The resumption of payment of full salaries by the Osun State Government, barely three months to the September 22 governorship poll, has made many people to feel the All Progressives Congress-led state government is trying to woo voters, Femi Makinde reports
Workers in Osun State have been living in hard times since the introduction of modulated salary system by the administration of Governor Rauf Aregbesola in July 2015.
The policy was introduced by the government following a sharp drop in the federal allocations accruing to the state and the failure of its internally generated revenue to witness a significant rise to make up for the deficit.
The Aregbesola administration, which is largely accused of being wasteful especially by the opposition parties, paid 13th-month salary (bonus) to workers last in December 2013, and there was a time the state government was taking bank loans to pay salaries before the end of the month just to ensure that any slight delay in allocation receipts did not affect salary payment.
But things became worse shortly before the end of the first term and the government started owing salaries. The administration knew that the majority of the civil servants were not ready to vote for Aregbesola in 2014 and some days to the poll, some salary arrears were hurriedly paid apparently to win them over.
After the election, things became so bad that workers were not paid for seven months, a situation that led to an indefinite strike. The modulated salary method was arrived at out of a number of options before the government at that time.
But the policy later came under a serious attack from the opposition parties and it has become an issue of campaign as governorship candidates of various political parties have promised to start paying workers full salaries if they are elected.
However, the resumption of payment of full salaries by the state government has sparked the allegations that the payment is meant to sway the workers to vote for the candidate of the ruling party.
But the Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress in Osun State, Mr. Jacob Adekomi, said the payment of full salaries was not a gift to workers and therefore could not sway the mind of the workers to vote against their conscience.
He said, “They have started talking about our demands for the payment of arrears of salaries. In fact, they said they have started working on it. We are going to start negotiation on it when we meet. But what is more important is that they have said they will do something about the arrears.
“The workers know best so the payment of full salaries to me and all workers, is not a gift and I don’t think that can sway the workers to do what they don’t want to do. That cannot change their mind. The workers are demanding for their rights and they said they will do something about it, that is a welcome development. Our members are free to vote for any candidate of their choice. What we are after is the welfare of our people.”
The Chairman of the Academic Staff Unions in Osun State-Owned Tertiary Institution, Mr. Olusegun Lana, said lecturers at the four institutions, (Osun State Polytechnic Iree; Osun State College of Technology, Esa Oke; Osun State College of Education, Ilesa; and Osun State College of Education, Ila Orangun), were paid full salaries for the month of July 2018.
He, however, said that lecturers in these institutions did not consider this as something worthy of celebration.
Lana said that they worked for the salaries and saw no reason this would sway his members to vote in a particular candidate because it was not a gift and could not buy their conscience.
Lana said, “The payment is not something we should celebrate because as far as we are concerned, we worked for our salaries and payment of full salaries is the ideal thing and we don’t see this as something we should celebrate. The half salary was unjust, so we don’t see this as a gift. The havoc and the injuries that we have sustained due to half salaries are huge. Some took bank loans and the half salaries made the penalty charges on loans to keep mounting, some have died due to financial crisis caused by the half salaries. The election was two months away and they started paying full salaries, but despite that we won’t celebrate that.
“Some have died because of the avoidable situations and do you expect the families of those ones to be celebrating or what? What will make meaning to us is the payment of the arrears. I think that is when we can start talking of suspending our strike, there are many other issues apart from the half salaries. There is no circular from the government to reverse the half salaries structure. The modulated salaries were introduced via a circular and I think they should issue another one to reverse it and then we will know that they really want to resume payment of full salaries.”
One of the leaders of the pensioners in the state, Mr. Sola Olojede, who is the secretary to the Forum of 2011/2012 Retirees in Osun State, said in an interview with our correspondent that they were also paid full pensions for the month of July.
Olojede, however, said he hoped the governor would not just resume the payment of full salaries and pensions for just two months before the election as a means to ‘ buy votes’ and return to half salary regime after the poll.
He said, “We are thinking that the payment of full salaries and pensions for July might be a strategy to buy votes. If not, why did he wait for so long before he started this? He promised to start paying by the end of the first quarter of this year but nothing was done since then. Now, they started paying two months to the election, it is plausible to think that they want to use this to buy votes. One of the agents of the governor accused we pensioners of staging protest as a vote-buying strategy and we are saying now that the government is the one using this payment for vote buying. The people can judge.
