Benue State Finance Commissioner, David Olofu, who appeared on the Radio Benue Interactive Programme with Governor Samuel Ortom yesterday spoke on the state’s staff strength and how it has not been possible to cope with the monthly wage bill of N7.8 billion. The State Head of Service, Engr. George Ede, made a comparison between Benue and some other states with regard to the staff strength and monthly wage bills.
Moderator: The Commissioner for Finance is here, Owanyi may want to take him up on what the Governor said.
Regarding the figures that you mentioned initially on what accrues from the Federal Allocation and the IGR, you might want to comment on what the Governor said concerning these figures.
The Finance Commissioner, David Olofu:
Thank you very much and good morning. His Excellency has said it all, he has said it consistently over and over. Like he mentioned, between 2015 and 2016, there was a crash in our income, from an average of over N4 billion monthly to an average of about N1.5 billion, and that had a ripple effect on what we can do as a state. Until there is improvement in our income, it will be extremely difficult to continue to pay the existing wage bill. Now, we have annual budgets approved by the House of Assembly and based on that figure that was approved for 2017, our projection is for N4.2 billion that is at the state level. Now if you add that to what is at local government level, it will be up to about N7.8 billion. Put that against an income from our statutory inflow of about N1.5 billion, and a monthly IGR of N600 million, you come to about N2.1 billion as against a wage bill of N4.2 billion. So it is absolutely difficult and impossible to cope with that.
I like to also mention that five institutions in Benue, particularly the BSU, the Benue State Polytechnic, Colleges of Education Oju and Kastina-Ala, Akperan Orshi College of Agriculture, and Akperan Orshi College of Advanced and Professional Studies, CAPS, five of them take about N1.1billion on a monthly basis, it’s not sustainable. And then you look at those 62 MDAs that we have on our platform which we call the U-Pay, the wage bill there is about N2.2 billion monthly, and you have a pension obligation monthly of N500 million, so when you add up all these, and of course you have to make provision for running of government which comes, because it is not fixed, sometimes it’s N500 million, and sometimes it’s less than that, that covers overheads and the rest of it. But if you if you look at the staff that I mentioned are on the U-pay, we will realize that going forward we need to look at them and see how we can better manage the situation. We came up with a proposal like he rightly mentioned, because, when we came in, we had about 19,279 were on that platform but because of the reviews that were done, and the biometrics that we carried out, we came to to a figure of about 17, 200 staff right now. Out of that,10,400 of them are on levels 1-10, and the remaining, about 7000 are on 12 and above. And we said to ourselves and the union in a frank discussion that how we can help ourselves to move state forward, because this state belongs to all of us, to both those on the side of government and on the side labour. It is our interest that the state must develop, why don’t we for instance, look at those who are on that level 1-10, because they are the most vulnerable category of staff, and bring them up to date in terms of payment of salaries, and then continue to pay the other category of staff when the resources become available. That was also turned down. Like I mentioned, there are no shortcuts to development. We agree, Benue State is a civil service state, but again, Benue State must also develop. To get us out of the problem that we have found ourselves, we must invest in infrastructure, which his Excellency is doing, but we must invest in the provision of other services, and if we don’t do that, we will continue to wallow in this situation for a much longer time than necessary. So, the bottom line is for labour and government to find a middle ground. On the government side we are willing to do everything humanly possible, both sourcing for funds despite the constraints that we have. Because as I speak right now, there is a limit to how much you can even borrow, you need approvals from the Federal Government, and those approvals will not be given once you have reached a threshold, and that is where we are right now. But His Excellency has given us the go ahead to continue to look at other innovative ways of solving this problem. We have held series of meetings and we will continue to do those meetings until we are able to find solution to the problem. But like rightly mentioned, the wage bill right now is not sustainable, and it is in the interest of both labour and Benue workers to find a solution to it. I thank you very much.
Moderator: I think the Head of Service will like to react as well to the issue of the strike and probably make a comment.
HOS Engr Ede:
Good morning listener. I want to actually tell my colleagues that mine as someone who has always been part of them, I’ve always been part of the civil service, I’ve never had any other constituency, and I’m still part of them, mine is an appeal. Please, we should see the voice of reason, the appeal by His Excellency, and see how we can actually come to an understanding such that this strike is something that I believe we can always discuss as we always been doing. As a result of this His Excellency graciously approved money and I had to send some of my permanent secretaries to some states in the six geopolitical zones. The reports are still trickling in, we’re getting some, but let me tell all of us, those of us in the civil service, one thing, that if you compare ours with some of these states, I will say so-called stable states, well, for them it’s just laughable, but for us, I think we’re doing far far better than most states. All we need to do is just to be patient and see how things will improve.
Sorry, let me just give you an analysis. Now, take for example, Ondo State. Ondo state is part of the oil producing states. Ondo state for example has a total staff strength, workforce of about, both local government and state, of about 41,000. In Benue State, we have nearly 68,000 or let’s say 70,000. In Ondo state, the total wage bill of Ondo State, that is apart from the Federation Account they give them another 13% derivation, their total wage bill including local government is about N4.5 billion, and at times it comes down to N4.4 billion. That is Ondo state, which is an oil producing state, it takes 13% derivation, compared to ours. And if you look at their staff strength, whereas in the core civil service they have about 10,000 workers, here we have about 17,500, those that are captured in the E-payment, we are not talking of those in BSU, Pension, we’re not talking of Judiciary, we’re not talking of The Voice. So you can see that here His Excellency has actually tried.
