Before now, the impression that people had was that the labour is not really in terms with the Governor Emmanuel but surprisingly on May Day, labour spoke glowingly of the governor who in turn promised to give a low-housing estate to members of the union. What is your take on all this?
Well, let me begin from the point of observing that labour was not in good terms with the state government. I think such was purely impressionistic.
The real truth was that we did not have a fight as speculated. Government is not made up of only one person. A governor has a retinue of assistants.
Sometimes the governor could be going right while some of his assistants would go left, believing that whatever they are doing is in the best interest of the governor.
Sometimes, even when somebody is making genuine suggestions, certain persons depending on their state of mind, could misconstrue such genuine suggestions to mean that it is being antagonistic on the government and they start a fight from a corner far from where the governor can even notice. I want to feel maybe that was what happened.
As for us in labour, we understand the circumstances of the times, and we do not also believe in being combative all the time to get what we want.
There are times you get combative, there are times you need dialogue and other times you need persuasion to gain what you need for the people.
Leadership is all about understanding the various instruments available for use in getting what somebody needs to get for those that are in need. And so, I will not say there was actually such a confrontation or wrangling.
There may have been some “staccato” at a point, but I don’t think it was up to such an extent that couldn’t have been resolved.
It is believed that what actually caused this speculation was the seeming misunderstanding that came up during the Christmas season over the cow gift saga…
That was why I went to such extent to paint the picture I did for you. Some sections of the government could be looking at certain situations differently from even the way the principal looks at it.
I thought that was what happened and all the parties realised one thing; all of us are working in the best interest of Akwa Ibom State and we needed to ensure that whatever distraction was removed so that we could work together to get what we want.
And what do we want? We want the happiness of the workers to the best of our ability, to the much that God can provide and within the circumstances that we find ourselves.
Government has always pride itself to be a labour-friendly government and that it pays salaries up to date, but still, there are some discordant tunes here and there that workers are being owed. You are in a position to clear this.
Certainly, within this period, I have tried so much to clear whatever notion or impression that has been on this issue.
I’ve said it on the radio; I’ve been on television, and now the newspapers. I believe labour has a duty to clear the air when issues are there that seem to be in conflict with what the society feels it should be as it concerns labour anyway. We cannot say that the government is not very friendly.
The government is very friendly. As you are aware by now, there are some states that could not celebrate May Day. Where there were celebrations, people stood like sticks at the venue of celebration because all was not well. People did not have much reason to smile, either on the labour side or on the government side. In Akwa Ibom it was a different scenario; different in the sense that as you have seen, the government is paying salaries.
Like I said recently, if there are persons that have not been collecting salaries in Akwa Ibom, there must be something wrong, because if their cases are genuine, certainly we would have been brought into it.
We would have been made to know and we would have engaged the relevant departments to ensure that they are paid provided their cases are genuine, that is it.
I know there are some set of persons who are still having issues on the basis of how they came into the service, on the basis of what qualifications they came with and what claims they made as to why they were there and what qualifies them to be there.
Such persons of course did not just come in recently; these are persons who had worked for years. But certainly, those who have genuine cases have come to us either directly to the Nigeria Labour Congress or through their various unions and we have taken such issues up.
Let me also confirm also that, there are areas where we still have issues with the government. One very vexed area is the refunds of the 7.5% Contributory Pensions.
When this regime came on board, I did not spare even a moment. I had taken it up with the government at every turn.
At a point, those who were in charge of that matter had said they had cleared it but we thank God that the present government had come to see that truly, government was owing those whose monies were deducted and not refunded. So with that, government swung into action and started making refunds.
As we speak, from the table of the Head Civil Service, refunds have been made to about 40 MDAs.
The areas that are still left is the education sector, primary, secondary and tertiary. Government also knows that we have the understanding, which is that the government has to make refunds up to the last person, before we can resume Contributory Pensions Scheme in the State. We have been working with the government with a view to seeing that the new law that will determine the workability or otherwise of that scheme comes into place.
