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Buhari orders governors to clear outstanding workers’ salaries

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President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday directed the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, to facilitate release of 50 per cent from the balance of the first tranche of Paris Club refund to the 36 state governors.

The President said the governors must use the amount, which has not been disclosed, to clear all outstanding workers’ salaries before Christmas.

Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha, who gave the indication, said the directive followed resolution reached between Buhari and the governors on the Paris Club refund during a meeting at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

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Okorocha told State House correspondents that ‎the President had already instructed the Central Bank governor, Godwin Emefiele, and the Minister of Economic Planning, Udoma Udo Udoma, to liaise with Adeosun and negotiate with the governors on the figure from the refund.

Buhari, meanwhile, has inaugurated a 30-member committee to discuss a new national minimum wage.

A former Head of Service of the Federation (HoSF), Ama Pepple, will lead the team. The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, is deputy chairman. The chairman, National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission, Chief Richard Egbule, will serve as secretary.

Other members are: the governors of Osun State, Rauf Aregbesola (South West); Imo State, Okorocha (South East); Gombe State, Hassan Dankwambo (North East); Rivers State, Nyesom Wike (South South); Plateau State, Simon Lalong (North Central); and Kebbi State, Abubakar Atiku Bagudu (North West). The Director-General of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, A. B. Okauru, will be an observer.

Inaugurating the committee at the Council Chambers of the Villa, yesterday, Buhari urged the members to be thorough.

He said the government’s decision, after considering the committee’s final recommendation, would be sent as an executive bill to the National Assembly for scrutiny before passage into law.

“I am hopeful that the principles of full consultation with social partners and their direct participation would be utilised by the committee, bearing in mind the core provisions of the International Labour Organisation Minimum Wage Fixing Convention No. 131 and Minimum Wage Fixing Machinery Convention No.26 (ratified by Nigeria),” he said.

‎Joined by Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State and his Kano State counterpart, Abdullahi Ganduje, Okorocha said: “We also made a request for the President’s approval that the balance should form part of our 2018 budget, because we can’t include it until we are sure that the money is coming. That was also sorted out. The issue of workers took centre stage. The President was concerned about those who depend on salaries to feed their families and pay house rent, and he had assurance from the governors that we will meet those obligations.

 El-Rufai explained: “The Paris Club figures need to be reconciled. While the reconciliation process was going on, the President approved 50 per cent of the original amount be paid to the states. The payment started from last year. We still have the balance of the first 50 per cent. This is what the President said should be paid to state governments to meet their obligations before Christmas.”

On the expected amount to be released before Christmas, El-Rufai said: “I don’t know. I’m sure that if you contact the Ministry of Finance, they can give you the total amount. I only know what my state is likely to get.

The refund is in respect of excess deductions on Paris Club and London Club loans and multilateral debts between 1995-2002.

The Federal Government had said that the funds were released to states as part of wider efforts to stimulate the economy and were specifically designed to support them in meeting salary and other obligations, thereby alleviating challenges faced by workers.

Despite the release of a total of N516.38billion to the states in the first tranche with another N243.7 billion in the second, most states still owe their workers up to seven months in arrears.

In a related development, the national president of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, said to State House correspondents yesterday that: “We have made a demand of N56,000. If there are new variables, we will look at that figure again because when we presented N56,000, the exchange rate was not at N360; it was below N200. Those are the variables we are going to look at the negotiation table. And then on the basis of those, we would be able to make headway.”

He added: “Reviewing the minimum wage has been central in matters that the organised labour has been trying to canvas because of the fact that a lot of issues have happened with the economy and the value of the naira but importantly with the purchasing power of ordinary Nigerians and pensioners.”

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