A couple of days ago, organised labour in Enugu State cried blue murder to protest Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi’s Prado Jeeps’ bonanza for members of the state’s House of Assembly and other political appointees. The Joint Public Service Negotiating Council (JPSNC), Enugu State wing, comprising labour leaders drawn from the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), in a letter they addressed to Governor Ugwuanyi, which they also leaked to the media, said it was unacceptable for the state administration to buy official vehicles of over N11 million each for the said officials, when its workers were not only receiving meagre salaries and allowances, but were being owed backlogs of gratuity and pension.
The letter credited to the State Chairman and Secretary of the JPSNC, Comrades Igbokwe C. Igbokwe; and Theo Obasiana, respectively, condemned the gesture as ‘the harvest of Prado Jeeps’, whereas the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), officially approved N5.3 million as car loan for each state assembly member. “We also call on His Excellency to pay all outstanding workers demands, as what is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander”, Igbokwe and Obasiana stated.
But no sooner had organised labour slammed the Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) bonanza than Enugu State information managers stormed the media to paper over the cracks. In one report in defence of the act, the SUV galore was dismissed as a calculated attempt by political foes to tar Governor Ugwuanyi’s image and incite the state’s workforce against his administration. In another breath, it was claimed, how despite the dwindling revenue profile of Enugu State, Ugwuanyi’s administration had ensured workers received their salaries on the 25th of every month. Nonetheless, the state is yet to settle an inherited debt of N32 billion in outstanding salaries for non-permanent staff, pension and pension arrears and subventions for parastatals, etc. But the governor was said to have not just made arrangements to access the N4.2 billion Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) bailout fund to offset the state’s liability to workers, but have personally invited and consulted organised labour on how the fund would be utilized, a development tagged as “a new beginning for Enugu State workers”, among other pro-Ugwuanyi arguments.
In addition, were claims by the Enugu State Commissioner for Information, Dr. Godwin Udeuhele; and the House Leader, Ikechukwu Ezeugwu, that the Toyota Prado SUVs were not procured for the legislators as personal property, but were assigned to them from government vehicle pool for their committees, on the condition that the vehicles would be returned to the pool at the end of their tenure. Indeed, the JPSNC was said to have withdrawn its hard-line position on the matter. Igbokwe, for instance, was quoted as saying on behalf of the workers: “We met with His Excellency, who gave us clarifications on the scheme of the project; and at the end of the day, we discussed and reconciled the issue. Let me commend His Excellency’s modus operandi because each time there are issues, he makes out time to bring people to make explanations. The governor discussed extensively with us and we are satisfied with his explanations”.
There is no basis as yet to doubt the integrity of Igbokwe and his team, since they alone enjoyed the entire details of the explanations as a special privilege. But there could be no smouldering smoke without fire underneath. Ours seems a country where public office holders appear congenitally and unrepentantly married to frivolities and obscene profligacy at the expense of public coffers. It is not quite long that one of the oil-bearing states in the Niger Delta, said to be indebted to the tune of N500 billion, was accused of prodigally frittering away N3.7 billion to celebrate its 28 anniversary.
Presently, most states are at their wits’ end struggling to stay afloat, as the country is dangerously dangling on the brink of economic recession. Some others are in dire financial straits that they cannot meet their salary obligations to their workers, even with the bailout funds the Federal Government has doled out to them. And Enugu State seems no exception, considering the N32 billion outstanding salaries’ yoke the Ugwuanyi government inherited. It will therefore be the height of tomfoolery for the Ugwuanyi administration to seek to rob Peter to pay Paul in the application of Enugu State resources. But should the government so prefer, it should be prepared to go the whole hog to raise sufficient revenue to sustain the extravagance. This seems the only panacea for industrial peace in the state in the long run.