Despite increased in revenue to the Akwa Ibom State Government in the last few months, workers in the local government areas have lamented over the failure of the state government to pay them their leave grants, arrears and other entitlements.
Fielding questions from our reporter in her office today, 30th August, 2022, the President of the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), Akwa Ibom State Chapter, Mrs. Anestina Iweh, said the 2020 and 2021 leave grants, as well as minimum wage arrears have remained outstanding up until today, despite an earlier reached agreement between the union and the state government in March this year.
She disclosed that local government retirees have also not received their gratuities from 2012 up until date, adding that the last time such entitlements were paid was in 2015 when Governor Udom Emmanuel was said to have cleared the backlog that did not cover up to 2012.
“As I’m talking to you now, gratuity was last paid to local government workers in 2015. That was when His Excellency said he paid the backlog then. From 2012 up till date, local government retirees have not gotten their gratuity.
“Apart from the fact that gratuity from 2012 has not been paid to the entire local government workers, from 2012, our leave grant is outstanding: 2020 and 2021 still outstanding.
“But we also appreciate the fact that 2022 has been consolidated into our salaries which from this 2022, there will be nothing like arrears of leave grant again in the local government . We appreciate government for that”.
The NULGE President explained that payment of minimum wage, leave grants and other entitlements to the local government workers has been the responsibility of the state government through the salary consultancy programme which was instituted by Governor Udom Emmanuel in 2014.
“If you ask me why the local governments have not paid, I would also inform you that it is not the local government councils that pay our grants and salaries as at today.
“The government took over the payment through the salary consultancy in 2014 and from that year, local government councils do not pay salaries, neither do they pay leave grants or any other thing to the local government workers.
“ It was even very difficult for impress to be paid, bought for these past two months that allocation was increased to the local government councils. For over five years, we have not had such amounts that we had in June and July. And it is those two months that the councils were a little able to pay impress to some impress holders and do one or two things in the local government councils”.
According to Mrs. Iweh, NULGE had, in March this year, planned to embark on a protest that was intended to last for days, following the non payment of leave grants to some local government workers.
She however stated that the intended protest was suspended in view of the meeting between the union and the statement government that all leave grants were going to be paid.
“We were planning to have a protest on the road and that protest wouldn’t have been a one day protest. It would have been a protest like the one you had the ENDSARS that every two days, we would have been on the streets of Uyo requesting for who is holding our money to pay us.
“So, with that little effort we made, government decided to have an agreement with us in a meeting we had between the ALGON leadership and the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs. So, they asked us to be a little patient and that they would look at 2020 and 2021.
“ In that fight, we were we were able to get the remaining two local government 2018 leave grant and the remaining 19 local government 2021 leave grant. That was what we achieved that time. Since that time, we have not contemplated giving government any ultimatum”.
On whether NULGE is contemplating another industrial action, the President said NULGE would not embark on any action, as the union was optimistic that the agreement for the commencement of payment of all owed entitlements in June this year would still take place, despite the deadline elapsing.
“We are not planning to go on any strike because the agreement with them was to commence the payment of 2020 and 2021 from June and make sure before the end of this year, all those outstanding are paid. That was why we accepted and did not protest again because they paid us 2018 and 2019 and they even promised to kick start 2020 and 2021 from June.
“But from that June, nobody is doing anything. July – nothing came and we are in August. So, that was why I said this your question is very timely because even yesterday,( Monday, 29th August) I met with the Commissioner for Local government and Chieftaincy Affairs. He promised that they are going to do something. We are still to see and to know what they will do. But until now, there has not been any tangible decision on when they would pay us”.
On the recurring issue of Local government autonomy, Mrs. Iweh said the entire local government workers believe in local government autonomy and therefore, had voted in support of it, in the on going considerations of the Bill across all the State Houses of Assembly in Nigeria.
The President thanked the present Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly for voting in favour of the Bill. She also appreciated Rt. Hon. Kerian Akpan whom she said chaired the committee that was set up to conduct a public hearing on the Bill.
“We believe in local government autonomy. Very sincerely and when the public hearing was held at the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, by God’s grace, I was given an opportunity to speak. And I told them that the entire local government workers in Akwa Ibom stand on local government autonomy.
“And we appreciate this 8th House of Assembly through the able leader of the State House, Rt. Hon. Udo Kerian Akpan who chaired the committee and also facilitated the process of discussion on those Bills. By God’s grace, AKHA voted in favour of the local government autonomy.
“We are still waiting for the other states to sit on the bill and if we have the 24 states needed at the National Assembly, the autonomy will be granted. And I know we have able local government chairmen and able administrators at the local government service that will manage the funds”.