‘Politicians Must Stop Accusing Workers of Partisanship’

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The chairman, Nigeria Labour Congress, Ekiti State chapter, Comrade Raymond Ade Adesanmi, in this interview with Olakiitan Victor, expressed discontent over politicians, who accuse workers of partisanship when agitating for better working conditions. Excerpts:

What’s the state of the NLC in Ekiti?
Presently, the NLC is gradually getting back on its feet after the six weeks strike which ended on June 26, 2016, which we declared to press for the payment of salary arrears among other issues, we want resolution on. In actual fact, the outcome of the strike was received with mixed feelings, because we were not able to meet the targets 100 per cent. I mean getting all what we demanded for. We got some and lost some. Part of what created the ill-feelings was the payment of only one month salary by the state government instead of the three months agitated for by workers.

Be that as it may, we were able to achieve the inclusion of Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) in the Joint Allocation Committee of the Local Governments (JAAC). That had never happened before and the intention was to protect the primary school teachers. So, through this fight, we were able to get a slot for NUT on that committee and that was why the union attended the JAAC of July and August.

Through the NUT involvement, the primary school teachers have been able to get their outstanding – September 2014 salary – paid and this is a good development. We were also able to achieve for the workers, the payment for the 2014 leave bonus. As I speak with you, payment has commenced.
Through our agitations, we were able to get N10 million earmarked for the payment of gratuity every month. The last time they paid gratuity was August 2012 and this is a good development. We thank God that the outcome of the workers’ verification exercise conducted by the present government is about to be released. We requested for the outcome of the verification exercise and a meeting was called recently, where the chairman of the committee and the deputy governor of the state, Dr. Kolapo Olusola told us that the outcome has reached an advanced stage.
The essence of our agitation in this regard is to know the real payroll of the workers, that is, the wage bill. Going by what the deputy governor told us, the outcome will be out before the end of September. On the issues of promotion and advancement, we had met with the Head of Service and asked about what the government is doing and with the information at our disposal, it will be done soon.

But sad enough, we failed to achieve the payment of 10 per cent of IGR to the local governments by the state, which we knew is statutory, though, the non-payment by the state is not peculiar to Ekiti alone and according to what we were told, the payment will start soon because that is the law.
On the constitution of the pension board, government said it is putting in place what is called PITAD to manage those, who are on pension system until it keys into Pension Contributory Scheme. The PITAD will cover both the state and local governments’ pensioners.

What with the bribery allegation against the labour leaders during the agitation?
The issue of us getting N25 million bribe from the opposition and the N10 million they said we collected from the government were sheer blackmail. We have investigated the matter very well and we got to know that a certain female senator from Ekiti was behind the allegation. Unfortunately, it was the same senator that kept on calling us during the strike, begging us to call it off and return to work.

But let me say here that the crops of NLC leaders we have in Ekiti are not the type that will compromise. We have never done that and we will never do it. Though the strike ended on a bad note because we could not get all our demands and our affiliate members were not happy, we appeal to them to just overlook the past and let us consolidate on the future. Mistakes had been made and lessons learnt and I am sure if we have such agitation in the future, we will do better. So, let us close ranks for unity of purpose in the trade unions because subsequently, we shall do better and that we are assuring them.

How do you feel with the way five months salaries are owed by the Ekiti State Government?
That the government owes five months salaries is very sad and appalling. Though this situation is not peculiar to Ekiti alone, it is a national issue. If you look at the states that are paying salaries, it was made possible through their IGRs. I mean they use IGR to augment the federal allocations. But looking at what the state is getting as allocation and IGR, one would know that they can’t go far in the payment of salaries, allowances and meet other obligations to pensioners and in running the government.

But this is not to say that the state can go further to owe salaries or failing to boost the IGR. We are not saying government should use all money to pay salary, but it has to look inward and boost its IGR. Take Lagos for instance and some of the states in the North, their workers are getting succour from their IGRs, so it is very important that the government looks the way of boosting the IGR to help the federal allocation.

The government is constructing N5.7b flyover while owing five months salaries. Can you relate with this?
My reaction is going to be in two folds. One, according to government, the money being used is tied to capital project from the source and the government said it can’t do anything in this regard. The present government is in the saddle for two years, the government probably wants to prove to the electorate that it has something to offer.
Two, money for project can’t be spent on recurrent expenditure because that would amount to diversion of funds. It was the state government that is executing the project, but it was being paid for through the CBN. But this is not to say that workers should be allowed to suffer. The government must balance the two. I mean doing infrastructure for the people and at the same time, looking for ways to pay workers.

What of the issue of partisanship in the civil service?
Let me just say this. There is a Supreme Court judgment that had laid that to rest. What did that judgment say? It said workers can participate in politics because they too are part of the society. But in spite of this, we are not encouraging divided loyalty. We have to be loyal to the government of the day and that is why we are discouraging our people from participating in partisan politics.