Labour is working with the government to ensuring that whatever holds the way in the previous laware plugged into this new one. So we are doing that and there is no quarrel at all.
We are waiting for government to finish the refund and then the draft law will go to the House of Assembly and then we will resume because we understand even as government also understands, that if we cannot go back to Contributory Pensions, we will still be having problems with the payment of gratuities.
The times no longer support Pay As You Go. We want to get out of that quagmire so that whenever someone retires from service, he or she can go home with something and be expecting something still to come. Apart from that, we have arrears of promotion and then arrears of leave grant especially as they concern primary school teachers and local government workers.
They were all mentioned in my May Day address and you also recall the governor’s response to each of these issues. Government is not saying it’s not going to pay, government is asking for a little time to see how they can put things together to see how it can be done.
It gives us a lot of hope and I want to use this media to convey this hope to the workers and the people of Akwa Ibom State.
During the celebration of Workers’ Day, it was observed that the government did not say anything about the expected new minimum wage that labour started agitating for, and properly threatened a strike but till today nothing has been done about it. What is the labour’s stand on this issue?
Labour’s position is clear. The union is yet to go on strike on the issue of the new minimum wage.
We’ve had a lot of minimum wages overtime, this one is the latest and we’ve actually been agitating but labour is yet to go on strike over that. I think dialogue is best. Labour has taken a position, the federal government too.
How many teachers do we have in Akwa Ibom State?
I cannot say precisely. The figure is not regularly updated. Teachers keep coming and going. Today, you may have 3800 before you realize, 300 have retired. Another problem is that the appropriate offices are not forth coming in giving out these figures.
People are taking the civil service official secrets too far. Offices that are responsible should relate with the NUT office so that it can assist us in statistics and planning.
After the governor announced his plan for Affordable Housing Scheme on May Day, many workers are of the opinion that other pressing issues should be addressed other than the Housing Scheme for now. What’s your viewpoint on this?
That is not the only issue the state governor addressed on May Day.
Maybe workers who are holding such opinion did not hear him very well. He addressed the issue of 7.5 per cent Pension refund; affordable Housing; promotion arrears; leave grant arrears; and gratuities too. He addressed them; taking time to explain that government has done this and that. We don’t also have to forget the economy of the time.
The positive actions of the governor should give workers hope. Those needs as expressed by some workers are short term, but the affordable housing scheme is long term.
Our people should start thinking about the long term effect of even the work that we are doing today. It will be more painful to retire without a house of your own. You don’t have to forget that you will retire from service. How will you fare after retirement?
We have to know that on the table of government there are lots of projects to be done other than payment of salary and wages.
There are capital projects to be done, entertainment, sports and others. There are empowerment and training.
So if you focus too much on one project, other segments will revolt and you can’t have a whole society anymore. You can’t have peace.
So while government is sharing, our duty is to remind them to remember us, telling them about our case. If you recall, I was the first to mention it before the governor reacted.
I told him that we were happy that government was thinking the same way we were thinking in terms of “Truly Affordable Houses. All the housing estates in this town were meant to be given to workers. None was meant to be given to top politicians or millionaires.
All of them started as affordable houses to civil servant but ended up going for the rich and influential members of the society.
This applies to Ewet Housing, Osongama, Akwa Ima Estate, etc. No Civil Servant is living there now. So, that is why we specifically yearned for Affordable Housing Scheme for Civil Servants.
We have had meetings with a lot of consultants on Real Estate Development.
When they come and do their presentation, we weigh our pay package to see how we can participate
In 2015, labour had endorsed the governor, will labour now endorse him for a second term?
We love the governor. That should not be mistaken at all. He is humane. If you go close to him, you will see a man passionate about governance.
He is passionate about what he is doing. We love him very much. Most times it is said that it is better to relate with the “devil you know is better than the angel you don’t know.”
We know what we carry in our hearts. At the appropriate time, we will speak out.