The National Cordinator PDP Youth Frontier Mr.Usman Okai Austin in this interview confessed that workers in the state are going through pains over unpaid salaries.
How many months’ salaries does the Kogi State Government owe workers?
There is so much controversy about that. The truth is that some workers have not been paid for over one year, eleven months and some six months. However, some of the workers employed since 2015 have been told categorically that they are not part of the state workforce and were replaced with some unknown names.
What about workers in the local government councils?
The issue of the local government is a glaring one. You are aware of the facts that some got alert without cash in their bank account, the local government workers are not treated differently from the state workers, in this era of new direction the state government is directly operating the local government account instead of operating it as a joint account, the state has hijacked it and as you know, those in charge of the local government could be said to stooges of the governor. The governor of the state has somewhat destroyed the entire local government system from the day he placed the Treasurers, Cashiers and Directors on indefinite suspension without reasons given.
How many months salaries are local government workers owed?
It varies from one local government to the other. Some are up to one year; some are eight months, even those paid were giving some percentages, not full salaries.
What reasons did the government give for not meeting its financial obligations to workers?
The controversy there is that government is saying they will verify before they will pay but the verification is becoming forever and unending. Gov. Bello has done thirteen months in office and using twelve months for screening, even those initially cleared by the screening are no longer receiving salaries and this is after collecting the bailout fund, the parish club excess payment refund and over a year of collecting monthly allocation from the federal government.
The truth is that we have economic problems in this country and we all know that. But no President in Nigeria since year 2000 has ever released fund to the state government like this government of President Muhammed Buhari. There is no justification for starving the state workers.
Why is Kogi State situation peculiar?
Kogi is peculiar because we have a governor who is not listening to the experiences of those that were there before him even after forming a government with everybody in his cabinet inexperience, the bureaucrat, the expertise in administration, the Directors, the Permanent secretaries who understand the working of the civil servants/service were all placed on indefinite suspension leaving the state machineries in the hands of neophyte and today they have muddled the whole things and kogi state is stranded. In Kogi state, everything is strange. We have never has this so bad.
Some Kogite’s have claimed that non-payment of salaries started during the last governorship election in Kogi and that the allocation to the state was allegedly used for electioneering, is this correct?
I cannot align with that position though I don’t speak for the previous government but everybody knows the finacial position of 36 states before the Buhari led administration approved bailout fund which kogi state was lucky to get approval of N50 billion which is the highest and that is because the state is least indebted state courtesy of Governor Idris Wada government and finacial discipline, not borrowing here and there, the previous government did everything to have the bailout fund released but fortunately the fund laboured for by the previous government was now released to Yahaya Bello and the aim is being defeated and the rest is story . We are demanding for accountability under this very government. Alhaji Ibrahim Idris (Ibro) or Capt Wada or late Abubakar Audu never collect bailout fund or parish club refund etc. Bello received all those funds hence it should be accounted for.
It was learnt that workers were planning to go on strike. Are you aware of that ?.
You can’t go on strike without NLC,TUC,NUT and others together, today the above bodies in the state has been hijacked or compromised by the Governor I wonder which workers are planning to go on strike. A strike is a decision of the congress and the congress has never agreed to go on strike I doubt if they are even holding meeting from my explanation above you can see the reason for that. For now it seems they are sleeping I am not aware of any strike. You know the last time the strike was declared the organized labour came under threat, blackmailed and all manner of harassment, currently the state organised labour is in a sorry state .
Some workers were allegedly victimised because of their tribes and that Governor Bello is trying to reduced the workforce of some particular tribe in the state, what’s your take on this ?
I do not think anybody is victimised for now. I am sure of that, the complaint of non payment cuts across the zones in fact what happened in College if Education, Kabba is inhuman, all the staff recruited in 2015 for the accreditation purposes were laid off by Bello, in a Kogi Central we have too many workers accused of being ghost workers even after serving for over twenty or ten years etc.
Due to unpaid salaries, some workers have resorted to begging for survival and the wave of crimes has reportedly increased. How is the opposition responding?
It is quite an unfortunate situation. We are all going through pains. The experience is not a pleasant one. People are suffering. Yes, we are aware and that is why, we are complaining, there is little the opposition can do on this matter. We are also trying to make sure that the government is transparent. We are using every recorgnise means to register our complain, the opposition can only stand by the workers.
People are suffering and we sympathise with them over the situation. We are not relenting in the struggle; we are quite there. Though personally I believe that labour leaders have been compromised. You can see that today no tertiary institution is working in the state because the Academic staff, and the non academic staff has to do the needful.
It is being insinuated that Yahaya Bello is anti workers; that he is insensitive to their plight. Do you share that sentiment?
I will agree with that totally.