SPOTLIGHT ON THE ONGOING STRIKE ACTION BY LABOUR OVER SALARY ADJUSTMENT IN NASARAWA STATE

On Tuesday 2nd August, 2016 Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura of Nasarawa State held an expanded meeting of the State Executive Council to appraise the ongoing strike action embarked upon by Organized Labour, over the implementation of an adjusted salary template for civil servants in the State.

Umaru Tanko Al-Makura restated the fact that Nasarawa State government had never failed to pay her civil servants their monthly salaries and emoluments as at when due for the past 5 years beginning from May, 2011 when he became Governor. Governor Al-Makura noted that the current adjustment in excess of the minimum wage which the civil servants had enjoyed for five years was in line with the current economic reality and earlier decision reached during a stakeholders meeting held in April, 2016, where elders of Nasarawa State including Labour were invited by Government to discuss the dwindling resources of Nasarawa State. For the purpose of clarity however, Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura reaffirmed that the implementation of new template in Nasarawa State did not contravene any provision of the Minimum Wage Law.

It would be recalled that the Federal Government had approved implementation of a new minimum wage in June, 2011. Out of his compassion for civil servants and their families, Umaru Tanko Al-Makura who was then barely a month in office as Governor agreed to implement the new wage in the State. This astronomically increased the monthly salary wage bill of civil servants from N874 million to N1.9 billion!

Unfortunately there was no money in the coffers of Nasarawa State government to start implementing the new minimum wage as at June 2011, because Umaru Tanko Al-Makura inherited a debt of N37 billion from the immediate past administration. The Governor negotiated with labour to give him two months within which to source for funds before he could commence the implementation.

Umaru Tanko Al-Makura instantly cut his own personal allowance as Governor by 50%, slashed the security vote, trimmed his convoy, suspended the appointment of a retinue of political appointees and put a halt to the procurement of new official vehicles for himself and his small cabinet until after 18 months into his administration as Governor.
Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura also ordered a holistic staff audit to determine the exact number of civil servants in Nasarawa state and the actual salary bill. This resulted in the discovery of 846 "ghost workers" on the payroll of state government who were collecting a total salary of nearly ₦63 million.

Prior to the coming of Umaru Tanko Al-Makura, the practice was for the Government of Nasarawa State to borrow N800 million each month from the banks to pay salaries. Al-Makura promptly halted this financial haemorrhage and rejected the option to take monthly bank loan. Instead he introduced stringent fiscal discipline and cost-cutting savings to pay the salaries of workers.

Despite the cost saving measures adopted by Governor Al-Makura, at the end of his third month in office by August 2011, (which was the time he promised to commence the implementation of the new wage), Nasarawa State government still could not raise over N1.3 Billion naira required to make up for the shortfall to pay the new minimum wage! Umaru Tanko Al-Makura had to use his personal sources to procure N1.3 Billion naira to augment and pay the civil servants of Nasarawa State their first salary under the new minimum wage regime.

As required by law, the new Minimum Wage Act clearly stipulated that no civil servant in the employ of government should receive a salary that is less than N18,000! Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura satisfied the terms and stipulations of the Minimum Wage Act by making sure that ALL civil servants in Nasarawa State from Grade Level 1 to Grade Level 8 who... collected less than N18,000 wage had their salaries increased by between 149% up to 213%!

Workers that were on Grade Level 1 rose from N7,590 to N18,900. Those on Grade Level 5 who were formerly receiving N9,000 now took home N21,775. The salary of Grade Level 6 workers was increased by 144% and Civil Servants in Nasarawa State who were on Grade level 8 and used to collect a salary of N17,731 were now being paid N55,515! It reflected an increase of 213%!!

Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura had abided by the law, but the Minimum Wage Act did not MANDATE that senior civil servants from Grade Levels 9 to 16 who used to collect more than N18,000 should also have their salaries TRIPLED! The accepted practice which was adopted across the entire country was for Senior Civil Servants to receive a smattering of increase to their salaries, but not to have their salaries TRIPLED. However in Nasarawa State, Governor Al-Makura was advised and he graciously approved an astronomical increase in salary for THE ENTIRETY OF THE CIVIL SERVICE INCLUDING ALL SENIOR CIVIL SERVANTS in Nasarawa State which made civil servants on Grade Level 12 who previously received N27,000 to start receiving N87,000 and those on Grade Level 14 who hitherto received N34,385 to start receiving N107, 985, while Directors on Grade Level 16 whose salary was N41,750 had their salaries increased by 339% to N183,140!!!

It is worthy to note that despite the continual dwindling of resources accruing to Nasarawa State owing to the falling price of crude oil, low Internally Generated Revenue and depreciation of the naira, as well as incessant communal clashes and management of internally displaced people; Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura never failed to pay civil servants in Nasarawa State their minimum wage, including the jumbo bonus for FIVE STRAIGHT years from 2011!

In fact, while Nasarawa State is among the low revenue profile states, coming higher than only Ekiti State on the federal allocation table. Ironically, Nasarawa State occupies a prestigious 7th position amongst the highest salary paying states in Nigeria!

