By Akanimo Sampson
Nigerian workers and the 36 governors of the federation are currently heading for a bloody head-on collision as none of the parties is yet willing to shift ground on the disturbing new salary package this 2019.
While workers were expecting the new salary package to take effect from this January, the governors do not appear to be in a hurry to play ball. The Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) at the moment is insisting that competing demands will make it impossible to meet the N30,000 minimum wage being demanded by the organised labour.
They are claiming that the revenue accrual to the 36 states dropped from N800 billion to N500 billion in one year.
But logical as it seems, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) is not currently poised to take that as an excuse. Labour is therefore, appealing to the Federal Government to urgently transmit the bill on the new national minimum wage to the National Assembly for legislative action.
NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, made the appeal in a New Year message on Tuesday in Abuja. According to him, 2018 remains one of the most traumatic for workers especially given the failure of government to enact and implement the new national minimum wage of N30,000.
‘’This is in spite of the unimpeachable tripartite process leading to the agreement by the social partners on the new national minimum wage. It is unfortunate that the Federal Government is yet to transmit to the National Assembly an executive bill for the enactment of N30,000 as the new national minimum wage.
‘’Government’s dilly-dallying on the issue has strained Government-Labour relations with a potential for a major national strike which could just be days away. Accordingly, we would use this opportunity to appeal to the government to do the needful by urgently transmitting the bill on the new national minimum wage to the National Assembly.
‘’We also would like to use this same opportunity to urge workers to fully mobilise for a prolonged national strike and enforce their right’’, the organized labour chief said, pointing out that the strike became the inevitable last option for labour, while calling on all Nigerians and businesses to understand and support it.
In a statement, Spokesman for the governors’ forum, Abdulrazaq Barkindo, said: ‘’Already, revenue to states have dropped drastically while demands by competing needs keep rising astronomically. Last year alone, revenue to states dropped from N800 billion when the Tripartite Committee was appointed (November 2017) to between N500 billion and N600 billion by the time Ms Amma Pepple submitted its report in October 2018.’’
According to the statement, ‘’moreover, since that last meeting, of the middle of December, between the governors and Mr. President (Muhammadu Buhari), the economists of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum Secretariat have been working closely with the relevant departments in all the states of the federation, and looking into other ways of collating financial standing of states that will help the President in ameliorating the situation.’’
The governors claimed that states are now more involved in revenue drive than they have ever done before but because of too many demands of their resources, they are not able to shoulder more than N22,500 that they have already offered to pay.
They however, pointed out that this amount is the minimum threshold as states that are in a position pay more are at liberty to do so, adding that they are not against the payment of N30,000 as insinuated by labour.
‘’Governors have collectively made it abundantly clear that they would have been happy to pay workers the N30.000 but times are hard and because of financial constraints and other limitations, many states cannot afford it, for now. The NGF had offered workers a token increment to the sum of N22.500 from the current N18000 after the submission of the report of the Tripartite Committee set up by the President and headed by a retired Head of Service Ms Amma Pepple on October 6th.
‘’The N22.500 was arrived at, after extensive deliberations among all 36 governors, outlining their financial capacities and liquidity, considering the economic situation of the country and the states’ other obligations to the majority of the people of their various domains. Governors also emphasized that N22.500 is a “baseline threshold”, meaning that any governor who can pay more than N22.500 is, therefore, free to go ahead and do so.
‘’Let it be known that governors have met the President twice on this matter and presented their books to buttress their point. First, a batch of state governors, led by the NGF Chairman, Governor Abdulaziz Yari Abubakar of Zamfara State, in company of Govs Ambode of Lagos, Ugwuanyi of Enugu, Bagudu of Kebbi attended a closed-door meeting with the President where the financial standing of six states, one each from all the geopolitical regions in the country, were shown to the President, after which, on Mr President’s request, all the states forwarded their books, their revenues, both internally generated and their earnings from the Federation Account along with their other sources of revenue, for examination. The president appears satisfied with the governors’ position, thus the decision to set up a new committee.
‘’It is important to add that, there has never been a time in this country when states have embarked on a more aggressive revenue drive than they are doing today. And this is without exception or prejudice to any state. To put the records straight, governors are not under any obligation, by law, to show their books to the NLC.
‘’But they have, in their pursuit of the understanding of the union, done so, not once, but several times over, with a view to letting NLC know that what they are asking for is neither realistic nor sustainable. Yet, NLC remains adamant that its will must be done, or the heavens will fall.
‘’The president at his last meeting with governors (December 15, 2018) had admonished them (governors) to expect harsher economic tides from New Year’s, thus validating governors’ fears that even those states that had hitherto looked comfortable financially, may in the course of the new year, falter’’, they said.
Continuing, they said, ‘’state governors are making concerted efforts to improve education, health and infrastructure and for this, would not, therefore, dedicate their states’ entire resources to workers’ salaries alone, knowing that workers constitute less than 5% of the nation’s population. In that regard, governors emphatically announced, collectively, that no state would devote more than 50% of its revenue to salaries.
‘’To, therefore, insist that states must oblige the NLC its demands, regardless of the economic gloom that stares the nation in the face is most unpatriotic and a deliberate attempt to hold the nation, especially the president, to ransom, this being an election year. At this point, it is important to remind the NLC that most governors exhibited a high sense of responsibility and concern for the plight of workers by ensuring that most of them were paid their December salaries ahead of time.
‘’Some even received several months’ salary arrears that were owed them, and they are happy with their governors. This is not the time for the NLC to destroy the existing conviviality that is already building-up between workers and their governors, especially in those states of the federation where governors are stepping up to the plate with the right decisions.’’