Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja The Industrial Policy and Competitiveness Advisory Council has thrown its weight behind President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to consult widely before Nigeria signs the African Continental Free Trade Agreement. President Buhari had, in March, cancelled a trip to Kigali, Rwanda, where an extra-ordinary summit of African Union was scheduled to sign the agreement….
In recent times, not a few keen observations, analytical views and comments on the dynamics of the present governance in Enugu State have alluded to the growing, eventful, exemplary leadership manifestations of Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi as an imagery of a mythic Igbo character of “Omenuko.” Among the Igbo of Nigeria, such an allegorical personage is one who achieves phenomenal mileage in austere times when dearth of amenities of life stifles happiness.
It is a period such as the nation is in now, when existence for a greater majority of the populace relapses into unquiet lives lurking at the murky edge of disaster. Yet, in the face of such a scotching economic environment, the Enugu governor continues to pull the governance strings as if it was a nation’s boom time. For those who have been beneficiaries of the sundry deliveries of the man’s good governance, it has been corresponding renditions as in the Biblical songs of praise.
One of the most outstanding of such indices of good governance, especially with a human face, in Enugu State today is the welfare of workers and retirees. For purposes of this piece, however, focus would be on the governor’s “rescue operation” that has now wiped tears from the face of local government workers and local government pensioners. Continuing to exhibit utmost frugality and a clear body language that give no room for mismanaging public funds, the governor released N5.942 billion for the payment of arrears of salaries and leave allowances owed local council workers in the 17 local government areas of the state.
The sum, which is the local governments’ share of the first and second tranches of the Paris Club Refund, was also for payment of arrears of salaries, leave allowances and gratuities owed local government staff in the state, with that of pensioners running from 2001. By the end of last December, local government pensioners, both living and dead, who retired from service between 2001 and 2005 had had their gratuities paid. Chairman of the state committee handling the disbursement of the Paris Club Fund in the state, the irrepressible permanent secretary in the State Ministry of Finance, Dr. Ben Ezema, put the very sensitive exercise in proper perspective.
“We undertook this tedious and sensitive job as a committee set up by His Excellency, the Governor of Enugu State on the 20th of January 2017, when, as directed by the governor, the Secretary to the State Government, Dr. Gabriel Ajah, inaugurated the committee on verification of payment of outstanding salaries of the staff and pensions of retired staff of the 17 local government areas of Enugu State. We were given the mandate to use the share of the London/Paris Club Refund accruing to the local councils to settle the outstanding salaries and pensions of the staff of that tier of government,” he said.
Explaining the sheer transparency deliberately applied by the state government under Ugwuanyi’s passionate watch, the permanent secretary also explained: “In the first tranche, the total sum of three billion, nine hundred and forty-two million, three hundred and forty-one thousand, one hundred and nine naira, ninety-six kobo was released to us with an instruction that we should use 75 per cent to settle outstanding salaries and the remaining 25 per cent to settle pensioners. That was the initial mandate given to us.”
Dr. Ezema stated further that the 75 per cent of the amount is two billion, nine hundred and fifty-six million, seven hundred and fifty-five thousand, eight hundred and thirty-two naira, and forty-seven kobo. “That was the amount we used in settling the salary arrears for the local government workers,” he said.
The leader of the committee then gave further details of how the local councils benefitted. According to him, “In Nsukka Local Government Area, we settled 14 months’ outstanding salaries owed workers. You would notice that most of the debts were not accumulated under this regime; it was the hangover of non-payment of salaries of local government workers of previous administrations in the state, but Governor Ugwuanyi decided to settle them.”
He said, “for instance, in Enugu East Local Government Area, we settled nine months’ arrears of old salaries, same as in Enugu South Local Government Area. By God’s special grace, we were able to utilise that money effectively in settling the outstanding salaries of local government staff and even had a balance.”