Now, let’s talk of a state like Jigawa State. Jigawa State has 27 local governments and Jigawa has proliferation of so many MDAs. The MDAs are there, they have what they call emirate council, five of them. One emirate council alone has almost, I can’t remember, so many chiefs or emirs rather. They have the Local Government Service Commission, Ministry of Local Government, they have Local Government Agency, so many, but if i tell you their wage bill, they have 27 local governments, and their wage bill is N3.7 billion both at the local government and State, so compared to ours, N7.8 billion.
States like…. I want to start from those that are very big and states that have money. But when we sent some permanent secretaries to some states, they told us this thing that we are telling you, don’t tell anybody because it is not something that you like to hear but because of the situation with me and my colleagues now, let’s talk about a state like Ebonyi State. Ebonyi state as I speak with you people, when the recession started, the then Governor decided to slash his 18, 000 minimum wage by 50%. By the time the new Governor came on board, he slashed the 50% by further 50%. So in Ebonyi State right now, they’re taking 25% of that N18,000 minimum wage, and it is not regular. Any day they feel they just come from Abuja and say today this one we’re giving you call it that of August, and it becomes like that in Ebonyi State today. And that is why we must commend His Excellency here. Some other states just took some desperate solution because there is a desperate problem, but he has taken it, he has engaged labour, who have their own representatives. In Ebonyi State today, we have the Head of Service, and they’re operating with just two permanent secretaries in the entire state. You can see.
Let’s talk of a state like, well, I don’t want to mention a state like Kogi here. Kogi State is owing between six months and 20 months. Kogi State, as we are today, does not have a single permanent secretary. It’s there, you can find out, luckily for those of you in the radio they were part of us before, you can ask. Now, even those that are having the six months its half salary and it has no definition. They just wake up one day and somebody will say this half salary I’m giving you, let’s just call it May salary, 20 months, you can confirm, no single permanent secretary in Kogi State today.
Okay, what about Nasarawa State? Nassarawa State lifted the negotiations from us, just as we’re doing, they agreed with their labour that once they get two months, they will pay one month, and everything was going on smoothly. But all of a sudden, things changed, the recession was biting harder, the state government told them that okay we cannot continue, they now brought it to 50%. Later, they said things are beginning to improve, they increased it a little, and they were doing their own thing with their labour, only for some people to infiltrate and call the national labour people there and you knew what happened, very unfortunate, one or two civil servants were killed. And then, Nassarawa State, they applied this law of no work, no pay. I can tell you that as of today, the people that refused to go to work for the three months have not been paid up till this moment that I’m talking. No work, no pay, but nobody is talking of this one here. I’m appealing, we are only appealing, go back to work, so that we can always negotiate.
See Taraba that we’re talking, both Taraba State University, every other thing, the wage bill is just N1.7 billion, but here, what do we see? N4 point one, four point that billion, and the total is N7.8 billion. For goodness sake, if an oil producing state like Ondo is having just N4.5 billion with all the derivation and others, and ours is N7. 8 billion, and nobody has even talked of applying a desperate solution like the one I told you in Ebonyi and others that we’re seeing. They are so many more, in fact, there are states that have not implemented the minimum wage.
So as I said, the results are still coming, so I’m appealing to my colleagues and incidentally, we are going on strike when solution is just by the corner. The issue of consultants, the issue of how we can get money either through bonds or all that, I have been part of this process completely. So if we are understanding with our labour, His Excellency has decided not to use all these desperate solutions from these states I have been mentioning. In fact, there is a particular state that told we should never mention the size of their civil service because people will laugh at them, and if they get to hear it, it will not be good. So I want to respect them, I won’t want to mention them. But sincerely, I want all of us, my colleagues and others, let us see how we can heed to the Governor’ call, let us come back to work. If you allow somebody from wherever he has come from, to come and tell us what to do, he has now finished, he told us go on strike with your people, without looking at whatever has been on the ground. And if we decide to follow him, where is the solution going to come from? He is not here, he is not from Benue State, he’s already somewhere there, and we are here saying that we’re going on strike and now His Excellency has said he don’t want to pay any percentage, we don’t want to reduce staff strength. Certainly, we can see where we are. So I appeal to my colleagues, please, please, am a civil servant like you, we have been together in this. I appeal to you that we should all come back to work, let’s come to our sense and see what can be done. So many things are going on, I can assure you that in the near future, why I’m very confident is that I’m part of all these negotiations, in terms of seeing how things can be done from external bodies and all that. We will have every cause to smile very very soon. I can go on and on about other states, but sincerely, majority of them said please and please, don’t ever give us out, because if anybody from our state happens to hear this, they will descend on us, that’s why I’m just stopping at that very level, but sincerely, we should actually be happy with the way things are, and see how we can come back to work, and see how Benue State can move forward. The solution is just by the corner.
Thank you very much.