By Jonathan Nda- Isaiah, Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday directed state governors to pay all outstanding salary arrears to workers before Christmas.
This was the condition he gave the governors before approving the payment of outstanding Paris- London Club refunds to states before the yuletide season.
Buhari directed his key finance officers to sit down with representatives of Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) to determine how much of the unpaid debts can be released to them before Christmas.
Led by the chairman of the NGF and Zamfara State governor, Abdul-Aziz Yari, the governors were in Aso Rock to ask the president to give a commitment that he would pay all outstanding debts owed them from London and Paris Club deductions to ease their financial hardships.
Preisdential spokesman, Mallam Garba Shehu noted that the governors informed the president that they wanted his commitment on this repayment so that they could factor the money into their 2018 appropriation plans.
Responding to their entreaties, President Buhari told the governors that he was not averse to the payments so long as the treasury can afford it and the economy will not be destabilised.
Noting that the issues affecting the states were familiar to him, Buhari said, “I will not be saying much because the responsible ministers are here: Finance, Budget and Planning and the Central Bank of Nigeria. I request you to appoint your own team to come and sit down with them.
“This should be done, not only for next year’s budget but for this Christmas. The Minister of Finance, Budget and Planning and the Central Bank should sit down with you in a sub-committee to see how much can be released before Christmas.
“For Nigerians without sources other than their salary, I am concerned that workers should be able to pay rent, school fees, buy drugs and take care of their families. I am so much concerned that people should have something to eat for Christmas”.
Also confirming this to State House correspondents after the meeting between the president and the governors, Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha said Buhari expressed concern over the inability of most states to pay salaries.
According to him, the president stressed the need for every Nigerian worker to get their salaries to enable them enjoy their Christmas.
He said, “It was a brief meeting between the governors and the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is the end of the year and the president expressed the need to ensure that every Nigerian, especially the workers have a beautiful Christmas. The issue of outstanding Paris club was discussed and that was taken care of to make sure that workers in various states and everywhere in the country get to celebrate the Christmas.
“We also used the opportunity to review our working relationship with the president from the states and we found out that we are in harmony. There is no difference between the president and us. Everybody seems to be happy working together.
“But particularly, we commended the president for getting Nigeria out of recession within such a short time. We commended Mr. President and everybody left quite happy.
“We are looking at getting the balance of Paris Club refund thrashed out once and for all. We also made a request for Mr. President’s approval that the balance should form part of our 2018 budget because we can’t include it until we are sure that the money is coming. That was also sorted out.
“So, as it is now, the issue of workers took the centre stage and Mr. President was concerned about those who depend on their salaries to feed their families and pay their house rent and he had the assurance from the governors that we will meet up those obligations.
“It was emphasised that states and federal governments must work together to get Nigeria out of its present economic predicament to make Nigeria a better society for all of us”.
Asked if all salary arrears will be cleared by each state before Christmas, Okorocha said, “Yes; with the Paris Club coming, every worker should enjoy his/her Christmas”.
Explaining further, Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir el- Rufai stated that the Paris club figures needed to be reconciled.
He said, while the reconciliation process was going on, the president approved that 50 per cent of the original amount be paid to the states.
According to him, the payment started from last year and the states still have the balance of the first 50 per cent.
“The balance of the first 50 per cent is what we are expecting now before Christmas. The President has approved that and said it must be paid, he said.
Asked to give a specific amount the states are expecting, he said, “I don’t know the amount. I’m sure that if you contact the Ministry of Finance, they can give you the total amount. I only know what my state is likely to get. There is another 50 per cent that needs to be paid when the figures are reconciled. The reconciliation is going to be concluded before the end of the year.
“The Chief of Staff to the President will ensure that the committee working on the reconciliation will conclude the work before the end of the year. So, what the governors are requesting from the president is a directive – ‘go ahead to include the next 50 per cent in your 2018 budget and that is going to be looked at.’
“Every state will get its own share of the Paris-Club refund. It will not get more. Every state has a specific amount that was deducted. That amount may be enough to cover the arrears; it may not be because you cannot get more than you are entitled to. It varies from state to state. My state has no salary arrears at all. So, it is a mute issue. Kano doesn’t have salary arrears”.
Says Financial Strength Of FG, States, LGs Will Determine New Salary Structure
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari said yesterday that salary structure for new minimum wage should henceforth be determined by the ability of each tier of government to be able to pay.
