Benue Government and Civil Servants’ Cold War

Posted: August 25, 2014 in BENUE
Tags: , , , ,

Anchaver and co walk away with N90 Million

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It all started in 2011 when the Nigerian Labour  Congress (NLC) rose up to demand for an upgrade of civil servants salaries nationwide to the tune of at least 18%, popularly known as 18% minimum wage increase.
This agitation which caused a nationwide uproar and an eventual industrial action, caused all states of the federation to approve individual charts for their respective states with the bench mark set at N18, 000.00, as minimum pay for civil servants.
Arising from the foregoing the Benue state chapter also staged same and consequently entered into an agreement with the State government, in September 2011 agree to terms amongst which was the crux of the matter, 18% minimum wage amongst other pending issues. The state chapter of the union even prided itself for having negotiated the best salary chart nationwide.
According to the Joint Council on Negotiation, Chairman, Comr. Terkaa Gusah, the chart was arrived at after comparism with several others from the best charts nationwide.
“…before the leadership arrived at the chart in question, the following states had already signed similar agreements and arrived at a chart, namely, Lagos, Borno, Adamawa, Cross River, Ogun, Nassarawa, Edo, Bauchi and Ekiti… Benue is amongst the best, with what is on the chart, the state government is still going to pay annual leave grant”. He bragged shortly after the signing of the salary chart.

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Gov. Gabriel Suswam

This salary chart that was negotiated on behalf of all the state civil servants however was short lived as the implementation has hit a brick wall even before its proper landing.
Trouble seemingly started when the state chapter of the Nigerian Union of Teachers raised alarm alleging foul play. The union claimed they were left out of the implementation of the all-inclusive salary structure with a new one crafted for teachers in the state which prescribed less pay than their other counterparts.
According to the NUT, instead of commencement of the agreed 18% minimum wage, government instead decided to adopt an initial pending agreement of 25% salary which had been a previous issue of contention between the union and the government. Even this increment was not devoid of its pains and troubles as it was effected after a torturous period of negotiations which culminated into staff screenings and audit where unqualified and redundant staff were relieved of their jobs. Even at the scaling of staff numbers the actualization of the minimum wage for teachers is still s mirage. The teachers who had gone on a 9 month long strike to press home their demand were only two months ago called back to their duty posts, after an agreement was reached between the state and the union for the payment of Minimum wage and their salary areas as they were put through a no-work, no-pay condition for the period whilst the industrial action lasted.
Unfortunately the return to work of the state primary school teachers has rather caused another chain of reactions, this is even as the teachers have since assumed duty with only two months of the agreed salary paid to them as against the agreed wholesome. The payment of the teacher’s salary is however put a huge dent into the state purse as the wage bill is increased.
The state government even before the return to classroom by teachers had lamented the poor financial situation of the state owing to the low Internal Generated Revenue (IGR) and meager returns from the Federation Account.
Defending the government position, Special Adviser on Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Prince Solomon Wombo had in an earlier interaction stated that the state statutory allocation which he put at 2.8 billion Naira, is too small to cater for staff salaries, since the state needed at least 2.6 billion Naira to effect the minimum wage.
“… if we are to implement new minimum wage on what  the federal government takes, that is, adopting exactly the structure of the federal government, we will need about 2.6 billion to do minimum wage in Benue”. Wombo lamented.
In effect, the state government had penultimate month effected a 10% slash in all state civil servants’ earnings with the alleged exclusion of the staff of the state owned University, who have become a government egg of some sort due to their functional union.
The salary slash received widespread criticism from various quarters with an ensuing industrial action lasting for four days, was premised on the decision to pay primary school teachers the agreed rates viz-a-viz the need for other sectors of the state to sacrifice in order to accommodate same.

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Comr. Simon Anchaver

According to information reaching atiterkula, the government had decided to embark on the misadventure despite resistance from the NLC resulting from a series of negotiation meetings between the duo, where staff retrenchment and workforce
The strike action which was theatrically called off after four days has however not signified the end of the government/labour disagreement. A certain section of Benue workers have continued to air their contempt for the order by the NLC to resume work while negotiations continue.
The workers who have even taken further steps to express their contempt through fliers and circulars pasted and shared in major government establishments to establish their anger with the decision by their union’s leadership, are already threatening another strike which may follow an impeachment of the state NLC chairman, Comrade Simon Anchaver who the claim is hob nobing with the state government for pecuniary gains.
In one of the bulletins dated 11th August 2014, made available to this medium, the peeved civil servants  accused the NLC leadership of collecting N30 million and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) , leadership N20 million, while the two other individuals who facilitated the negotiation including one Comrade Uche from Abuja went home with N20 million each.
It further questioned the non payment of pensioners and teacher’s minimum wage after what they termed “illegal deduction”, adding that the state had saved a total sum of N1 billion from the deductions which was enough to pay these.
“… The Suswamic illegal salary downgrade has brought the salary bill down to N1.9 bn thereby causing untold hardship and difficulty to Benue workers. Now that they have saved N1bn why are the teachers still not paid? Must teachers salaries be paid from the allocation of the state? What happens to the huge allocation of local governments and SUBEB? It read in part.
In a previous bulletin dated 6th August, the aggrieved civil servants denied mandating their leaders to negotiate on their behalf stating that proper suspension of the strike could only be achieved if the issues raised were implemented.
It read thus: “The character of this strike was indefinite and could only be suspended if the issues raised are implemented, which chief amongst is refund of the huge amount forcible slashed from workers salary under a 419 chart intended to review downward the salary of civil servants, tertiary institutions and teachers in the state…the labour leaders were not mandated by the workers of Benue state negotiate anything with the agent invited to Benue state by Mr. Anchaver with a letter dated 22nd July 2014 and a friend of the governor of Benue state who served in the House of Representatives in 1999-2003, one Comrade Uche who tried to frustrate the implementation of the correct minimum wage in the state in 2011.”
The civil servants have also indicated their loss of trust in the state government complaining that the state government is “used to lying at any given opportunity. With the so called comparative analysis by state salary chart and the salary increase analysis chart used to intimidate these cheap labour leaders at Government House, it is on authority that state collects nothing short of N70bn monthly  which are: statutory allocation, VAT, Excess Crude, loans, Investment proceeds. The salary bill for the state civil service including BSU, and BSUTH stands at N2.8bn per month.”
A civil servant who spoke to atiterkula on account of anonymity lamented that the NLC has become a wing of the state government since the inception of the Anchaver led exco and so civil servants in the state have not felt any real impact from the union. He further accused the chairman of using the strike to collect money for his campaigns.
“Anchaver is our major problem, since he became chairman our union is dying gradually. He is more interested in his pocket and has abandoned us for politics. This man is the cause of all our problems, in the first place he was the one who fooled us about this salary chart that is bringing this problem today. You can even see that the real aim he agreed to the strike was to get campaign money and immediately they called him and his people aside, you see what has become of the strike”. He lamented.
Meanwhile the NLC in the state has since called off the strike, while negotiations are still ongoing and the deductions maintained. The call for the removal of the state chairman increases daily and the lack of faith in the government by civil servants heightens.

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