FULCRUM: Akwa Ibom Workers: Stingy With Gratitude


By Substance Nature

On Friday, 29 April, 2016, the face of Governor Udom Emmanuel was unmistakable on the screen of the National Television Authority (NTA) during the Governors Forum Meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Aso Rock Villa. I spotted Mr. Right sat proudly or walked around with a sense of quiet accomplishment and great promise. With him were other state governors, who in sharp contrast had conspicuous patches of shame on their faces and bold stains of worries on their over-starched, neck-scarifying, high-flying agbadas because of what they deliberately refused or competently failed to do for the weeping workers in their respective states.

The cardinal reason for the said meeting was for the president to find out from the defaulting governors why, in spite of the bailout sums and a month’s moratorium given them, they were still unable to pay their workers salaries. There it was discovered that 27 state governors who were the first to benefit from the federal government’s largesse have not paid their workers. Whereas some have owed as much as six to twelve months, a state like Kogi, from available record, still owes upwards of 18 months salaries to their workers. Some of the reasons given for the failure or inability of the defaulting governors were – diversion of the bailout funds into private pockets; settlement of mafias who invested in the last election; huge bank loans obtained by previous governments; intractable ghost workers on the payroll; and embarking on white-elephant projects to score cheap political points, etc. States that have paid include Akwa Ibom, Edo, Lagos, Rivers,

As members of the opposition had coerced the gullible to believe, even as the Gov. Udom himself in his discreet justifications has refused to strike at any figure to tame the speculation, allegations were rife that Gov. Udom would not be able to pay salaries because, for one, his predecessor had left nothing behind for him to begin with. Hanging also upon the shoulders of the then restless Gov. Udom was the inescapable need to sufficiently service the tributaries who were defending his controversial mandate in the court, as well as mob up enough funds in the event of a re-run election. These were further worsened with a drastic drop in federal allocations to the state. Because of the overwhelming realities, many by then had forgotten who Udom Gabriel Emmanuel by profession is – a tested financial expert and a daring risk manager who must have passed through too many tempests in the business world to be afraid of ordinary storms. It had turned out that by June 2015, barely a month into office, the Akwa Ibom workers were already asking for the head of His Excellency. It became more worrisome when the governor sooner went for a-10billion loan, followed much sooner by another in like sum, and also converted about 64.5 billion into federal government bonds, controversial initiatives which the House of Assembly approved in record time, yet salaries were not paid.

It could be recalled that, possibly to calm the flaring nerves, the government around January 2016, upset the arrears of promotion for 2011 to 2014, an exercise which had been neglected for years by the previous government, but without the concomitant financial perks. To people like the Chairman, Akwa Ibom State Joint Publicity Service Negotiating Council, Mr. Udeme Ottong; Chairman, Trade Union Congress (TUC), Dr. Akamba Awak, the exercise though in the meantime short-changed of the usuals was “a morale booster”, and they both praised the governor. It is on record that the only thank you the governor received from the Chairman of the Akwa Ibom State Council of the Nigeria Labour Council (NLC), Mr. Etim Ukpong, who used the instance to present a listless long list of age-long broken promises by the government to the workers, was “Keep your promotions if you cannot pay all the arrears”. Arising from its State Executive Council Meeting on Friday 28 February, 2016 the NLC threatened a strike action if government failed to comply with its tall demands. It had taken the sweet persuasions of the Special Adviser to the Governor on Labour, Productivity and Manpower, Mr. Ekpenyong Enyinna, to dissuade Mr. Ukpong and his insatiable, rancorous battalion from their intent.

But even in the heart of these storms, it is gladdening that Gov. Udom almost immediately began with the payment of baglog of salaries. As was attested to by the state’s chairman of NLC, Comrade Etim Ukpong yesterday during the May Day, today Gov, Udom stands tall amongst state governors who have paid workers. I therefore expected that considering the level of noise that was made in the initial trying period he was trying to clean up the channels to facilitate salary payments, the Akwa Ibom NLC would make the same and even louder noise now that the governor has paid them. Here is a rare discovery: Paying workers for one thing is the easiest way to remind them to remind you of what had not been paid, no matter how long ago or insignificant. May be that is why government should endeavor to pay them as at when due, to prevent avoidable accumulation of arrears and criticisms, whether they care to appreciate it or not.

It is possible to argue that because Gov. Udom was elected in advanced trust of perceived competences to manage the human and material resources of Akwa Ibom State, it is no special achievement when he pays workers salaries. But in the face of present economic twists which have practically and mercilessly twisted the usual sources of funds, it is a spectacular achievement if a governor still pays salaries – and regularly, without sweetened excuses. Of course, it is in the news that the Independent and Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) are presently after five states governors for diversion of the bailout funds. And one of the governors has confessed that, even with the bailout, he still borrows about 400million naira every month to pay salaries. Therefore, without any intension to awash Gov. Udom with praises for what is normal and for which he was elected to do, let me state that his ability to have paid workers salaries is quite commendable especially when we consider other ongoing capital-intensive projects in the state, amidst scalding waves of cynicism and suspicion that attend almost everything he has had his hands on.

In particular, government workers generally seem to lose their voice and sight, or naturally appear to have neither, when all seem to be well between them and the government. But if we make loud disturbing noise when government does not do well, patriotic fairness demands that we make even louder noise when government does well; otherwise we are fair weather citizens who do not know the true meaning of patriotism. It must be seen as commendable that, even when the federal government pays half-salary, Governor Udom, who stubbornly turned down the federal government bailout, incidentally turned out to be the first to pay full salary to workers, apart from those little, little things that forever shall remain traditional sources of endless complaints and suspicious negotiations between government and its employees. The governor’s credential deserves repeated mention amongst Akwa Ibom workers; so that if in the course of this precarious times the governor delays even a bit–which is possible though not expected, he might be judged from the recent past.

The theme for this year’s Workers’ Day is quite interesting and curious: “The Working Class and the Quest for Socio-Economic Revival”. The NLC chairman’s speech was quite cerebral and loaded, sprinkled with cautious words of gratitude to the governor. But while it is not wrong for Mr. Etim to fight for his constituency, he as well should teach them how to make good noise when things seem to go well, beyond May Day celebrations when fine, rehearsed speeches are normally expected. Henceforth, I shall lie in ambush with my pen to take note.