He stated this while inaugurating the tripartite national minimum wage committee at the presidential villa.
“The subject of a National Minimum Wage for the Federation is within the Exclusive Legislative List of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). Accordingly, we should aim to go above the basic Social Protection Floor for all Nigerian workers based on the ability of each tier of government to pay”, the president noted.
According to him, minimum wage is the minimum amount of compensation an employee must receive for putting in his or her labour and as such should be anchored on social justice and equity.
Observing that the last minimum wage instrument has expired, Buhari said it is in recognition of the need to ensure a fair and decent living wage that the federal government was inaugurating the new minimum wage committee to put the necessary mechanism in place.
He recalled that during the period following the increase in Petrol Pump Price in May 2016, a technical committee was established to examine and make recommendations to government on the measures to be adopted to cushion the envisaged painful effects of the increase on workers and the Nigerian populace at large.
President Buhari said during deliberations of the technical committee, which comprised government and the organised labour, the need for the review of the National Minimum Wage was highlighted and the recommendation to set up a committee to look into the level of minimum wage was made accordingly.
His words: “ I am glad that the recommendation is being acted upon today and we can all acknowledge that this is in line with our democratic process. I wish to thank all those who participated in that exercise.
“Considering the scope of the membership of this new National Minimum Wage Committee we can see that it is encompassing all stakeholders. My hope is that the outcome of the deliberations of the committee would be consensual and generally acceptable.
“I therefore urge you to amicably consider the issue of a National Minimum Wage and all matters that are ancillary to it with thoroughness and concern, not only for the welfare of our work-force, but for the effect on the country’s economy.
The president further noted that government’s decision after considering the final recommendation of the committee will be sent as an Executive Bill to the National Assembly for it to undergo appropriate legislative scrutiny before passage into law.
He added: “As is evident by the membership of the committee, State Governors and Private Sector Employers are part of this process. This will ensure ease of implementation of a new Minimum Wage nationwide.
“I am hopeful that the principles of full consultation with Social Partners and their direct participation would be utilized by the Committee, bearing in mind the core provisions of the International Labour Organisation Minimum Wage Fixing Convention No. 131 and Minimum Wage Fixing Machinery Convention No.26 (ratified by Nigeria)”.
Buhari also stated that conditions of genuine social dialogue should prevail in the spirit of Tripartism and Collective Bargaining Agreements.
“The Committee is expected to complete its deliberations and submit its report and recommendations as soon as possible to enable other requisite machinery to be set in motion for implementation of a new National Minimum Wage”, he further stated.
On his part, Kebbi State governor, Atiku Bagudu, who spoke on behalf of governors said President Buhari had been consistent with all the promises and assurances he made Nigerians.
He said, “He has yet again today taken a step towards the evolution of a national minimum wage that will be for the best interest of Nigerian economy and the people and the state governments will give their cooperation to the fullest.
“I want to use this opportunity to acknowledge a major step that has been taken by Mr. President that is helping the state, which he captured eloquently in his 1st October speech, that steps have been taken to fund the real sector of the economy”.
Speaking with State House correspondents, the national president of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Ayuba Wabba, said N56,000 minimum wage is no longer feasible going by the current exchange rate.
“Officially yes; it is true that we have made a formal demand of N56,000, but TUC and NLC, and organized labour, we have made that demand but in between the period a lot of other things have come in that we need to consider on the negotiation table”, he stated.
Noting that what workers were paid presently was not enough to take care of their needs, Wabba said, “The event of today is a welcome development. As we are aware, the issue of reviewing minimum wage has been central in the issues that the organized labour has been trying to canvas because of the fact that a lot of issues have happened with the economy and also about the value of the naira but importantly, the purchasing power of ordinary Nigerians and pensioners.
“I think this is actually the beginning of the process and the process is that negotiations will commence where all the facts and all the issues will be discussed with open mind. Our hope is that we should be able to have a minimum wage in no distant time that can be able to address many of the challenges of workers because of the fact that the purchasing power certainly has gone down”.
In his remarks, Minister of Labour, Chris Ngige said, “Mr. President, this committee is balanced, exhaustive and will do the work in consonance with ILO social dialogue and collective bargaining.
“Collective bargaining is one of the measures and instruments put in place between employers and workers. I am very hopeful that your choice and approval for composition of this committee is not in a wrong direction at all.”