The State President of National Union of Local Government Employees ,NULGE, Delta State, Comrade Zico Okwudi has said that his major priority in the Interim is to see to the defraying of Salary backlogs of Council workers in the State now that Monthly payment of their Salaries has normalised.
He said that Local Government workers in Delta State are heaving sighs of relief with the regular payment of salaries, thus breaking the jinx of the no salary syndrome that characterised their immediate past.
Comrade Zico Okwudi confirmed the thrilling news when he gave audience to online journalists on Wednesday 31st January, 2018 in his office in Asaba.
Comrade Okwudi who commended Governor Ifeanyi Okowa for the exemplary role he played in bringing an end to the non-payment of salary syndrome in the councils, that has so far culminated in council workers receiving their regular salaries, except for some back logs that still have to be cleared, equally expressed full confidence that Governor Okowa will fulfill his promise to the workers by ensuring that their salary backlogs would be defrayed by the State Government in no distant time.
Okwudi said: “In Delta State, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa has said, and I want to quote him, that his administration “Will do everything possible to ensure that the salaries of local government workers are defrayed in the next few Months.
“The Local Government Money belongs to the Local Government and by the Grace of God, we have a listening Governor, he is very reasonable and I must give him the credit. He listens and takes advice when you are able to convince him.”
Okwudi, with whom were Comrade Ogberititinor, treasurer, and Comrade Joe Ujomu, his Special Assistant, was asked to react to the directive of the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Ayuba Wabba that Workers should get their PVCs ready and use it to vote out any governor that owes workers salaries, said: “I want to lend my voice to support what the NLC President said that workers should get their PVCs and vote out any governor that does not pay workers’ salaries.
“But I know that in Delta State, Governor Okowa, the Ekwueme of Delta state, has already spoken that any back log of workers’ salaries would be cleared. As a union executive, our major problem, which we are optimistic of resolving, is to get the remaining back log of salaries paid.”
He recalled that efforts that had led to the present position of breakthrough and brought succour to local government workers in terms of salary payment, had not been a tea party. It had not been easy, Okwudi recalled, pointing out that council workers found themselves in the non-payment of salaries’ quagmire because of the dwindling economic fortunes of the country, which also affected the state. “Priority attention was given to the payment of salaries of primary school teachers, while the left-over were given to council workers,” he said.
He explained that NULGE at the state level came together and met with the Governor and let him know that the system of paying primary school teachers and leaving out council workers is improper, particularly when the allocation is designated as local government allocation.
“Government takes our money and uses it to pay primary school teachers. We told the Governor to consider the policy where the local government allocation should be shared 50-50 with teachers. Give 50 percent to the council staff and 50 percent to primary school teachers’, Okwudi said, adding that doing so, would mean that at no time would workers in the council be left without getting anything monthly.
According to Okwudi, Governor Okowa saw reasons with them and assured them, “that he as the Governor of the State does not intend to continue to allow percentage payment of salaries of council workers now that the economy has improved and that he will continue to augment the salaries with a view to putting a stop to percentage payment.”
He said: “Now having brought this argument to the consciousness of the government, and with the improvement in the allocation, salaries for council workers in the State for the past five months has been regular, it is now only backlogs of salaries that are remaining to be defrayed. Things are returning to normal in the local governments,” Okwudi enthused.
The Delta state NULGE Chairman also confirmed that it is not even in all Local Governments that council workers are being owed salaries as this varies from council to council, stressing that some are being owed one month, others 8 months, some less “for instance, Ethiope East Local Government is owing about 10 months salaries back log. There are some that are not owing at all,” he declared, while revealing that N1,555,000,000 is needed monthly for Local Government wage bill.”
Asked how he and his colleagues leading Delta NULGE have been able to cope with the onerous task of leading the workers, Okwudi said: “It has been God’s grace. I have a National president who is a diplomat with a wealth of experience, and who understands the power of government. He is always there to properly advice us on how to go about things as leaders of the Union in the State. We unionists are not properly protected by law, so we are using wisdom and understanding to engage the Government in dialogue.
“The wisdom we have applied is yielding result, and one thing is very obvious, we have never compromised our position, but persistent in our engagement based on sound understanding.
“We have always made them to understand that the union will do everything to protect the interest of this Government, but while we are doing that please also consider the efforts of workers, because we cannot be beggers in our own house,” he stated.
On local government autonomy, he said granting autonomy to local governments is the only way to convince people that government does not have a hand in the non-payment of workers’ salaries because it is a third-tier of government, and so it becomes important to pass the local government autonomy law.
“Delta State should not allow the issue of autonomy for local government to die without the legislature passing the law. If the autonomy is granted, it will become clear that government is not giving the wrong perception of the people, who would again put the blame on the state government as being responsible for non-payment of salaries. And the battle will continue. We don’t want the battle to continue,” he cautioned.
For him as a person, he believes that the state Government is not tempering with the Local Government funds, but added; “the only way the workers, the civil servants, our dependents, our relatives, the people out there will believe that the Government of Delta State does not have a hand in the allocation of Local Government is when they pass this autonomy.”
On the insinuations that the tenure of the present Exco of the Union in the State has elapsed, the highly charismatic NULGE State President revealed that indeed the tenure of the Late President of the Union in the State, Comrade David Ofoyenor, whose tenure he is serving out, would have elapsed by January 9, 2018, but for a unanimous resolution of the National Delegates Conference of the Union held in October 2015 in Akure, where their time were elongated by two years, whereby their tenure will be ending in January, 2020.
“As a Resolution of the National Delegate Conference, which is the highest decision making body of the Union, it has been embedded into the constitution of the Union, thereby making it a constitutional Matter,” he confirmed and said that at the Conference the tenure of the Executives at the Local Governments was at rightly elongated from three years to four years.
He noted that the decision did not go down well with some members in one or two other states and they consequently took the National Leadership to Court, adding that after about 10 mouths, the Court struck out the case for lacking in merit.
“So it is not a battle or a fight against me, but against the National Leadership of NULGE, not me as a person, because I don’t have such powers. Any attempt to do otherwise, means going contrary to the resolution of the National Leadership and as a law abiding officer of the Union, I don’t intend to flaunt their decisions,” he affirmed.
Asked to give his message to council workers, the state NULGE President said: “Our watch word is assuring that the Delta NULGE will continue to strive to ensure that salaries of local government workers are paid. We shall strive to ensure that workers in the local governments are no longer owed salaries.”