Gboko Council Workers Shut Down Secretariat Over Unpaid Salaries

The protesting workers
The protesting workers

By Samuel Malik, Makurdi

Daily activities at the Gboko local government secretariat in Benue State have been grounded since last week Friday as protesting workers demand for their unpaid salaries for seven months.

The workers are accusing the Samuel Ortom-led state government of reneging on its promise to pay all outstanding salaries by November 18. They have vowed to continue the sit in until they are paid..

“We will continue this protest until we receive alert. We are tired of working without pay,” the angry workers shouted as they all tried to get the reporter’s attention.

“What have they done with the bailout meant for salary payment?” another queried, throwing his hands in the air.

Our reporter who had gone to the local government council office for an assignment was surprised to see that by 2.00 pm the gate was locked, with tires burning in front and some visibly exhausted people sitting nearby.

Immediately they found out that he is a journalist, they sprang up to their feet with their placards and within seconds the reporter was surrounded.

“We have been looking for journalists to help us show to the world what is going on here. Baba (President Muhammadu Buhari) must hear and see this. We are suffering here,” one of their leaders said.

The workers’ spokesperson, Esther Hambe who is also an assistant information officer in the local government explained that while some workers had been paid up to August, others are being owed up to seven months’ pay.

“Suswam paid us in January and when Ortom came in, he paid us for May and June but when he decided to pay for July and August, we discovered that some of us were left out. When the state received its bailout and decided to pay for February, March and April, government again omitted us,” Esther said.

From Hambe’s explanation, those many of the workers are being owed for February, March, April, July and August, while everybody is owed for September and October, with November soon to join.

According to the workers, government promised to pay all outstanding salaries by November 18 but one week after the deadline passed, nothing has been heard.

In addition to the Benue State government accessing its N28billion bailout fund, our findings showed that from March to August 2015, Gboko local government area received a total of N1.16billion from the Federation Account Allocation Committee, FAAC, making it even more curious why the workers are being owed as much as seven months’ pay.

From the bailout fund it got, the state government earmarked N12.5billion for payment of its state workers’ salaries while N15.5billion went to civil servants in the local governments.

The www.icirnigeria.org also learnt that many of those who have been paid were underpaid, with unexplained deductions hitherto not experienced now common.

“Someone who was expecting to be paid N37, 000 monthly was paid about N24, 000 while another staff said deductions from her three months’ pay totalled N40, 000,” Esther noted, wondering how the government came about its new payment formula.

The Senior Special Assistant to the governor on Media, Tereve Akase, told our reporter that the payment of the workers is “ on going” but that the government discovered many ghost workers on the payroll and had to take steps to weed them out, thereby delaying the process.

He directed our reporter to the governor’s adviser on local government and chieftaincy matters, Titus Zam, for more clarification.

However, several calls made to Zam were not answered and a text message sent to him was not replied as at the time of filing this report.

The chairman of Gboko local government area, Emmanuel Kwaghgba, blamed the protest on the workers’ impatience. According to him, the problem was caused by the migration to the electronic payment system now being adopted nationwide.

“Mistakes are bound to happen but the mistakes are not intentional,” Kwaghgba explained and admitted that even those who had been paid were short-changed.

“They (workers) have been given forms to fill and to state their problems, whether it is underpayment or non-payment and the forms have been taken to the ICT centre for correction,” he said, adding that “their problem is that they are not being patient.”

For the workers, they are tired of government’s unending and sometimes contradictory explanations. All they want is payment of their entitlements.

“I have younger ones in school and an aged mother to take care of. Where does the government want me to get money from,” Esther said.






     

     

    Despite the bailout from the federal government which states are expected to pay back from their monthly allocation, the problem of non-payment of salaries still stares workers in many states in the face.

    Rising from a meeting recently, state governors even declared that they cannot afford to pay the N18, 000 minimum wage, suggesting a reduction due to dwindling revenues.

    Civil servants, however, think this is preposterous.

    “Despite their complaints that there is no money, do they get owed their security votes? Why can’t they reduce their security votes till the economy improves?” a protester shouted, drawing applause and cheers from the others.

     

     

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