By Joseph Aneke
For those familiar with events in Enugu State, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi’s passion and commitment to the welfare of workers in the state has been unparalleled since the return to democracy in 1999.
At a time when many states in Nigeria are struggling to pay workers’ monthly salaries and others becoming notorious for owing arrears of salaries running into several months, workers in Enugu are not just receiving their monthly salaries on or before the 25th of every month, they are also enjoying 13th month bonus salary every Christmas, since Ugwuanyi became governor in May 2015.
Now, the question on the lips of many is, how has the governor been able to perform the magic? At his inaugural speech as governor on May 29, 2015, he had clearly told the expectant crowd at the Michael Okpara Square that his administration would deploy government services to create fair and equal opportunities for willing citizens of the state to make a living and create wealth, educate their children, and enjoy life in a peaceful and secure environment. Embedded in this promise was the fact that, apart from the provision of massive infrastructural development and maintenance of security as well as provision of shelter, the welfare of the state’s workers who form the engine and live wire of the state’s survival would be of paramount importance to his administration.
In that same inaugural address, he promised to lead a lean government to free up resources and channel them to the real development issues. He promised that his administration would look inwards and harness those potentialities, which free oil money has blinded the country from exploiting.
As a devout Christian, he promised that his administration would match its faith with the right decisions and good work, thus the declaration of his unalloyed belief in the miracle of the five loaves of bread and two fishes to feed the people of Enugu State. He firmly believed that God would give his administration the wisdom and courage to successfully navigate the state through the prevailing economic quagmire and that is exactly what he has been able to do in the last five years of his administration.
A close look at the federal allocation chart will clearly show that Enugu is not one of the states that get high federal allocation; but the state is among the few in the country that do not owe workers’ salaries. One of the cardinal thrusts of Ugwuanyi’s administration is prompt payment of workers’ salaries and pensions, and he has remained faithful and undaunted in that regard.
At a point, the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) had to go public with the list of 23 states that owed workers arrears of salaries, ranging from one to 24 months. And, interestingly, Enugu happened to be among the few states that were adjudged to be up-to-date in payment of salaries and pensions. Such other states as Lagos, Anambra and Bauchi, among others, equally made the list. The 13th month salary bonus that Enugu workers enjoy without even asking for it is, indeed, an eloquent testimony to the recent verdict by NULGE.
When the country was thrown into economic recession and governors cried to the Federal Government for bailout so as to enable them pay salaries and pensions, their request was magnanimously granted by the Federal Government through the Paris Club refund.
The Federal Government had specifically set out modalities for the fund’s disbursement, one of which was the directive that a minimum of about 50 per cent would be devoted to the payment of salaries and pensions. But, to the chagrin of Nigerians, some state governors converted the bailout fund to their personal use, leaving workers to suffer several months of unpaid salaries, even as a number of pensioners died in the process.
However, in Enugu State, the story was quite different. Ugwuanyi, having been conferred with the title of the ‘Most Labour-friendly Governor in the History of Enugu State,’ would never contemplate such evil against the workers and senior citizens of the state.
So, what did he do? As soon as the fund, N3.9 billion, for the 17 local government areas in the state was received, the governor set up a disbursement committee, which comprised such stakeholders as representatives of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), NULGE, Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON), Ministry of Finance, state’s LG Pensions Board, and Local Government Service Commission, among others.
As a mark of his commitment to the principles of transparency, probity and accountability, he also included representatives of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Directorate of State Services (DSS) in the committee. The committee was mandated to ensure that the fund was disbursed to serve the purpose for which it was meant.
Although the Federal Government directed that at least 50 per cent of the fund should be used for the payment of outstanding salaries and pensions, Ugwuanyi’s deep concern for the pains the local government workers and pensioners in the state were passing through, as a result of backlog of unpaid salaries and pensions, saw him spending the entire 100 per cent of the fund to offset the arrears.
Also to ensure watertight transparency and accountability, he equally instructed that all payments should be made through bank cheques, even as he requested for a full-scale verification of the beneficiaries to avoid any form of manipulation or injustice.
Today, Ugwuanyi is reputed to have achieved prompt payment of monthly salaries and pensions, and other allowances to state public and civil servants; absorption of 54 per cent of total cost of 100 housing units at Elim Estate allocated to workers; payment of outstanding arrears of salaries, pensions and allowances to local government staff, through prudent utilization of 100 per cent of LG share of the Paris Club refunds; promotion of teachers and recruitment of over 4,000 school teachers; as well as elongation of terminal grade of qualified primary school teachers to level 16.
Ugwuanyi’s other achievements, which have ensured sustained harmonious relationship with workers, include the payment of 13th month salary as Christmas bonus to the state workers; approval of payment of arrears of salaries of 731 former staff of some state parastatals; the regularisation of 42 casual staff of the Enugu State University Teaching Hospital, Parklane, Enugu, as permanent staff of the institution; setting aside of N100 million monthly for the payment of gratuity to retired civil servants; biometric capture for 80 staff of Enugu State Waste Management Authority (ESWAMA) absorbed into the civil service; and payment of the sum of N82.7 million, being deductions from workers’ salaries by the state government as National Housing Fund contributions between 2000 and 2004 but not remitted to the Federal Mortgage Bank, among others.
- Aneke wrote from Coal Camp, Enugu