Comrade Zico Okwudi
By Chukwudi Abiandu
Local Government workers in Delta State are heaving sighs of relief with the regular payment of salaries, thus breaking the jinx of the no salary syndrome that characterised their immediate past.
State President of the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) Comrade Zico Okwudi confirmed the thrilling news when he gave audience to online journalists on Wednesday, 31/1/2018 in his office in Asaba.
Comrade Okwudi who commended Governor Ifeanyi Okowa for the exemplary role he played in bringing an end to the non payment of salary syndrome in the councils, that has so far culminated in council workers receiving their salaries up to date, except for some back logs that still have to be cleared said that he was confident that Governor Okowa will fulfill his promise to the workers that their salary backlogs would be defrayed in three months.
Okwudi said: “In Delta State, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa has said, and I want to quote him when he said that his administration “Will do everything possible to ensure that the salaries of local government workers are defrayed in three months.”
Okwudi, with whom were Comrade Ogberititinor, treasurer, and Comrade Joe Ujomu, his Special Assistant, was asked to react to the directive of the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Ayuba Wabba that Workers should get their PVCs ready and use it to vote out any governor that owes workers salaries, said: “I want to lend my voice to support what the NLC President said that workers should get their PVCs and vote out any governor that does not pay workers’ salaries.
“But I know that in Delta State, Governor Okowa, the Ekwueme of Delta state has already spoken that any back log of workers’ salaries would be cleared. As a union executive, the major problem we are optimistic of resolving is to get the remaining back log of salaries paid.”
He recalled that efforts to come to the present position that has brought succour to local government workers in terms of salary payment had not been a tea party. It has not been easy, Okwudi recalled, pointing out that council workers found themselves in the non payment of salaries’ quagmire because of the dwindling econmoic fortunes of the country, which also affected the state. “Priority attention was given to the payment of salaries of primary school teachers, while the left overs were given to council workers,” he said.
He explained that NULGE at the state level came together and met with the Governor and let him know that the system of paying primary school teachers and leaving out council workers is improper, particularly when the allocation is designated local government allocation. “Government takes our money and use it to pay primary school teachers. We told the Governor to consider the policy where the local government allocation should be shared 50-50 with teachers. Give 50 percent to the council staff and 50 percent to primary school teachers., Okwudi said.
Doing so, he explained further, would mean that at no time would workers in the council be left without getting anything monthly. He said the governor saw with them and decided that he would do everything possible to ensure that an amendment was made. “Now having brought this argument to the consciousness of the government, it is now only back log of salaries that are remaining to be defrayed. Things are returning to normal in the local governments,” he enthused.
Okwudi confirmed that it is not in all local governments that council workers are being owed salaries as this varies from council to council. “Only Ethiope East Local Government is owing about 10 months salaries back log. There are some that are not owing at all,” he declared.
He also confirmed that the Governor Okowa administration has since released N805million to the local governments, pointing out that “we have long disbursed the money; although the money was not able to pay one month salary of council workers because N1,505,000,000 is needed to offset local government wage bill monthly.”
Asked how he and his colleagues leading Delta NULGE have been able to cope with the onerous task of leading the workers, Okwudi said: “It has been God’s grace. I have a national president who is a diplomat with a wealth of experience, and who understands the power of government. We unionists are not properly protected by law, so we use wisdom and engage in dialogue.”
He continued: “By the grace of God, we have a listening Governor. He saw with us that local government workers must be given priority. Governor Okowa said he does not intend to pay percentage salary any more to local government workers.”
On local government autonomy, Comrade Okwudi said granting autonomy to local governments is the only way to convince people that government does not have a hand in the non payment of workers’ salaries because it is a third-tier of government, and so it becomes important to pass the local government autonomy law.
“Delta |state should not allow the autonomy thing for local government to die without the legislature passing the law. If the autonomy is granted, it will become clear that government is not given the perception of the people would again put the blame on the state government as being responsible for non payment of salaries. And the battle will continue. We don’t want the battle to continue,” Okwudi said.
Asked his message for council workers, the state NULGE President said: “Our watch word is assuring that the Delta NULGE will continue to strive to ensure that salaries of local government workers are paid. We shall strive to ensure that workers in the local governments are no longer owed salaries.”