Governors on Monday described as unpatriotic the insistence of the Nigeria Labour Congress that N30,000 was the least it would accept as the national minimum wage. They added that it was an attempt to hold President Muhammadu Buhari and the nation to ransom.
The governors, however, said they would have loved to pay the N30,000 minimum wage being demanded by workers, but regretted that paucity of funds would not allow them to do so.
They also said that they were not under any obligation to open their books to the NLC, but had been doing so to show transparency in the running of affairs of their states.
The governors, under the aegis of Nigeria Governors’ Forum, made their position known in a statement they issued through the Head, Media and Public Affairs, Mr Abdulrazaque Bello-Barkindo, in Abuja.
They said that the claim by the NLC, through an interview granted The PUNCH by its Secretary General, Mr Peter Eson, that governors were merely refusing to pay the N30.000 national minimum wage, was not true.
Bello-Barkindo described Eson’s assertion as “not only mischievous, but misleading and made in bad faith.”
He said, “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 an increment N22.500 from the current N18,000 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 6, last year.
“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 of Zamfara State, in company of governors Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu, Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi attended a closed -door meeting with the President where the financial standing of six states, one each from all the geopolitical zones in the country, were shown to the President, after which, on Mr President’s request, all the states forwarded their books, their revenues, both IGR 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.
“To put the records straight, governors are not under any obligation, by law, to show their books to the NLC.”
Bello-Barkindo said that the governors had, in their pursuit of the understanding of the union, done so, not once, but several times over, with a view to letting the NLC know that what they were asking for was neither realistic nor sustainable.
“Yet, the NLC remains adamant that its will must be done, or the heavens will fall,” he added.
He said that President Buhari had at his last meeting with governors on December 15, 2018 admonished them (governors) to expect harsher economic tides in the New Year.
This, he said, further validated the governors’ fears that even those states that had hitherto looked comfortable financially, might in the course of the New Year falter.
He said since that last meeting between the governors and Mr President, the economists at the NGF secretariat had 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 could help the President in ameliorating the situation.
Already, he said revenue to states had dropped drastically while demands by competing needs kept rising astronomically.
For example, he said that 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 the report in October 2018.
He added that governors were 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 five per cent of the nation’s population.
“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,” he said.
He appealed to the labour unions not to destroy what he called 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.”
Governors not sincere, says NLC
But the General Secretary of the NLC, Peter Ozo-Eson, told one of our correspondents that the NGF was not sincere in its claim. He stressed that the NGF had resorted to employing diversionary tactic because at no time did the governors open their books to the NLC or the tripartite committee.
He said, “The governors should either decide to exhibit the power given to them or give up and resign if they are not ready to rule. We are not interested in this back and forth game. Our position is that this has been concluded and what the Federal Government needs to do is to send the bill to the National Assembly and we will engage each state government on its implementation. The talk of opening their books to us at this stage is diversionary. Nobody opened his book to anybody, nobody did.”
On the NGF claim that revenue to states dropped from N800bn when the tripartite committee was appointed in November 2017 to between N500bn and N600bn by the time Pepple submitted the report in October 2018, the NLC spokesman said the committee at no time during the negotiation engaged the governors’ representatives in state-by-state allocation discussion.