Towards amicable resolution of government-labour dispute in Nasarawa
By Ali Abare
It’s generally known that the administration of Nasarawa State governor, Engineer Abdullahi Sule, came onboard, with a template to not only transform the state but 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 organized 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 excell, 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’s 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 actilualizing 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 recieving 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 affected, going months on end without salaries and even then, they recieve 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, recieve one hundred percent 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 recieve their salary and pension in full.
As at the time the organized 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 salary 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 ongoing strike action by the organized labour, for which the governor even rightly acknowledged may be necessary, whenever members of the organized 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 role 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, inspite 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 unabiding determination and zeal, as shown by the Engineer Sule administration, to take Nasarawa State to the next level of development, the least the organized labour could do, is to constitute themselves into a cog in the wheel of progress, especially when they try to make their personal interest supercede the collective interest of the people of the state. This is against the backdrop that the entire population of members of both the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC), constitute only about five percent 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. As 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 percent 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 the result of the governor’s personal efforts and the abiding trust in his capacity and reputation, as a major player in the country’s organized 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 industrialization 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 organized 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 organized 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 promotions 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 organized 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.
Again, for the organized labour to embark on forceful enforcement of its strike, shows that it wasn’t a popular decision among workers, thereby casting a dark pall on the real motive behind the strike. Indeed, labour went against the norm when its officials, tried to forcelly impair essential services such as water supply and health services, in a failed attempt to pitch the people against the government.
Certainly, government has demonstrated sufficient goodwill to meet these demands by labour but the only mitigating factor, is the harsh economic situation of the state. In fact, it’s safe to assert that, Engineer Sule, is putting his hard earned reputation at stake, trying hard to attract investment into the state, only for the labour to seek to pass a wrong signal that may end up discouraging large business into the state.
On the part of government, it’s good for the administration to come out clean and to inform not only labour, but the entire population of the state, about its predicament, regarding the financial situation of the state. When rooms are allowed for speculation, like the claim put forward by the organized labour, indicating that Nasarawa State gets N4.5bn federal allocation monthly.
In spite of the fact that, monthly subvention to states is published continuously in major newspapers, still, the common people are constantly misled by interested parties willing to discredit the administration.
A further demonstration by the government to accomdate the demands of the aggrieved workers, was the decision of the governor, to withdraw a contending clause as contained in the statement that if signed by both parties, would have brought the ongoing impass to a resolution.
The actual concern for the administration is not in agreeing to pay the outstanding promotions that accrued over a period of thirteen years, but the uncertainties regarding the dismal economic fortunes of the state, which at the moment, receives far less that N3bn monthly as federal allocation.
Most significantly, Engineer Sule has made it resoundedly known, that coming from his background, he will not be a party to sending Nasarawa State into bankruptcy, as being alluded to by the organized labour, who are calling for the government to either borrow money to pay their allowances or even stop all ongoing development projects, to meet their demands.
Of course, for a less patriotic leader, it would have been the easiest step to take, for business to continue as usual, for the state to remain what it was previously, a civil service state, another deregatory name for a beggar state, that goes to Abuja every month, to satisfy the insatiable yearnings of a selfish few, who where opportune to be employed by government.
However, for Engineer Sule, Nasarawa State, with its tremendous potentials in both people and material resources, has no business with poverty. That with resolve and careful planning, Nasarawa State, will take its proper place among the committee of states and to depend less on subvention from Abuja.
Instead of the organized labour in the state to constitute a stumbling block to this noble aspiration, of lifting the people and state out of the shackles of poverty, they can actually take their responsibility as vehicle for this transformation more seriously and support the government. At the end of the day, the workers stand to benefit even more, if Nasarawa State, eventually becomes self-reliant.
This is far more patriotic, than giving in to selfishness and even attempting to instigate the people against the governor and to be throwing up allusions to a distant election, with Engineer Sule fervently working to accomplish his mission for his first four years in office.
It’s worth remembering that, whether as governor or not, Engineer Sule, has already made his mark in life. It’s even appropriate to say that, considering his reputation and track record of service, his reach both locally and internationally, it’s even Nasarawa State that needs him, more than the other way round.
The end benefits of the development initiatives of the present administration, will be accessed and enjoyed by workers and the generality of the population. Engineer Sule is having sleepless nights, to change the narrative in the state, not for him and his children to benefit, but for children of the state yet unborn.
Therefore, it’s imperative that members of the organized labour consider these altruism, rather than to bury such lofty ideals, in pursuit of momentary relief. It’s better to protect and safeguard the lives of their children now, through mutual consent and sacrifice, than to seek to throw the future away for passing relief.
Abare is a Special Assistant on Media to the Nasarawa State governor.