He added, “This is their usual strategy whenever an election is coming but we wish that they continue with the full salaries and pensions after the election. But this must be said, the damage done to us by the half pensions and the arrears cannot be undone in many families. We have lost so many of our members as a result of financial difficulties they were put into by non-payment of gratuities and half pensions.”
The governorship candidate of the Socialist Party of Nigeria, Mr. Alfred Adegoke, berated the governor for waiting for so long before paying workers full salaries.
He said it was a strategy to buy over voters to vote in the candidate of the APC, Alhaji Gboyega Oyetola, who he alleged was part of those who negotiated away the rights of the workers.
Adegoke said, “The Aregbesola/APC government promised to commence full payment of salaries and pensions by April this year but the government reneged on this. Indeed, the government was forced by the workers’ strike to pay full salaries in January 2018, but this was stopped in subsequent months.
“Therefore, workers and retirees should be wary of this sudden payment of full salaries. As we are writing this, some retirees who were paid a tiny fraction (N100, 000) of their long overdue gratuities, were given fake cheques.
“This shows the dubious character of the Aregbesola/APC government. Also, staff unions in the state-owned polytechnics and colleges of education are on strike over several months of unpaid salaries, allowances and deductions, while lecturers at the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, jointly owned by Osun and Oyo states have declared industrial action over failure of the two states to pay backlogs of salaries, and adequately fund the school.”
He further explained, “My party and I have always supported, from the frontline, the struggle of the Osun State workers for an end to the modulated salary payment system and for the full payment of the backlog of arrears that are owed workers in the state. And we are not ready to relent at this time. As a cardinal aspect of our programme, the government of the Socialist Party of Nigeria in Osun State, if elected, shall immediately commence payment of backlog of workers’ salaries, and drastically cut the emolument of political office holders, who shall earn the same wage as professional workers of the state.
“I hereby demand that the full salaries and pensions of workers and retirees be paid across board, rather than the divisive method being currently employed. Several workers and pensioners are yet to receive full payment alerts while several cheques issued to pensioners have also reportedly bounced. The public should be wary of several other Greek gifts that the APC-Aregbesola government is about to shower on the Osun people with the same hoarded resources that the government had starved the people with. The government should wake up from its sordid dreams, if it assumes the Osun voters can be bought into another four years of misery with such despicable gestures!”
But the Commissioner of Information in the state, Mr. Adelani Baderinwa, said the government did not pay full salaries and pensions to buy votes.
He said full salaries were paid because of the improvements in the federal allocations to the state.
He said, “The payment of full salaries and pensions should not be politicised. This administration does not take decisions or do things for political reasons. We act in the best interest of the four million people of the state and that can be verified. There was a circular when the modulated salaries were arrived at but it was not meant to punish the workers or anybody. There were options before the government then and the best option was the modulated salaries. There was an option to retrench but the governor said no. The modulated salaries was taken because it would accommodate all the workers and there was a clause there that payment of full salaries would resume when the government’s resources improve.
“The truth of the matter is that opposition parties in Osun are not rational, they are unreasonable. They are unimaginable in their thinking and that is why they politicise everything but we act in the interest of the people. That is the difference between them and us. The truth of the matter is that there is a steady rise in the price of crude oil in the international market; there has been an improvement in the resources being allocated to Osun from the federation account. There is an agreement that whenever there is an improvement in the resources of the state, workers would be paid full salaries and that their balances would be paid.”
He added, “Remember that we had at one time or the other paid full salaries and pensions and we did that because there was an improvement. Was there any election coming when we did that? We have also paid two months of the fractions. The fact that we have an improvement in our resources is the reason we are paying, nothing more than that. They should not politicise this and that is why you have more PDP members in our OYES programme. We are ruling the entire four million people of Osun State and not a fraction of it. So the payment of full salaries is not an attempt to sway the electorate in any way and we are paying when we are able.”
The prayer on the lips of the workers now is for the government to continue the payment of full salaries and pensions even after the September 22 governorship election in the state, irrespective of the winner of the poll.