There are strong indications that some state governors are considering reducing their states’ workforce as the downturn in the economy worsens.
Speaking on Thursday on the N18,000 minimum wage, the Chairman, Nigerian Governors Forum, Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari, said it was important that government representatives met with labour unions to take a decision on whether to review the wage or to downsize.
Yari, who is the governor of Zamfara State, spoke with State House correspondents after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari behind closed-doors inside the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
While saying the NGF should not be seen as anti-labour, the governor said the sharp drop in oil price, which had resulted in huge reduction in federal allocations to states, had made the decision imperative.
He added that with some states getting as small as N55m monthly allocation, there was no way they would continue to borrow to service overheads.
Yari said Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State could afford to kick against the decision to review the minimum wage downward because their states could survive on Internally Generated Revenue.
The governor said the governors would meet the President and his team and experts with a view to coming out with the way forward and how to handle the poor state of the nation’s economy.
He said, “Let me make it very clear to Nigerians, Governors’ Forum is not an enemy of labour in any way. Rather, we have been working together. I know that not only Gov. Wike but also my friend in the comradeship, Adams Oshiomhole, kicked against the decision.
“Although in the decision, we never said we are going to stop the payment of N18,000 minimum wage, but we are looking at the situation in the country and in the global economy.
“What we said was that when the National Assembly enacted the law of paying N18,000 minimum wage, then oil price was about $118 per barrel and today oil price is $41 per barrel.
“So, if it continues like that, definitely, we will find it difficult to continue. We have to sit down with the labour and see how we can review, either continue or downsizing or what we are going to do.’’
Yari added, “We want to find a solution because we have to be realistic that we have so many things to touch. There is infrastructure deficit; there is a need for security; there are other things like social lives of our people and nation as a state.
“On the receipt from federation account, some states received N400m, N500m. Some others received N55m; two digits. And there are other issues, not even the salary, pension is over a billion. So, how can we continue borrowing and servicing the service aspect of our expenditure or overhead? How can we do that?
“We are telling the public that we are planning to sit down with the President and his team and the state governors as a team and the experts to come out with the way forward and how we are going to handle the poor state of the economy in the country.
“But what we have on the ground now will not be realistic if it continues the way it is without having other sources from the economy and still relying on oil that was sold for $118 dollar per barrel and now down to $41, and think that we can continue behaving or misbehaving the way we are doing, if there is anything like that.
“Therefore, we are saying that we should tighten our belts. Something definitely, we should sit down and come out of it to find a way we are going to do it realistically or otherwise.”
Yari said Wike spoke the way he did because he thought every state was like Rivers State.
He gave an example of Zamfara State, where he said many companies, including textile plants, had been shut down because of lack of power supply.
Yari said if the companies were working at full capacity, his state would have been earning revenue from them.
He said his state could not rub shoulder with Rivers, which he said boasted of oil and gas exploration with thousands of members of staff that were paying their taxes as and when due.
He said the case of Lagos State was similar to that of Rivers State in terms of IGR.
Yari added, “If you don’t have infrastructure in place; you don’t have the energy to fire our industries, you have the issue of textiles, the issue of milling and so on and so forth.
“Therefore, how can we get revenue? Can we go door to door and start knocking for people to pay their own due when they are looking for their own and they hardly get at least two square meals daily? Can you knock on his door and ask him to pay government for development?
“So we know that it is trouble for us! We need to close ranks, both the federal and the state governments to see if we can sit down and settle this problem of the economy.”
On the governorship elections, holding in Bayelsa and Kogi states on Saturday, Yari appealed to the people of the states to come out en masse and perform their civic duties.
He stated, “The President is saying that he wants to leave the legacy of a good election because he was one of the beneficiaries of a good election.
“So, it is no longer going to be business as usual, where security (operatives) will be the people to do the election but rather to safeguard the interest of the public.
“Therefore, the people of Bayelsa and Kogi states should turn out en masse and choose their leaders because that is what we are benefitting from, those of us who are here.”
In its reaction to the statement by Yari that some governors might be forced to cut jobs in the state civil service, the Nigeria Labour Congress threatened to shut down the economy if the N18,000 Minimum Wage was tampered with.
The President of the NLC, Mr. Ayuba Wabba, said in an interview with journalists in Abuja on Thursday that the organised labour would neither accept a downward review of the minimum wage nor any move to sack workers.
He said the labour movement was prepared to engage the governors in the bid to defend the Minimum Wage Act against the threat of violation.
Wabba stated that the labour movement was planning to ensure an upward review of the minimum wage.
The NLC boss added, “We are ready for them; we will resist any attempt to downsize. We are also going to resist any attempt to slash the minimum wage.
“In fact, we are going to make these demands because it has been proven that what keeps the economy going is the fact that workers are able to be paid and that they can buy.
“That is how production will continue and that we insist that the issue of minimum wage is a no-go area.
“We are talking about reviewing it upward; certainly, we are ready for them. We will shut down the economy if they try that.
“Certainly, we are ready for them; it is not something that we are contemplating. The issue of the minimum wage is something that is dear to us and we are ready to go to any length to defend it.”
Earlier, the NLC President had said during a press briefing that the revelations in the ongoing $2bn arms probe justified the congress call for capital punishment for corrupt public office-holders.
He said the introduction of stringent punishment against corrupt public office-holders would serve as a deterrent to others.
Wabba, who called on the National Assembly to come up with laws to protect whistleblowers, urged the judiciary to contribute to the anti-corruption war through speedy trial of cases.
He believed that rising cases of alienation, civil disobedience, crime and insurgency were caused by the activities of corrupt public officers.
He called for an extension of the terms of reference of the Prof. Itse Sagay-led presidential committee on corruption to include receiving confidential information on corruption and forwarding same to the anti-graft bodies for necessary action.
The NLC president urged the President to be resolute in the sustenance of the on-going campaign against corrupt public office-holders.
He believed the $5bn reportedly recovered from some former key officials of the past administration was enough to make serious impact on the nation development.