Indeed labour in Nasarawa State will easily recall that when Umaru Tanko Al-Makura ascended the saddle of leadership, there was no traffic light in Lafia town or a single asphalt graded road constructed by previous governments, but in just three years of his first tenure, Al-Makura made sure that Lafia ceded its decades old status as a glorified local government headquarters to assume its rightful status as an enviable state capital with an array of asphalt roads that transverse the ancient town. Today, approximately 80 kilometres of asphalt roads have been completed in Lafia metropolis, while 4km asphalt roads have been constructed in each local government area of the state. Governor Al-Makura has also spent more than N1 billion to provide furniture for primary and post-primary schools across Nasarawa state. Today, pupils no longer study under trees, or on floors. The Administration has also built classrooms in post-primary schools, while hostels have sprung up in all tertiary institutions in the state.

It is also significant for organized labour to recall that today Nasarawa state generates only about 15% of her revenue, and depends on the Federal Allocation for salaries and further sustenance. Unfortunately, this is no longer sustainable because Nigeria’s “oil is depleting”. Furthermore, the crash in global oil prices and volume demands has now made diversification of the Nigerian economy from over-dependence on oil a mandatory policy issue. This is why Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura has identified and is focusing on critical areas that would herald sustainable growth and development of the economy in Nasarawa State. He has put finishing touches to ensure that Karu international market begins to flourish.

Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura has also earmarked 130, 000 hectares of land near Abuja as a Land Bank which is TEN TIMES the size of Gwarinpa Estate for the building of a new mega city. All of these require prudent management of scarce resources and sacrifice.

There are those who say that Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura has already set an unprecedented track record in 5 years by lifting Nasarawa state whose capital did not have one single asphalt graded road to a state which now has the most sophisticated digital land administration in West Africa; where Local Government Areas are dotted with Ta’al E-Libraries, and public primary schools in rural areas across the state have been transformed into storey buildings. These people point to the massive urban and rural road construction, healthcare delivery, water and power supply, education and agriculture, among others achieved by Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura. They cite examples of Karu International Market; Nasarawa State University and the Lafia Square constructed by Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura which surpasses the Eagle square in Abuja for its architectural mastery and appears on the World Map as a geographic emblem and an aerial signpost to the rising economic profile of Nasarawa State. These people point to all these visible achievements and say that Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura has achieved “MORE THAN ENOUGH IN 5 YEARS” and that he has “SURPASSED THE EXPECTATIONS THE PEOPLE OF NASARAWA STATE”, so they say that Governor Al-Makura should slow down on developmental projects, and concentrate on the payment of salary of civil servants who in truth, constitute less than 1% of the over 3 million citizens of Nasarawa State!

To people who feel Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura should halt developmental projects and concentrate STRICTLY on the payment of salaries for civil servants; he responds that it is the responsibility of government to plan for the future and not squander our fortunes today. Governor Al-Makura believes that as the father of all, he remains committed to taking care of every citizen of Nasarawa State from the petty trader to the rural farmer; from people living with disabilities to women and children and not only civil servants!.
Finally to embark on industrial action is the legitimate right of labour unions, but it is too early for labour to forget that the relationship they had with the Government in Nasarawa State used to be a model worthy of emulation. That is why Nasarawa is the first state in Nigeria to have ever deployed state funds to organize THE NASARAWA STATE LABOUR SUMMIT on Monday 21st September 2015 with the theme: “GOVERNMENT-LABOUR RELATIONSHIP & PRODUCTIVITY: AN IMPERATIVE FOR GOOD GOVERNANCE” where issues such as implementing a sustainable contributory pension scheme for workers in the state were exhaustively discussed. That is also why the TUC: TRADE UNION CONGRESS only a few months back gave Umaru Tanko Al-Makura an award as “A LABOUR FRIENDLY GOVERNOR!”

Indeed Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura has ensured that every of his actions does not short-change his own civil servants. That is why he has made sure parents no longer pay school fees in public schools in Nasarawa State and government has also taken up the burden to pay for the registration of students sitting for the National Examination Council (NECO), while it has also revived the payment of scholarship grants to students of Nasarawa State origin after seven years of non-payment. In 2014 alone, 19,000 students benefited and were awarded scholarship grants that cost government the sum of ₦280 million.

Today the economy of Nigeria is hovering between an ECONOMIC DEPRESSION and a RECESSION. The reality is that the economy of the entire world is going through shocks such as declining crude oil income, geopolitical tension and price wars and the slowing down of growth in the Chinese economy and declining stock prices, as well as the exit of Britain from the European Union which has affected the Nigerian economy. In the face of all these, the major challenge for the Nigerian economy today is to boost growth, create jobs and ensure a broader distribution of income and opportunities. No State in Nigeria can survive for long, if such states will COMPLETELY DEVOTE 100% of their monthly Federal Allocation to the payment of monthly salaries of civil servants.

Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura is in good conscience doing the best he can with the little resources at his disposal. That is why for five years, while other states were looking for bailouts, Al-Makura never failed to pay civil servants in the employ of Nasarawa State government their monthly salaries. And even now as workers have refused to come to work, government has still gone ahead to release their June, 2016 salaries. And recall too that the adoption of a new salary template went through the process of state wide consultation stakeholders meeting and deliberations by a committee which included representatives of Labour.

All these facts should encourage labour to return to work in Nasarawa State and accept the new salary template as a necessary sacrifice for the survival of Nasarawa State.

THIS SPOTLIGHT WAS WRITTEN BY YAKUBU LAMAI
Senior Special Assistant (Public Affairs & Media Strategy to Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura)