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Christmas: Workers battle governors over salaries

Workers in some states across the country yesterday got furious over their unpaid salaries. They protested.

Governors and top civil servants were put under pressure in Ondo, Taraba, Gombe, Bayelsa and Zamfara states as workers got anxious over an imminent Christmas celebration on Sunday.

President Muhammadu Buhari also yesterday admonished governors to pay workers from the N525b debt-service refund which the states have been getting. He declared as unacceptable the situation in which workers are owed salaries for months.

In Ondo State, workers led the Accountant General to the bank to facilitate the payment of one month salary approved by Governor Olusegun Mimiko out of the seven months they are being owed.

Bayelsa workers were angry when they failed to get money from the bank after the government announced the payment of salaries.

Workers shut down the government secretariat in Taraba over unpaid eight months wages. There were protests in Zamfara and Gombe states.

Taraba workers under the auspices of the Joint Public Service Negotiating Council (JPSNC) shut down the secretariat to protest the non- payment of salaries and pension.

Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) Chairman Peter Gambo, who addressed the protesting workers at the gate of the secretariat, decried what he called the government’s continued insensitivity to their plight.

On Monday, the Government House was shut down by protesting footballers, who were demanding payment of their 21 months salaries.

Gambo listed the issues in dispute as “illegal deductions from salaries, nonpayment of local government workers and teachers for eight months and subjection of workers to meaningless screening and futile verification by the government.”

But Governor Darius Ishaku insisted the state is not owing workers.

“I am not owing anybody,” he told the House of Assembly while presenting the 2017 appropriation bill yesterday.

But the NLC Chairman alleged that union dues were deducted indiscriminately without being remitted to the unions.

“The government has shown that the welfare of workers is not its priority.

“Workers have been subjected to all kinds of belittling treatments in the name of screening and verifications that have not yielded any fruits apart from subjecting workers to extreme hardship.

Head of Service Samuel Angyu, who addressed the workers, said the government was aware of the complaints and was already putting measures in place to address the grievances.

The protesters were carrying placards with inscriptions, such as “One year of impunity and insensitivity must stop”; “Salary is a right not a privilege”; “Starter Up must go”; “ Pensioners have right to a dignified living, not humiliation from the government they served”, among others.

 Ondo State workers took Account-General (AG) Felix Ajibokun to the bank to begin the payment of workers’ salaries.

The aggrieved workers, who had earlier picketed the A-G’s office at Alagbaka, Akure, the state capital, said they were being owed six months salaries.

They were led by their Joint Negotiating Council (JNC) Chairman, Mr. Sunday Adeleye, the State chairmanship of the NLC, Mrs.Bosede Daramola, and other union chiefs.

According to them, they “begged” the government for one month salary to enable them celebrate Christmas, adding that Governor Olusegun Mimiko directed the AG to pay them,

but Ajibokun, who is expected to retire from service today, allegedly refused to pay.

Adeleye told reporters: “About four days ago, we met with the governor and the Commissioner for Finance. They directed the AG to pay the workers’ salaries so that everybody could go home with something.

“Since then, we have been coming here, but he has been avoiding us, until today (yesterday) when we asked him when he would pay us, but he said no worker will be paid until after Christmas.

“For your information, this is a man who will be retiring from service tomorrow(today) and the system is this, he is the only one who has the legal right to pay workers and the moment he retires, it will take the government up to three weeks to appoint another AG.

“Let me tell you, people are dying. What manner of parent are you, when you cannot buy your child a T-shirt?

“We will continue to keep vigil on these premises until the AG is ready to pay the workers.”

Ajibokun, however, blamed poor banking network for the delay in payment.

 In Bayelsa, the government also blamed it all on the banks.

A statement yesterday by Commissioner for Finance Maxwell Ebibai said the inability to pay workers was due to “lack of cash in various banks in the state.

 “It is indeed sad but also worthy to note that it is not the fault of the state government as it is on record that the governor did fulfil his promise of ensuring that civil servants get their salaries before the Yuletide celebration, but the situation that is been faced right now in the banks is applicable in other states and not only in Bayelsa State.”

 He said the government had been interfacing with “the banks to ensure that civil /public servants and Bayelsans in general would receive their entitlement to ease the pain and stress that they may face.”

In Zamfara, the 1,400-yet-to-be-paid workers since 2014  protested.

The workers, under the aegis of “May 2014 Civil Service Forum (G1400)’’, took their protest to the House of Assembly.

The leader of the forum, Luqman Majidadi, told reporters that legal action remained the only option left for the workers, having exhausted all other avenues in the last two- and-a-half years.

He said: “We have notified all relevant government agencies, held interactions with top government officials, traditional and religious leaders and other stakeholders to no avail. We have now resolved to seek other means of seeking redress.”

Majidadi condemned how Governo rAbdulaziz Yari had treated the workers since their recruitment in 2014.

“We were recruited after a very thorough screening conducted by the State Civil Service Commission in May 2014. The process was very tedious, because after obtaining the application forms for free, we sat for a written examination, interviewed and we went through eight screenings before collecting our appointment letters. For 32 months, we have not been paid any salaries,” he said.

House Committee on Civil Services Chairman Lawal Dogon-Kade, said the lawmakers were working hard to ensure that the impasse was resolved.

In Adamawa, Governor Mohammed Bindow promised to pay the outstanding four months salaries of teachers.

Bindow, who did not however specify a date, made the promise in Girei while addressing staff of Government Secondary School, Girei, during a visit to the school.

He said: “We have declared a state of emergency on education and the welfare of teachers is very important for it to succeed.

“I want to assure all teachers in Adamawa that all their arrears will be paid very soon,” Bindow said.

Teachers in Gombe State yesterday cried out over unpaid three to four months salaries.

They urged Governor Ibrahim Dankwambo to consider the harsh economy and pay their salaries, especially now at Christmas.

The teachers, who pleaded for anonymity, said they had not been paid in the last three to four months and a solution is not in sight.

Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) Chairman Usman Dauda Kwadon, pleaded for patience, saying that the situation would soon be resolved.

He said the first set of teachers was owed about six to seven months because they banked with community and micro-finance banks which were not online.

Kwadon said that the problem had been resolved and their salaries had started coming in. “Some received two months once and others one month,” he said.

The chairman added that the second category were the 3,800 whose names were removed from the payroll because they were named as ghost workers due to a mix-up in the list submitted for the workers’ verification.

The committee constituted to look into their case had finished its work and was compiling its report, he said.

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