By Louis Amoke
At the behest of President Muhammadu Buhari, the federal government announced the decision to release about N522.74 billion in the first tranche of the Paris Club refund to the 36 states of the federation to enable them meet pressing financial obligations such as the payment of salaries and pensions arrears, mixed reactions of excitement, doubt, suspense and speculation greeted the move.
When, thereafter, the refund was successfully released to states for disbursement in line with the purpose, it became a subject of controversy as accusations and counter accusations, denials/ clarifications over the sincerity of some states to properly manage the refund, rented the air.
For instance, it was reported that seven governors were under investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for allegedly diverting the funds. There were also a plethora of other allegations, denials and clarification especially from the Nigerian Governors Forum on alleged mismanagement of the Paris Club refund.
On the modalities for the fundsâ€™ disbursement, it was reported that the federal government, among other criteria, directed that a minimum of about 50 per cent of the funds should be devoted to the payment of salaries and pensions, in line with its plan to stimulate the economy vis-Ã -vis consumer demand.
In Enugu State, where Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi holds sway, unlike in other states bogged with such controversies, he had prior to the accusations, mapped out strategies on how to transparently disburse the N3.9 billion allocated to the 17 local government areas of the state from the Paris Club refund in the best interest of the beneficiaries.
Consequently, it is on record that the governor, immediately after receiving the fund, constituted a disbursement committee made up of all relevant stakeholders, such as representatives of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC); National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE); Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON), stateâ€™s Ministry of Finance, stateâ€™s Local Government Pension Board and Local Government Service Commission, among others.
In further adherence to the principles of transparency and accountability, the governor also included representatives of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and Directorate of State Services (DSS) in the committee.
It is pertinent to also note that although the federal government had requested that at least 50 per cent of the refund should be used for the payment of outstanding salaries and pensions, Gov. Ugwuanyi in deference to the plight of the Local Government workers and pensioners in the state were passing through owing to backlog of unpaid salaries and pensions, directed that 100 per cent of the fund be used for the payment of their arrears.
The governor, who was recently conferred with an award of â€œThe Most Labour-friendly Governor in the History of Enugu Stateâ€, by the workers of the state, in recognition of his administrationâ€™s development strides and commitment to their welfare, despite the severe economic crisis in the country, did not stop at that.
He also directed that all payments be made through bank cheques, in the spirit of transparency and accountability, and equally requested for a full scale verification of the beneficiaries to avoid any form of manipulation or injustice.
The visibly blissful workers, who came out en masse to honuor Gov. Ugwuanyi at the 2017 May Day celebration, noted that the award was also in appreciation of the governorâ€™s sustained harmonious industrial relationship with the state workforce, such as regular payment of salaries, pensions and other allowances on or before the 25th of every month, when many other states could not do so, and his administrationâ€™s prudent and transparent management of the Paris Club refund, especially the use of the fund to offset the arrears of LG workersâ€™ salaries and some pensions arrears in the 17 councils of the state, among others.
They also appreciated the governor for always identifying with them, saying that â€œGovernor Ugwuanyi is the only governor who has attended the May Day celebration consecutively since the inception of his administration.â€
At the ceremony, which climaxed in a match past by all the unions, it is pertinent to appreciate the delightful experience of the workers, including the governor, who witnessed for the first time, the pensioners of the state participating in the exercise in a joyful mood.
On the Paris Club Refundâ€™s disbursement chart, the committee agreed that the LG workers will get 75 per cent of the refund, representing full payment of their arrears, while the pensioners will get 25 per cent.
One is therefore, impressed to note that the commencement of the payment of arrears of LG workersâ€™ salaries in Enugu State. The committeeâ€™s secretary, Hon. Innocent Eze was on hand to confirm that workers in Nsukka Local Government Area, which he noted, had the highest months of outstanding salaries in the 17 local government areas of the state, were the first to receive their 14 months salary arrears.
The first to applaud Ugwuanyiâ€™s sense of transparency, accountability, and magnanimity in the management of the Paris Club refund to the state, was the state leadership of National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE).
The union, through its chairman, Comrade Kenneth Ugwueze had commended the governor for his wisdom and concern in approving the use of 100% of the refund for the settlement of all the outstanding salaries of Local Government workers in the State and some arrears of LG pensioners. The body described the governorâ€™s decision as a true demonstration of his commitment to their welfare, adding that it had not only brought succor to them but also hope.
Recently, the Bishop of the Diocese of Enugu North (Anglican Communion), Ngwo, Enugu State, the Rt. Rev. Sosthenes Eze, while conferring on Gov. Ugwuanyi, an award of Transformational Leader of the Year for Infrastructural Development to commemorate the Dioceseâ€™s 100 years of preaching the gospel, noted that the governor had shown uncommon love to the less privileged through his administrationâ€™s grassroots development initiatives by extending massive development to the most-neglected areas in the rural communities.
He added that Ugwuanyi was developing grey areas where past governors did not develop, saying that â€œthe governor has discovered the most-neglected areas of the state and has taken development to these areasâ€.
With all these, and many other narratives in mind, one is proud to state that Ugwuanyiâ€™s passion for the peopleâ€™s well-being is unbeatable and a reflection of his passionate disposition and uncommon leadership style, which confirms his stance that Enugu State, is in the hands of God.
On this note, I wish the workers a happy May Day Celebration in arrears!
â€“Amoke, writes from Enugu State