PROTESTS BY LOCAL GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES: PUTTING THE RECORDS STRAIGHT.
By Dan Manjang
For over a month now, employees of Local Governments in Plateau State have embarked on protests, barricading the entrance of the Joseph Gomwalk Secretariat, blocking roads and causing untold hardship to the public as well as harassing Government officials by calling them names, threatening them and their families.
All this has been under the guise that the State Government has not implemented the N30,000 minimum wage negotiated and passed into law the Federal Government. This is totally incorrect as the State Government has since October 2020, commenced the implementation of the 30 thousand new minimum wage to its employees. Local Government employees on the other hand are yet to reach an agreement with their employers (Local Government Councils).
Having tolerated this ugly situation and done everything possible to facilitate the resolution of the grievances of the Local Government employees and their employers (Local Government Councils), the State Government rather than receive praise for its intervention, has been inundated with unwarranted assault, propaganda and campaign of calumny aimed at tarnishing its image.
In the light of the above, it has become imperative for the Government to put the records straight and leave the matter before the court of public opinion.
In the first place, it is common knowledge that the administration of Rt. Hon. (Dr) Simon Bako Lalong, KSGG and by the special grace of God, the Chairman, 19 Northern States Governors’ Forum is labour friendly, especially when it comes to the payment of staff salaries, pension, gratuity and other emoluments. This has earned him the indelible name “GOVERNOR ALERT” bestowed on him by no other group than the entirety of Plateau State workers.
It is common knowledge that since he assumed office in 2015, salaries and pension in Plateau State have never been owed as they are paid as and when due. In fact, Plateau civil servants have become used to the sound of bank “alerts” from 23rd of every month.
Furthermore, time was before the life of this Government that the last administration could not pay salaries and pensions of civil servants for upward of eight months. However, all these were cleared by the administration of Governor Simon Bako Lalong without any fight. The same applied to “No Work, No Pay” arrears of salaries of about four months which was paid by this administration. As at today, the salaries of Plateau civil servants have been paid up to date despite the economic crunch and low earnings!
The Rescue Government of Simon Bako Lalong similarly showed magnanimity by recalling over 2,000 teachers who were sacked by the Jang administration after due consideration of their pleas. Not only that, Governor Lalong also ensured that the promotion and transfers of Local Government staff which was stagnant for about 2 decades was also carried out. Yet, these are the people today calling for the crucifixion of the Governor for no just cause.
As it stands today, the State Government does not have any dispute with its employees who patiently waited and negotiated for the implementation of the N30 thousand minimum wage which has commenced since October (even when some states have not even opened negotiations).
Therefore the conduct of Local Government employees who have embarked on a wild campaign of columny, mischief and misrepresentation of facts to the effect that the Governor is holding the implementation of its 30 thousand minimum wage is to say the least, most uncharitable and unfortunate.
It is common knowledge that Local Government employees are hired, disciplined, promoted and fired where necessary by Local Government Councils (their employers) and not the State Government. This is moreso when the implementation of Local Government autonomy has since commenced in Plateau State. The State Government which is a separate tier of Government has no responsibility for the implementation of the new minimum wage for Local Government staff and the Governor cannot force it down their throat. It is purely the business of Local Government Councils to negotiate with their employees based on their capacity to pay. This is exactly what happened between Federal Government and its employees as well as the States and its employees. If the Federal Government did not force the States to implement the new minimum wage, why do Local Government employees in Plateau State want the Governor to force the Local Government Councils to pay their employees when he has no control over their resources? Or should any State fail to pay the minimum wage to its workers, will they march to Abuja to seal off the Federal Secretariat?
For the Local Government employees to jettison this fact or pretend not to know but resort to blackmail, threatening and locking out State workers from the Secretariat for about a month, chanting political and war songs and other contemptuous behaviour is to say the least most unfortunate and regrettable.
Only they know what they stand to gain from locking down the State Secretariat and denying workers access to their offices as well as disrupting the economy of the State. They have been unreasonable to the extent that they forget that many citizens are just trying to recover from the COVID-19 lockdowns and curfews which impacted on their livelihoods. They are not on salaries but have to struggle to earn their living and also pay taxes that are appropriated to even pay Government workers including the protesters.
Moreover, the State Government took the civil path by approaching the National Industrial Court in Jos to ensure that the obstruction is stopped. An order was subsequently obtained wherein the Local Government employees were restrained from further protests and disrupting public peace.
Rather than the Local Government employees to obey a lawful court order, sheath their swords, or at least seek to vacate the order while the matter is being addressed by the joint committee mid-wived by the Governor which consists of their leadership and other union leaders, the Local Government employees escalated their agitation and further politicised it for reasons best known to them.
If they had gone to their respective Local Government Councils to protest or embark on labour actions such as withdrawing their services, many would have understood or even sympathised with them. But their action which is more political than a fight for their rights has become repulsive and devoid of public sympathy. Nobody will stop them if they have political ambitions and want to pursue it. However, they need to come out and embrace partisan politics rather than hide under minimum wage struggle only to disrupt the stability of the State.
The Plateau State Government would therefore, for the sake of clarity and emphasis, again state categorically as follows:
a. That the administration of Governor Simon Bako Lalong recognises that there are three tiers of Government in Nigeria, in this case, Local, State and Federal. The Governor is irrevocably committed to ensuring the that these tiers of Government particularly the Local Government enjoy their financial independence and other provisions of the autonomy.
b. That as far as the employment, discipline, promotion and payment of salaries and emoluments of Local Governments is concerned, the onus rests squarely on the shoulders of Chairmen and Management Committee Chairmen of the various Local Governments while the Governor has the responsibility of ensuring that State Civil Servants are paid as and when due. He has never failed!
C. That the Governor has done everything possible as a father to wade into the lingering crisis but the Local Government Staff have continued to stifle this effort, even when their Union officials have advised them to give them a chance to negotiate the matter. They rather prefer to play to the gallery and misinform the gullible while allowing clandestine interests to use them for pecuniar y motives.
d. In view of the above, the Plateau State Government under the leadership of His Excellency Rt. Hon. (Dr) Simon Bako Lalong, KSGG hereby advises Local employees to redirect their grouse to the right channel which is the Local Government Councils. It is their sole responsibility to negotiate and implement not only the minimum wage, but other allowances they wish to offer them. This is moreso, that the allocation of Local Government is paid directly into the accounts of the Local Governments by the Federal Government and not warehoused with the State Government.
e. That the unwarranted attacks, misinformation and mischief of the Local Government employees aimed at tarnishing the good name of His Excellency, the amiable worker-friendly Governor Rt. Hon. (Dr) Simon Bako Lalong, a.k.a GOVERNOR ALERT, is unnecessary and a great act of treachery and ingratitude for all he has done to improve their conditions. Despite that, he has greatest respect for the workers which he has consistently demonstrated since he came into office and is committed to sustaining it.
f. That the State Government appeals again to the Local Government employees to show maturity and understanding by interfacing with their employers (Local Government Councils) as henceforth, no disruption of public peace or Government activities will be tolerated.
LET US ALWAYS THINK AND ACT PLATEAU
▪︎ Manjang is the Plateau State Commissioner for Information and Communication