ABUJA — Governors of the 36 states of the federation, yesterday, met President Muhammadu Buhari, demanding payment of the 50 per cent balance of Paris Club refund as agreed in 2016.
The governors, who met the President under the aegis of Nigeria Governors’ Forum, NGF, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, also commended the President for his intervention in the payment of salaries in many states through bailout funds, adding that the bailout had remained a great relief, bearing in mind that majority of the nation’s population resides in rural areas of the states.
But Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, in a swift reaction, last night, said it was inappropriate and unacceptable for governors to use Paris Club refund as a precondition to pay workers’ salaries, arguing that not many of the governors have complied with earlier agreement to use 50 per cent of previous refund disbursed to them to pay salaries and pensions.
Recall that President Buhari in the first tranche of the refunds, approved the release of N516 billion to the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT.
A total of N243. 795 billion was released to the states in the second tranche as part of the wider efforts to stimulate the economy and support states in meeting salary and other obligations, thus alleviating the challenges faced by workers.
It would also be recalled that former chairman of Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, RMAFC, Engr. Hamman Tukur, had said the President had no powers to give governors any form of bailout without passing through the National Assembly.
But President Buhari, yesterday, expressed concern over the growing complaints and agitations by workers in states over unpaid salaries and allowances, in spite of interventions by the Federal Government.
Buhari, according to a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, said the plight of workers in the states needed urgent attention as many could barely survive. He said: “How 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 rents and even pay school fees for their children.”
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 received some commendable reviews by the people, noting that the challenge in payment of salaries in states had taken a toll on the people.
“God has been merciful in hearing the prayers of his servants, so the rainy season has been good, you can ask Kebbi State governor this, and our enormous food importation bill has gone down,” the President said.
President Buhari, who said the Federal Government and state executives would need to work together to ameliorate the situation of workers across the country, 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 states.
Chairman of the NGF, Abdulaziz Yari at the meeting, said the various interventions by the Federal Government, including the bailouts, were judiciously utilized by the states, stressing that the governors inherited backlog of unpaid salaries and huge debt portfolios on assumption of office.
He said: “We are concerned with the situation in our states, and we are trying our best to manage the resources.” Yari noted that the bailout funds, and part of the fallout from the London-Paris Club that had been received by the states, were properly expended to alleviate the plight of workers, but noted that more had to be done.
The NGF chairman commended the President for improving on the economy, assuring that states would continue to work with the Federal Government to improve the livelihood of workers and all Nigerians.
While speaking to journalists, Governor Yari, flanked by representatives of governors from the six geopolitical zones, said they reminded the President that in 2016, they presented to him the numbers of Paris Club exit fund and that an agreement was reached that 50 per cent should be paid, while the remaining will be open for reconciliation.
What we told Buhari — NGF On their mission at the Villa, he said: “We are here on behalf of the 36 state governors and this is as a result of collective decision to see the President after the National Economic Council meeting, last month. “Our mission here is simple, we are here to thank Mr President for his concern about the states’ economy and the situation by giving us several supports, ranging from bail out to restructuring our debt, London- Paris Club exit payment, etc.
“We also told him that we think it was because of the decision he has taken to give bailout, for which many Nigerians are criticising him, that we got out of recession. “Note that the 200 million citizens residing in Nigeria are residing in respective states. This support is going down to them, when you are taking the indices from the grassroots.
“We thanked the President for that and at the same time, as a father, we confronted him (by reminding him that) that in 2016, we presented to you the numbers of London and Paris exit funds which we agreed, and you directed we be paid 50% and 50% open for reconciliation. “Reconciliation is on since 2016, we are hoping that both DMO, (Debt Management Office), Ministry of Finance, AGF (Attorney General of the Federation) and our consultants will conclude this reconciliation by November.
“Therefore, we want to crave your indulgence so that we can factor the numbers in our 2018 budget so that we can use it for projects and other recurrent spending, according to the specification given by our respective Houses of Assembly. That is why we are here. Mr. President was prompt, being that he has a representative in the National Economic Council, that is the Vice President and Minister of Finance that is away from the country.
“We are going to work with the numbers when she returns from her trip; we are going to follow up this meeting with her so we can conclude on what is going to be done next.” The delegation of NGF, drawn from the six geopolitical zones with Zamfara State governor as Chairman, include Governors Atiku Bagudu, North West; Mohammed Abubakar, North East; Abdulfatai Ahmed, North Central; Rotimi Akeredolu, South West; Udom Emmanuel, South-South; and Deputy Governor of Ebonyi State, Eric Kelechi Igwe, South East; as well as the Director-General of NGF, Asashana Okauru.
It’s unacceptable — NLC Reacting, yesterday, Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, said it was inappropriate and unacceptable for governors to use Paris Club refund as a precondition to pay workers’ salaries.
NLC, which spoke through its General Secretary, Dr. Peter Ozon-Eson, also insisted that governors who have not used 50 per cent of earlier refund to pay salaries and pensions as agreed, must not enjoy another refund until they comply with the commitment made on the 50 per cent earlier refunded.
“Paris Club refund money belongs to state governors but to use it as precondition for salary payment is inappropriate and unacceptable to us. ’We know that with or without the refund, the governors have money to pay. When the earlier refund was made, there was a commitment that they were going to use 50 per cent of the refund to pay salaries and pensions.
‘’Those of them (governors) who did not comply with the agreement have no right to demand for another refund. They must first comply with the agreement or commitment reached on the earlier refund before they can enjoy another refund,’’ NLC stated.