retain and use their revenue to pay their workers as and when due.
State parastatals also DO NOT remit any portion of their revenue to the state government’s consolidated revenue account unlike the MDAs. Rather, the state government provides support to parastatals from time to time through the payment of subventions which are not necessarily meant to be used for salary payments.
If organized labour, led by Obigwe, is asking the state government to directly pay salaries of workers in parastatals then they should be bold enough to approach the state House of Assembly to amend the relevant laws to ensure that such parastatals remit their revenues to the state coffers so the state can assume full responsibility for paying workers in those parastatals.
It is on record that this administration has made several interventions to help pay parastatals workers including paying workers of ABSUTH 11 months salary arrears in 2015, payment of N2bn debt of AbiaPoly, payment of months of subventions to all the ailing parastatals in the state etc.
We are also aware that the State House of Assembly is currently reviewing the operations of the ailing parastatals with revelations on mismanagement of revenue already in the public domain. Some of those fingered in the alleged malfeasance in the parastatals that have stunted their growth and smooth operations are members of organized labour in the state.
3. If “sectoral pattern of payment of workers’ salaries in the state since the inception of the present administration” refers to strict adherence to the laws setting up parastatals and MDAs in the state, then we challenge organized labour to approach the House of Assembly to demand amendment to the relevant laws which were in existence before the coming of this administration. We will surely comply with such amendments and do the needful.
4. Details of the management of CBN bailout funds and Paris Club Refund to Abia State is within the public domain and we invite the State NLC Chairman, Comrade Uchenna Obigwe, who was a prominent member of the committee that distributed the funds to publicly give account of how he and other members shared the funds to defray unpaid wages.
Suffice it to state that the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) applauded the transparent manner the state government, led by Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, managed the funds. It was this same organized labour that dominated the committee that decided who to pay and who not to pay in the face of limited resources.
Interestingly, the same NLC Chairman, Obigwe, who is now pretending to be championing the cause of pensioners and some parastatals also vehemently opposed the proposal by the state government to the committee that more resources be allocated to pension payments and some of those parastatals. We invite him to explain the basis of that his stance to the public.
5. We wish to state without fear of contradiction that Abia is among the few states that are yet to receive the last tranche of Paris Club Refund. That the state NLC Chairman publicly claimed that he “read online” that the state government has received such payment is mischievous, bearing in mind that someone occupying his position is expected to verify information before going public and not rely on some fabricated falsehood in questionable online outfits.
Comrade Obigwe is also aware that the state government is already moving to sue the relevant federal government agency to ensure that we receive our dues with regard to the last tranche of Paris Club Refund. His public posturing can therefore only be attributed to mischief making or playing to the gallery for reasons we will explain later.
6. While acknowledging that we have unpaid salaries with secondary school teachers, it is important to state that it is not true that they have continuously not been paid since October 2018. In December 2018, February 2019, March 2019, May 2019 and in June 2019 when they received two months’ arrears, we verifiably made payments to secondary school teachers.
It is also important to note that it is only in Abia that the state government pays junior and secondary school teachers. In other states, junior secondary school teachers are paid by Local Governments as they form part of universal basic education program while state governments pay senior secondary school teachers only. To correct this observed anomaly, we have already set up a committee on disarticulation of secondary schools to ensure that the right thing is done. Our secondary school teachers’ wage bill is currently around N380m while that of primary school is around N650m monthly, making Abia the south east state with the heaviest teachers’ wage bill of N1.03bn monthly.
Regardless of the above, we are set to pay another month’s salary to secondary school teachers next week and hope to continue till we settle all outstanding due to them.
7. Prior to the new financial guidelines issued by NFIU in June 2019 on the management of state and local government allocation accounts, we had no outstanding primary school teachers’ salary.
We believe that the issues around the implementation of the new guideline are largely responsible for the 2 months outstanding owed to primary school teachers. The government is working with local government authorities to ensure that the teachers are paid as soon as possible and we have been assured that they will receive another one month pay next week.
Members of the public must have wondered the reason for the public posturing of the NLC State Chairman, Obigwe, leading to his brazen misleading of the public on issues he is otherwise well informed about. The answer is not far from internal NLC politics that we are aware of.
Comrade Obigwe was due for retirement from the state civil service in 2016 but following appeals he made to the government on the need for him to extend his services to support the then nascent administration he was granted 2 years extension which expired in 2018. His subsequent request for further extension was turned down because of the need to discontinue a policy that has stunted the growth of young workers.
Apparently, the well thought out decision of the Government not to further extend the services of those whose time have since expired did not go down well with him and since then he has continued to show signs of bitterness against the administration. To be re-elected as state NLC Chairman, he had to manipulate the system to claim that he was a staff of the health workers union (without being a civil servant) and that claim is now the subject of litigation by his opponent in that 2019 NLC election. He apparently holds the government responsible for his travails, especially since all his attempts to get the government involved in the internal affairs of the state NLC, in his favor, failed, especially as the issue is now in court.
If the intention of Comrade Obigwe is to blackmail the state government into intervening in his favor with regard to the internal power struggle within the State NLC, he is well advised to perish the thought.
Regardless of the attempts by Obigwe to politicize salary payment to survive as State Chairman of NLC, we wish to assure genuine workers of the state that the government will continue to prioritize their welfare within our lean resources while at the same time delivering more dividends of democracy to the rest of the people of Abia State.
While it is true that some parastatals in the state have various months of unpaid salaries, it is also important to state that majority of state parastatals are up to date with workers’ salary and some, such as Broadcasting Corporation of Abia State (BCA), are even also up to date with pension payment. We applaud the management of those parastatals that have prioritized workers payment and will continue to support others to do same or be sanctioned.
Chief John Okiyi Kalu
Honorable Commissioner for Infornation