Wage, economists say, is the dignity of labour. But for some workers across the country, getting this all-important reward for labour is harder than having to pass the camel through the eye of a needle, let alone earning a living from hard earned wages.
Owing to failure of many state governments to pay workers’ salaries, the Buhari administration had released bailout funds to states across the country to reduce the hardship of workers.
But the utilisation of the bailout fund has sparked controversies in recent times as allegations of elephantine graft on the part of the governors trailed the released funds.
Anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), for example, had alleged that Governor Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara state diverted N500m Paris club to repay his loan.
Also, operatives of the agency recently arrested the Ekiti state commissioner of finance, Toyin Ojo, as well as the state’s Attorney General, Oluyemisi Owolabi, over alleged misappropriation of bailout fund.
Worried by this development, the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, had directed all state chapters with members that are owed more than three months’ salary arrears to declare industrial action,
stating that the body had promised to do same at a National Executive Council meeting of the Non Academic Staff Union education and associated institution held in
Wabba identified Ondo, Bayelsa, Benue, Ekiti, Osun, Zamfara and Kogi states as the worst case scenario of states that are owing backlog of salaries.
“We have three categories of workers in Kogi, where the government has 40 percent that are being paid up to date, 25 percent that have not been paid between eight to sixteen months –
and another 25 percent that have not been paid between eight to 21 months,” Wahab said, concluding that the governors have categorised the workers into three groups in all the sectors.
In the same vein, the General Secretary of the NLC, Peter Ozo-Esan, said on a breakfast programme broadcast in Lagos that the NLC do not direct EFCC and ICPC, “But we can call their attention to monitor the use of funds.
That is why we have directed our state councils to down tools if governors don’t do the right thing. “Two of the worst states you can think of are Zamfara and Kogi states. We have to make examples of governors that have refused to govern well so that other states can learn,’’ he said.
Reacting to the allegations of the misappropriation of bailout funds, Special adviser on Media and Communication to Zamfara state governor, Ibrahim Magaji, said the bailout funds released to the states had been judiciously utilised.
Magadi, in a statement, said contrary to reports, the state had been paying the N18,000 minimum wage, claiming that the issue of strike is politicised.
“Nonetheless, government will continue to work for the development of the state. The issue of strike in Nigeria is not only in Zamfara, ULC were on strike, ASUU was also on strike. The issue in Zamfara is overblown and politicised, portraying the state as the worst in the country,’’ he alleged.
Dismissing allegations of diversion of funds, the media aide described Governor Yari as the hardest working governor in Nigeria.
“No governor in Nigeria has worked diligently like governor Yari has done. Whoever is accusing him should come to Zamfara state to see what the governor has done. This is a governor that is focused and sincere.’’
Defending the Kogi state government in a more profound manner, the DG (media and publicity, Mr. Kingsley Fanwo, said the state had received N11b and N6b respectively in bailout funds.
“The state government had published how the bailout fund received was utilised in the national dailies. We discovered the civil service was the cesspit of corruption.
“Some were earning double salaries, so we embarked on a thorough screening exercise – and we have successfully brought the exercise to a conclusion: there was nothing like diversion. We published how we utilised the bailout funds in three national dailies,’’ he said.
While the fact remains that a great number of workers are yet to receive their long outstanding monies, the task before the EFCC is by no means an easy one.
It is hoped that all indicted governors will tamper governance with a human face and restore the dignity of labour for all the workers affected.