Tackling the most sensitive of them all:
Before Ugwuanyi’s salvage measure, retired local government staff in the state took their gratuities last in the year 2000. But the committee explained: “Immediately after payment of salaries, we decided to tackle that of pensioners, but as we were preparing to start payment of the pensioners, the second tranche of the Paris Club refund came. In that second tranche, His Excellency considered that the 25 per cent remaining to settle pensioners was small.”
The governor increased the sum by a whopping N1 billion, making the senior citizens smile quite broadly for the first time in more than a decade. The committee members also decided to settle arrears of pensions owed retirees and their joyful songs further reverberated. Besides, in their frugality, and in accordance with their mandate not to let a kobo of the earmarked money get into another purpose, they equally settled all the arrears of leave allowances for all the staff of the 17 local governments up to 2016.
Exemplary openness unprecedented:
In the course of the research for this article, which is actually a tribute to Governor Ugwuanyi as he marks his 54th birthday, it became expedient to have an idea of who made up this sensitive committee. The inquiry actually revealed the governor’s premeditated resolve not just to let anyone tamper with the part of the Paris fund as allocated to the councils but also to ensure unrivalled transparency in the whole process.
For purposes of clarity, here is the make-up of the committee, which has so far strictly followed the letters of its mandate and has helped the governor to deliver the present affective smiles on the faces of local government staff and pensioners in the state: Permanent secretary in the state’s Ministry of Finance is the chairman; Hon. Innocent Eze, secretary. Others include the chairman of the Local Government Service Commission, Hon. Emeka Nwatu, the executive secretary of Pensions Board, Hon. Nana Ogbodo; the state NULGE president, Comrade Kenneth Ugwueze; state chairman of the NLC, Comrade Virginus Nwobodo; the ALGON chairman in the state, chairman of Joint Account Allocation Committee, Mrs. Florence Allio; ICPC represented by Florence Udedibia; DSS represented by Samuel Dimanochie; the Accountant-General being represented by Mr. Remiguis Odo; and the Board of Internal Revenue being represented by Chris Odo.
NULGE members, pensioners celebrate Ugwuanyi, their man:
In response to the foregoing, which has ushered in a new regime of heart-throbbing relationship between the government and local government workers in the state, the state chapter of the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) and the Association of Local Government Pensioners in the state called a solidarity rally in support of good governance in Enugu State. Their leaders have systematically marshalled salient points to prove their stand:
• Conduct of both audit and biometric capturing of local government workers and retirees in a bid to ensure that monthly salaries and pensions are paid promptly and regularly;
• Payment of arrears of salaries ranging from one month to 15 months, arrears of leave allowances ranging from one year to seven years, four months arrears of pensions, commencement of payment of gratuity to local government retirees after 16 years of its non-payment through the London/Paris Club refund and making the payment of our monthly salaries as a first line charge of your administration;
• Approval for the full implementation of National 2006 Scheme of Service for local government workers in all the departments to directors on Grade Level 16 and subsequent appointment of our member as permanent secretary in the state;
• Approval for the conduct and release of our outstanding promotions, conversions and advancements.
• Reinstatement of Comrade Eugene Ugwu erstwhile state president of NULGE back to local government service after nine years of summary dismissal;
• Payment of 13th month Christmas bonus to local government workers in the state, the first of its kind since the creation of Enugu State;
• Massive infrastructural development of both urban and rural areas of the state through your unique fiscal management of the state scarce resources;
• Positive transformation of the education, agricultural, health sectors and others areas of governance, which has, in a great measure, improved the quality of lives of the good citizens of Enugu State;
• Maintenance of peace in all parts of the state, ensuring adequate security, which has made Enugu State the safest place to live in Nigeria and other numerous achievements not mentioned. The groups are being coordinated by Comrade Ken Ugwueze, state president of NULGE.
It is quite heart-warming, the people’s governor, joining your enthusiastic people in wishing you many happy returns.
• Abugu is the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Ugwuanyi.