It’s generally known that the administration of Nasarawa State governor, Engineer Abdullahi Sule, came on board, with a template to not only transform the state, but to equally reform the structure of the civil service, with a view to improving on the welfare of workers in the state.
Coming from the background of the organised private sector, Engineer Sule knows the significant role civil servants will play towards actualising the mission and vision of his administration.
For this reason and many more the governor, right from inception, made known his resolve to reform, transform and rebuild the state civil service as a vehicle for his administration to achieve its development objectives.
In his inaugural speech delivered on May 29, 2019 at the Lafia Square, Engineer Sule vividly acknowledged the challenges confronting the state civil service, promising however, to revamp and reform the service by putting up a robust welfare scheme for workers in the state, sustainable reward system for those who excel, as well as embark on the training and retraining of civil servants for effective and efficient service delivery.
Most importantly though, Engineer Sule stated that his administration views labour as partners in progress, stressing that he will ensure a harmonious government-labour relations.
So far, considering what the present administration has done towards fulfilling all of the above lofty goals, it may not be out of place to say the governor has even done more to better the conditions of the civil servants in the state.
For instance in July 2019, Engineer Sule constituted a committee that was chaired by a retired permanent secretary, Chief Silas Dachor Jarumi, that was saddled with the responsibility of searching for ways and means to reposition the state civil service for enhanced productivity, especially considering the critical role civil servants are expected to play in actualising the mission and vision of government, as encapsulated in the Nasarawa Economic Development Strategy (NEDS).
Expectedly, the Chief Jarumi-led committee submitted its reports, precisely on August 1, 2019, which led to the downsizing of Ministries, Departments and Agencies as well as the commencement of training of civil servants, beginning from the top echelon of service, down to the newly employed administrative officers.
A feat that must be acknowledged for which many of those that would have been affected was the fact that with the downsizing of the MDAs by the government, there was the possibility of civil servants losing their jobs in the form of retrenchment. But, to the credit of the administration, Engineer Sule made sure that no civil servant lost his or her job, as a result of the restructuring of the civil service.
Before the dawn of his administration, civil servants in the state were receiving their salaries in percentages, mostly as a result of the dwindling federal allocation coming to the state occasioned by the fall in oil revenues at the federal level. Workers at the local government level were worst off, going months on end without salaries and even then, they receive payments in percentages.
Coming from his background, Engineer Sule vowed not to sustain payment in percentages, but to make efforts towards ensuring that workers and even pensioners at the state level receive one hundred per cent of their monthly salary and pension. The governor continued to mount pressure on the outgone local government chairmen, to device means of ensuring that workers at the third-tier of governance also received their salary and pension in full.
As at the time the organised labour went on strike, precisely on June 15, 2021, no civil servant or pensioner at the state level is being owed one month of salary or pension. For the local government level, where some councils are owing workers one, two or even three months outstanding salaries or pension, the governor has promised to save enough funds in order to pay off these liabilities within the coming months.
For these reasons and many more, the on-going strike action by the organised labour, for which the governor even rightly acknowledged, may be necessary, whenever members of the organised labour require some explanations from government over some issues it may feel aggrieved, it however, must not be allowed to derail the objective of government to deliver service to the people.
In fact, with the state civil servants poised to play key roles in actualising the vision of the Engineer Sule administration, as stated by Professor Kenyisola Ajayi (SAN), renown banker and lawyer, as well as chairman of the 15-member Nasarawa State Investment and Economic Advisory Council, the prolonged altercation with government, has the potential to turn back the hands of the clock, in terms of the development aspirations of the present government.
According to Prof. Ajayi, the state civil servants are the main vehicle for the attainment of the lofty goals encapsulated in the NEDS document, which forms the blueprint for the actualisation of entire development initiatives of the Engineer Sule administration.
For a government that came sailing on the mantra of changing the narrative, by vigorously pursuing sustainable development which has continued to elude Nasarawa State, in spite of the fact that the state is blessed with enormous potentials in the area of agriculture and mining, civil servants are the vehicles to be used in attaining these lofty ideals.
Governor Sule’s goal is to transform the state to be “one of the top three most competitive states in Nigeria by 2023,’’ which is why he conceived a bold, untested and futuristic document known as Nasarawa Economic Development Strategy (NEDS), where he assigned fifteen global economic players and conscripted them into a think tank called Nasarawa State Economic and Investment Advisory Council.
Recall that while presenting a copy of the NEDS document to the deputy secretary general of the United Nations, Hajiya Amina Mohammed in New York, during the 74th UN General Assembly, Engineer Sule reiterated the determination of his administration to transform the economy of the state, to compete among the top three economies in Nigeria by 2023.
With determination and zeal as shown by the Engineer Sule administration to take Nasarawa State to the next level of development, the least the organised labour could do is to constitute themselves into a cog in the wheel of progress, especially when they try to make their personal interest supersede the collective interest of the people of the state. This is against the backdrop that the entire population of the members of both the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) constitute only about five per cent of the over two million population of the state.
Already, the story is beginning to change for the better, even though the journey ahead is still replete with hurdles and uncertainties. According to the Executive Chairman of the Nasarawa State Board of Internal Revenue Services, Alhaji Ahmed Yakubu Mohammed, Nasarawa was recently presented with an award by the Joint Tax Board as the ninth fastest growing IGR in the country, recording an unprecedented 150 per cent increase in IGR from the inception of the Engineer Sule administration.
Not only that, Nasarawa State is presently the second fastest growing IGR state in the North Central zone. More glad tidings are there for all to see, coming mostly as a result of the governor’s personal efforts and the abiding trust in his capacity and reputation as a major player in the country’s organised private sector. Several private sector firms are coming into Nasarawa State to invest and to further assist the state in its development strides.
The foundations being laid for industrialisation and large scale commercial agriculture by the present administration under Engineer Sule, has the capacity to tremendously transform the economic fortunes of the state and to wean it from over dependence on the federal allocation. Indeed, from the foregoing, it’s inconceivable for a progressive government like that of Engineer Sule to seek to undermine the civil service, which is the fulcrum for the attainment of the ideals of this administration.
Accepted, as even acclaimed by the governor, the organised labour has the right to embark on strike whenever its members feel they don’t understand certain measures taken by government, but to seek to cripple the administration because of a disagreement doesn’t augur well for an organisation representing the interest of workers. If for instance, governance grinds to a halt, where does labour expect government to source for funds to even pay their salaries?
Among the four issues raised by the organised labour, for which they proceeded on strike in order to press in their demands, the only thing remaining to be resolved is the template for the payment of outstanding promotions for workers in the state.
As disagreeable as it was for the administration for workers in the state to remain without promotion for almost 13 years, still the Engineer Sule administration agreed to right the wrongs by accepting to implement the backlog of promotions.
No doubt members of the organised labour in Nasarawa State have every right to demand for their right, especially since it bothers on their welfare, particularly at a time when the economy is biting hard and a lot of people are finding it tough to meet everyday demands.
– Abare is special assistant on Media to the Nasarawa State governor.