From Rejoice Ojodubiun, Lokoja.
Nearly 17,700 Kogi State government workers began a strike last Friday because they claim they have been short-changed by their employer, which paid only 40 percent of them half their monthly take home pay.
However, the State Government on Sunday through spokesman to Governor Yahaya Bello, Mr. Kingsley Fanwo, berated union leaders for the strike action, suggesting they were being used by political foes of the administration.
Said he: “The impression they want to create about Kogi is fake, false and misleading. It is a political attempt at distracting government from its lofty initiatives of developing the state.
“We will remain unfazed in combating corruption in the state. Inducing Labour to destabilize the state will not save those who blindly stole from our commonwealth from returning their loot.
“We have been paying workers salaries and shall continue to do so. Labour should reciprocate our gesture by acting with patriotism. Those pushing Labour to battle with government have no interest of our state at heart”.
But an angry senior government staff has his own views on the development: “The state inland revenue services gets an average of N1.2 billion was being generated monthly from internal sources, we also get money monthly from the Federation Account, so why government is still finding it hard to pay workers’ salary was beyond comprehension.
“We are on strike. We are confused here because there are no major projects on-going in the State, except two road projects in Ogugu and Idah. Even those, the contractors were merely mobilised, and for months now, nothing tangible has been done on the road projects, which we are told, were started just to win votes from the Kogi East Senatorial District of the Igala people in the next election.
“The previous administration (Idris Wada’s) handed over 18,888 staff to (Governor Yahaya) Bello. But the latter claimed to have discovered over 8000 ghost workers. Yet the figure currently being peddled is 17,658 or thereabout and we claim to be spending N3.1 billion as monthly wage bill. The whole thing appears confusing.”
It was gathered that the situation in the State degenerated when in early September the state government paid half salary for the month of July to the 40 percent of staff on regular pay claiming shortfall in its monthly allocation from the federation account.
This sparked off a trade dispute between the government and organised labour, finally culminating in the Friday strike acrion by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) in the state.
The strike on its first day was observed by workers as all the offices were locked and deserted.
The Secretary to the State Government (SSG) who earlier threatened to sack any staff from her office who joined the strike, was locked out, but gained entry into her office later in the day after a carpenter was brought to break the locks.
Of the 10 states that have allegedly failed to utilize both the bailout funds and Paris Club refund for the payment of workers’ wages, Kogi State was named the worst offender by the NLC.
In Abuja, the National President of central union Comrade Wabba said Kogi State presented the worst case.
His words: “There are three categories of workers in the state. We have 40 percent that are paid regularly but not up to date, we have 25 per cent that has not been paid between eight and 16 months and another 25 per cent that has not been paid between eight and 21 months. In all, the sectors, they have categorised the workers into three categories.”
Wabba said it became necessary to make these facts public to let Nigerians know the extent to which the governors of the affected states went to divert the funds to other uses.
According to him, “Out of the 36 states, we have 10 bad case scenario and out of this 10, we have six terrible ones. We have promised to name and shame them.
“Those states include Imo that has been paying workers salaries in percentage and has not declared utilisation of the bail out fund and Paris Club refund. It is part of the states that ICPC has mentioned in fund diversion.
Wabba said: “…out of this 10, we have six terrible ones. We have promised to name and shame them. Those states include Imo that has been paying workers salaries in percentage and has not declared utilisation of the bail out fund and Paris Club refund. It is part of the states that ICPC has mentioned in fund diversion.
“They paid 40 percent pension to their pensioners without their consent and provided a form for them to sign under duress. That is not allowed in law. We have Bayelsa, which has between five to 10 months arrears. Ondo is owing between four and six, Ekiti (five to eight), Benue (five to eight)….”
Fanwo, however, appealed to Kogi workers to continue to return to work for the benefit of the State.
“Labour leaders in the state have been attempting to denigrate the integrity of the State Government by creating a false impression of non-payment of salaries despite our decision to publish all the payments to civil servants in the state in various media, including the state website.
“We urge the organized Labour to rescind their decision and call off the ill-fated strike in the interest of the good people of the state.
“Kogi State Government is owing August salary as well as half of July which will be paid as soon as possible. It is our desire that Labour embraces industrial peace and resist the temptation of throwing the State into tension.
“We frown at the forceful execution of the strike and urge Labour leaders to reconsider their stance instead of attacking workers who intend to earn their pay. The refusal of many civil servants to heed the call for strike is enough incentive to reverse the unpopular decision”.
Fanwo threatened government will wield the big stick “to stabilize the system and ensure the state enjoys industrial peace.”