By Abdulrazaque Bello-Barkindo, Head, Media and Public Affairs, Nigeria Governors’ Forum Secretariat
The Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) wishes to make it categorically clear that the insinuations by the Nigeria Labor Congress, NLC, through an interview granted by its Secretary General, Peter Eson, that governors are refusing to pay the N30.000 national minimum wage as demanded by NLC, which was reported in … paper (The Punch) …, Monday, December 31, 2018, is not only mischievous, but misleading and in bad faith.
The report “Minimum Wage: NLC wants governors who diverted bailouts probed” is a needless attempt by the leadership of Labor to steer the public away from the promise by President Muhammadu Buhari to constitute another committee to review the minimum wage gridlock.
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 geo-political 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.
Moreover, since that last meeting, of the middle of December, between the Governors and Mr. President, 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.
Already, revenue to states have dropped drastically while demands by competing needs keep rising astronomically. Last year alone, revenue to states dropped from N800bn when the Tripartite Committee was appointed (November 2017) to between N500bn and N600bn by the time Ms. Amma Pepple submitted its report in October 2018.
Moreover, 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 was 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.