Buhari laments plights of workers despite bailouts
Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
Governors of the 36 states of the federation under the aegis of Nigeria Governorsâ€™ Forum (NGF) on Tuesday visited President Muhammadu Buhari in the State House, Abuja, to demand for quick reconciliation and release of the 50 per cent balance of the London-Paris Club refund.
Responding to questions from State House correspondents after the meeting, chairman of NGF and governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari, said they told the president that they wanted the ongoing reconciliation of the refunds by the Debt Management Office (DMO) which began in 2016 to end by November so that the next release could be incorporated into the 2018 budgets of the states.
According to him, the governors thanked the president for his support to states so far and equally told him that they believed that it was the degree of the federal governmentâ€™s support to the states that led the country out of recession.
He said the presidentâ€™s response was positive but Buhari, he said, observed that the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun was not in the country.
Yari added that the governors had resolved to follow up yesterdayâ€™s meeting with the president when he returns from his planned trip to Istanbul, Turkey.
â€œWe are here on behalf of the 36 states governors and this is a result of the collective decision to see the president after the National Economic Council meeting last month.
â€œOur mission here is simple. We are here to thank Mr. President for his concern about the state of the economy and for giving us support ranging from bailouts, restructuring our debts, London-Paris Club refunds, and others.
â€œWe also told him that we think that it was because of these decisions that he had taken that got us out of the recession. You know that the 200 million citizens residing in Nigeria are residing in respective states.
â€œThis support is going down to them when you take the indices from the grassroots.
â€œWe thanked the president for that and at the same time, as a father, we said to him, â€˜Mr. President, you remember that in 2016, we presented to you the numbers of London and Paris exit funds on which we agreed, and you directed that we should be paid 50 per cent and 50 per cent after reconciliation.
â€œBut the reconciliation has been ongoing since 2016. We are hoping that both the DMO, Ministry of Finance, AGF (Accountant General of the Federation) and our consultants are concluding this reconciliation by November.
â€œSo we asked to crave his indulgence so that we can factor the numbers into our 2018 budgets and use them for projects and other recurrent spending, in accordance with the specifications given by our respective Houses of Assembly. So thatâ€™s why we are here.
â€œMr. President was prompt in his response, being that he has a representative in the National Economic Council, that is the vice-president. He said the Minister of Finance is away.
â€œBut we are going to work with the numbers when he returns from his trip to Turkey. We are going to follow up on this meeting with him so that we can conclude on what is going to be done,â€ Yari stated.
Buhari had approved the payment of the first tranche of N516.38 billion London-Paris Club refund to states on December 16, last year.
Last July, the federal government released the second tranche of N243.79 billion to the states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
With the release of the second tranche of N243.79 billion in July, the total amount so far disbursed to the states stood at N760.17 billion.
The refund is the repayment of excessive deductions from Federation Account allocations to the states and the FCT during the external debt service between 1995 and 2002.
When Nigeria reached a final agreement for debt relief with the London-Paris Clubs in October 2005, some states had already been overcharged, thus culminating in the demand for refunds by governors.
The decision to release the funds to states by the federal government was part of the wider efforts to stimulate the economy and assist the states in paying the outstanding salaries and pensions of their workers.
The federal government had advised the governors to use at least 25 per cent of the refunds to pay the salary and pension backlogs in their respective states.
However, several states in the country still have huge unpaid backlogs, leading to frequent strikes and protests by workers in the states.
A statement issued later yesterday by the presidentâ€™s media aide, Mr. Femi Adesina said Buhari had during the meeting with the governors, expressed concern over the growing complaints and agitations by workers in the states over unpaid salaries and allowances despite various interventions by the federal government.
According to the statement, the president told the governors that the plight of workers in the states needed urgent attention, noting that many could barely survive.
He said the president further queried how the governors could go to bed and have sound sleep when their workers are not paid.
â€œHow can anyone go to bed and sleep soundly when workers have not been paid their salaries for months? I actually wonder how the workers feed their families, pay their rent and even pay school fees for their children,â€ the president was quoted as asking.
Adesina further said the president told the governors that two of the three-pronged focus of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to secure the country and fight corruption had been commended by some Nigerians, noting that the challenge in terms of payment of salaries in states had taken a toll on the people.
â€œGod has been merciful in hearing the prayers of his servants so the rainy season has been good, you can ask the Kebbi State governor on this, and our enormous food importation bill has gone down,â€ he further quoted the president to have said.
Furthermore, the statement said Buhari observed that the federal government and state governors would need to work more closely to alleviate the plights of workers across the country.
â€œThe president said he had instructed all government agencies to comply with the Treasury Single Account (TSA) in order to ensure more transparency and prudence in accounting for the revenues of the government and the sharing of entitlements with the states,â€ Adesina added.
He also said Yari told the president on behalf of his colleagues that the various interventions by the federal government, including the bailout funds, were judiciously utilised by the states, insisting that the governors had inherited the backlog of unpaid salaries and huge debts on assumption of office.
â€œWe are concerned with the situation in our states, and we are trying our best to manage the resources,â€ he quoted Yari as saying.
â€œYari noted that the bailout funds and part of the fallout from the London-Paris Club refunds that had been received by the states, were properly expended to alleviate the plight of workers, but more had to be done.
â€œThe NGF chairman commended the efforts of the president in improving the economy, assuring that the states would continue working with the federal government to improve the livelihoods of workers and all Nigerians,â€ the statement added.