The Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees has complained about state governments’ increasing debt burden to local government employees in the country, which it says has amounted to more than N40 billion.
Speak with Saturday PUNCH, NULGE National President Olatunji Ambali identified Zamfara state as the worst defaulter with a minimum wage of N7,500, which he said was the lowest in the country, despite the President’s approval of the N30,000 minimum wage, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (Retd.), in 2019.
It also complained that the poor pay of local government workers had left them in poverty, while those who couldn’t cope were dying.
“Some (states) owe as much as N40 billion. There is lawlessness in the country. Some of our members are just coming out of a strike. Many (council members) died because they were unable to provide few medicines that would have helped them if they were ill. Some are impoverished, while some died in the process.
“The worst among them is Zamfara state, because to this day Zamfara still pays a minimum wage of N7,500, the lowest in the country,” Ambali said.
“It is followed by Ekiti State; the governor is also chairman of the (Nigerian) Governors’ Forum. He is also one of the largest debtors in debt to local government employees for between six and eight months. The best of the states is Jigawa State, followed by Rivers State.
“Although Anambra has a new governor, the former governor owed us a lot of money. Enugu has yet to pay the N30,000 minimum wage, and the money Ebonyi pays is less than the minimum wage and there is no regular promotion. The states owe us something, despite collecting the refund from the Paris Club,” he added.
Attempts to get the Zamfara state government to respond to the allegations were unsuccessful, as Information Commissioner Ibrahim Dosara did not answer the calls and had yet to respond to a message sent to him via SMS and WhatsApp on the time of submission of the report.
However, the Ekiti state government said the current governor, Kayode Fayemi, was doing his best to address the issue, even though the previous government had incurred debts owed to local government staff.
The Governor’s Chief Press Secretary, Olayinka Oyebode, said: “Since the beginning of the current government, not a cent has been owed to workers at the local, state and educational levels. If they say (NULGE) that the state is guilty, yes, then the government is a continuum.
“Can the state afford to pay those salaries in a month? No. So what the government has done is see once a month that when there’s a surplus somewhere, we mobilize. In the month that we had a surplus, we took care of one of the outstanding salaries.”
But about the situation in Zamfara, Ambali said: “It is the unwillingness to pay, not the inability to pay, because it takes political will to do something. Why is the Zamfara state government collecting allowances like the Lagos state government but refusing to pay the minimum wage? You can see it speaks volumes about greed and the lack of priority for human capital development. The Zamfara case is problem after problem.