Niger State can no longer pay workers’ salaries, Governor Abubakar Sani Bello has said, citing poor finances.
Bello is the first among the 36 governors to publicly admit salaries cannot be paid fuelling fears that the same fate will befall workers in many more states.
Workers in several states including Ondo, Ekiti, and Kwara are on indefinite strike for not being paid for at least five months.
Bello who spoke with State House correspondents yesterday after meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari, expressed optimism that things would improve but dismissed media reports that he was planning to reduce salaries.
He said he was talking to the labour unions on the issue. “We’ve laid the cards on the table. We’re not hiding anything; we’re very transparent as much as we can.
“But the truth of the matter is that I cannot give what we don’t have. I wish I had. Personally, if I had, I would have paid (salaries) from my pocket, but I can’t,” he said.
The governor revealed that the state had incurred N3 billion debt since January when it started borrowing from banks to pay salaries.
He pointed out that the debt could reach N10 billion by December if he did not stop borrowing to pay salaries.
“Niger State has a population of over 4 million, civil service strength of about 40,000, we get N1.5bn from federation account, and even with that, we still have to borrow to pay 40,000 people against over 3 million people we need to cater for.
“I strongly believe and honestly we should look at it. It’s nobody’s fault that the price of oil has gone down or that the revenue has gone down. We’re facing difficult times. But hopefully, things will improve.”
The governor stressed that all the people of the state should make sacrifices just like he and his appointees had done by reducing their expenditure.
He said he had slashed the operational expenses of the State Government House from N150 million to between N20 million and 25 million a week.
He said his administration had recovered some pension funds “misappropriated” by the past government.
He added that the investigation team had met with the former governor, Babangida Aliyu. “I don’t want to interfere with their investigations,” he said.
We’re discussing with Govt- Niger NLC
The chairman, Nigeria Labour Congress, Niger State chapter, Comrade Yahya Idris Ndako told Daily Trust on phone last night that they were discussing with the state government on salary matters.
He said the Governor told them that he has been borrowing money to augment salary payment every month.
He said they told the Governor to keep on borrowing where he had been borrowing to pay full salary to civil servants in the state.
He said this was the major reason May salary had been paid and civil servants in the state had started receiving payment alerts from their banks.
He said they were going to sit down with the government on how to pay the subsequent months.
Gov, deputy, commissioners’ receive pay cuts
Meanwhile, the governor has directed that his salary and that of all other government officials be reduced as a part of measures to generate funds for capital projects, the Commissioner of Finance announced in Minna yesterday.
The commissioner stated this when leaders of Buhari Support Organization and other union groups paid him a solidarity visit at the Government House in Minna, yesterday.
He said the governor’s salary and that of his deputy and commissioners would remain slashed until the economic situation of the state is improved. The Governor described his first year in office as challenging one in the history of the state.
He stressed that Niger state allocation had been declining by the day as a result of the fall in the price of crude oil and pipeline vandalism.
On the ongoing projects across the state, Governor Bello stated that despite servicing the bonds taken by the past administration, the state had to cultivate the spirit of saving from June to December last year to source reasonable amount for projects. Speaking earlier, the leader of the delegation, Malam Umar Shu’aibu disclosed that Governor Abubakar Sani Bello had started well on his scorecard as a lot of projects are still ongoing in the state.
He said that despite economic challenges in the country and the state in particular many projects are completed.
Shu’aibu urged Niger people to support the policies and programmes of the Governor and President Muhammadu Buhari. He commended the President for dealing with insecurity and address corruption in the country.
In Ekiti State workers on Thursday began an indefinite strike over government’s inability to pay five months salary arrears and for failing to refund deductions made from their December 2015 salaries.
The governor, while responding to the strike, said the state only got N751million allocation from the federation account.
“I know workers have not been coming to work, but I don’t have the moral right to stop them. But I can only deploy what I receive from the federation account,” Fayose said.
“If workers want to go on strike, I sympathise with them but we will be here waiting till when they come back. I can’t sell myself to pay workers. Even the government house where I live does not have diesel to power generator at times.
“I want the workers and members of the public to show understanding. This is not about Ekiti, it is an issue that affects all of us.”
Ondo govt, APC trade words over 5 months unpaid salaries
In Ondo state workers have also stayed at home over five months unpaid salaries
The opposition APC, in a statement issued on Wednesday by its Director of Media and Publicity, Mr. Steve Otaloro, said the workers had done the right thing by embarking on the strike
It said the government had no excuse of owing the workers despite the bailout fund given to it by the Federal Government last year.
“It was unfortunate and regrettable that the special intervention bailout fund by the Federal Government of about N15 Billion meant for the payment of workers salaries arrears in the state was squandered by the Mimiko government on irrelevances.
However, the state government, through the Commissioner for Information, Mr. Kayode Akinmade alleged that the APC-controlled Federal Government was built on lies and deceit, thereby causing economic crisis in the country that led to inability of many states to pay workers salaries.
He said, “They are seeking excuses for their national failure, their government has ruined the economy of Nigeria that is why many states owe workers. All they know how to do best is propaganda, which is the foundation of their party that is how they came about the N15billion bailout fund they are talking about.
The APC spokesman alleged that the state workers had been suffering as a result of the financial mismanagement of the PDP government.
He said, “the workers are suffering in spite of the huge monthly allocations accruing to the state from the federation account including millions of Naira being generated internally on monthly basis also through multiple taxation and other sources by the government.”
The opposition party in the state urged the leadership of the unions not to relent in their agitation and ensure that their demands were completely met by the state government.