Report fielded by Special Assistant on Media to Ogun state governor, Soyombo Opeyemi in Abeokuta on the relationship between Governor Amosun and the state’s civil service and the governor’s chances at the polls.
Ogun state workers on Tuesday began a 3-day warning strike on account of non-remittance of deductions from October last year. How much is your government owe its workers?
You have asked a question that touches my emotions because no one could have dreamt that this kind of question could ever be asked under the current administration. I cannot count the number of times the governor of Ogun state, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, said, “I will not
owe workers a kobo. This is like a covenant with my God.” As a matter of fact, Amosun regards regular payment of salaries and demonstrable commitment to the welfare of Ogun workers as an article of faith. Where is the proof? Till date in Nigeria, the administration is the only one that not only pays N18,250 as minimum wage, but implemented the wage across board, and up to local council level. It does not happen in any other state in this country. As a matter of fact, some states are still battling with the implementation of N18,000 minimum wage for the junior cadre in the civil service let alone its implementation across board (which will inevitably balloon the budget) or extension to the local government level.
I said your question touched on emotions because there are feelings in some quarters that perhaps Amosun should really have behaved like the typical Nigerian politician. Take for instance, the pension and gratuity arrears inherited. The governor spent N27 billion to offset these from December 2007. He was sworn in on May 29, 2011. And some people ask what is the business of the governor in settling debts he did not incur, that he should have begun payment during his own tenure. The monthly wage bill of the core civil servants should be about N3.6 billion (It used to be less than half of that amount before Amosun implemented the minimum wage across board). Mind you, what is in dispute now is the remittance of cooperative deductions for 4 months, not salaries of civil servants. But let’s even assume that it was 4 months’s salaries that are owed. How much is N3.6bn multiplied by 4? N14.4 billion. Deduct that from N27 billion, what do you have as balance? This means if Amosun had concentrated on his term alone, he would have been in a position to pay salaries of several months ahead without any problem of remittance.
But the governor’s argument has been that anyone that worked for the state government must be paid; and I agree with him. But the current problem is evidently beyond Amosun and I understand this is why some workers do not agree with the issue of strike. They argue that one good turn deserves another. They say, “Amosun has never owed us; the problem is the monthly allocation from Abuja that dropped significantly, worsened by sudden slump in the price of crude oil, which everybody knows.” Even some of the union leaders were hard put to call for this warning strike. I mean, we are human beings. When the going was good, this man Amosun, was there for you. If things now happen this way, which are outside his control, we should also be there for him. And tough times don’t last. But these are also political times and you have politicians trying to fish in troubled waters.
But there is the argument that your government should have used the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), which it claims is about N5 billion monthly to cushion the shock?
That’s quite interesting. Mind you, the N3.6 billion monthly wage bill is only for the core civil servants. By the time you add subventions to the higher institutions, corporations and agencies, then you see that even at the best of times, what you get from Abuja, which is usually published in the papers, cannot foot the wage bill; it is not enough to pay salaries not to talk of capital projects. In the midst of this, the governor will still settle debts such as the N27 billion I mentioned earlier; pay arrears of bonuses and allowances of workers from 2008 to 2011; spend N1.5 billion to offset CONTISS and monetisation allowances of workers of OOU, etc. etc. All these are possible because of the IGR.
Lest I forget, because the governor is so much consumed by the welfare of Ogun workers, he also gives monthly subvention of about N500m to local councils so that they could pay salaries that increased from about N1.7 billion monthly to N3 billion after the implementation of the minimum wage. I have said all these so that you will appreciate that it is through the IGR that the governor is even able to augment funds to pay salaries, in addition to payments for contracts and interest on loan for some of the structures that have altered the landscape of Ogun for good as well as debts inherited by his administration. Indeed, but for Amosun’s public spiritedness to raise the IGR from a paltry N730m in 2011 to about N6 billion, the state will possibly have collapsed, now that virtually nothing is coming from the Federation Account. Even some of the federal workers that remit their income tax to the state can’t do so because they are not paid; the devaluation of the naira is affecting companies negatively and what the state government can get as tax. So the IGR itself is badly hit by the nation’s economic downturn. These are the challenges, but we are still far better than most states in the federation due to prudent financial management by the governor.
You seem to be getting a lot of knocks from the opposition as a result of the strike. How do you resolve the situation as election draws near?
Let me tell you straightaway that Ogun workers will vote overwhelmingly for Amosun. They know and they all say it that this man is different; he has not come to steal money. They say they can now sleep with their eyes closed, and they value this so much. They say the free education, the physical infrastructure are for the benefit of all rather than individuals. The fact that you disagree with your spouse because of sudden inability to meet certain expectations does not mean you don’t love him or her. Ogun workers still prefer Amosun to all these pretenders. As a matter of fact, the strike was only a child of necessity because there were shades of opinion among the workers and no one wished to be blackmailed. They also know the politics involved, how the PDP-controlled Federal Government has refused to allow state governments to borrow from banks despite the fact that they have the capacity to pay back. This has hit the APC-controlled states more. So Ogun workers are wise. They know those who are being pushed by politicians and know the genuine agitators. But as the governor himself said, “The workers know where the shoe pinches them; I admit it’s really a difficult situation but we are committed and we will do everything possible to get over it. Before you know it, all this remittance issue will become history as the state gets back on an even keel.”
As for the opposition, they need to attack Amosun in order to get headlines in the media otherwise no one will hear about them. They are political opportunists. Do you know they are all scrambling to get their wards into Amosun’s model schools, which were constructed so that the children of public schools can also attend world-class schools like their counterparts in private schools? Yet they condemn him in the open. But for the fact that this is an election period, we should have sued them for using the name of Amosun to raise their public profile. Their case is like a house built with saliva that our elders say is destroyed by common dew. Their political days are numbered because their rout will be complete on March 28 and April 11, 2015. And if the elections are free and fair, many of them – please mark my word – will lose their polling booths to APC.