In their hundreds, jubilant civil servants in Ogun State thronged the Arcade Ground within the State Secretariat, Oke-Mosan, Abeokuta on Tuesday morning to celebrate Governor Dapo Abiodun.
The scene, of course, rekindled the memories of the massive gathering that filled the arena last year when the Governor formally assumed office and was ushered in by cheering workers. Chanting various solidarity songs, the excited workers had staged the latest carnivallike outing to publicly appreciate Abiodun for approving and implementing the payment of new minimum wage of N30,500 in the state.
They were led by labour leaders and officials of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the Joint Negotiating Council (JNC). At a time when industrial disputes have strained relationship between government and the organised labour in some quarters, having an undisguised show of solidarity by workers for a governor speak volumes about his administration’s rating and level of acceptability.
In one of his previous engagements with workers in the state, Abiodun had said his administration will always prioritise workers’ welfare and ensure that the state civil bureaucracy enjoys all the benefits due it. “For us as a government,” he once said, “we will not take our public servants for granted because they are equal stakeholders in our ‘building our future together’ agenda.”
“We are committed to the welfare of our workers in terms of prompt payment of salaries, workers emoluments, human capacity development and other welfare schemes,” the Governor added. It will be recalled that the new minimum wage took effect in Nigeria last year after a very long struggle by the organised labour.
President Muhammadu Buhari signed the N30,000 new National Minimum Wage Act into law, effective April 18, 2019, thus repealing the Minimum Wage Act of 2011. While the Federal Government started implementation the new wage after negotiating and agreeing on the consequential adjustment with organised labour in October 2019, many state governments found it difficult to implement.
This development provoked another tension, with labour issuing a December 31, 2019 deadline to state governments to conclude all discussions and agreements for implementation of the minimum wage or risk industrial unrest. Although many of the states eventually reached agreement with their workers, the global outbreak of coronavirus pandemic early in the current year halted further plans for implementation as the deadly disease impacted negatively on the economy and largely depleted financial resources accruable to governments and institutions.
However, for Abiodun, the implementation of new minimum wage was another eloquent testimony of “promise made, promise kept” by his administration. The Governor, who always prides himself as son of public servants – his parents were teachers, effected the pay rise for workers with the October 2020 salaries.
The gesture towards their welfare resonated well with workers, and in demonstration of their sincere appreciation to the incumbent administration in the state, they trooped out en masse on Tuesday to express their delight.
While addressing the workers, Abiodun promised to ensure that they continue to enjoy better welfare package and seamless promotion just as he vowed to continue to adhere to equity and fairness in appointment and promotion of deserving public officers.
He said: “Though gladdened by this popular approval of our policies and programmes, it should rather be the workers who would be appreciated by the Government, since Ogun State takes pride in her civil service of worldclass workers.
“I understand that there have been breakdown of trust between government and workers in the past and that will remain in the past. We have more worker-welfare programmes in the offing, and as the focused administration that we are, we remain committed to whatever motivates our workers. He further said, “No nation or state can achieve any meaningful development without workers who are well motivated to perform optimally.
We will continue to constantly and regularly pay our workers salary and other benefits to enable them discharge their duties efficiently.” The Governor expressed gratitude to God for the low number of death recorded in the state as a result of coronavirus but regretted that the disease has adversely affected the economy and financial fortune of the state.
While calling for patience, understanding and renewed vigour in service delivery, Abiodun assured workers that other demands and entitlements would be met as the finances of the state improves. Speaking earlier, the Head of Service, Alhaja Selimot Ottun, said the state government has well-thought-out welfare programmes for the workers. She pointed out that the state workforce was poised to improve the internally generated revenue of the state through efficient services to the people.
On the same day, medical doctors in the employ of the state government also visited the Governor. Under the auspices of the National Association of Government General Medical and Dental Practitioners (NAGGMDP) and Association of Resident Doctors, Olabisi Onabanjo University Teaching Hospital (OOUTH), Sagamu, the doctors said they had come to thank the Governor for approving and implementing “proper remunerations” for them. Speaking during the visit, the National Chairman of NAGGMDP, Dr. Rafiu Odusote, said the state government’s gesture would spur the doctors to put in their best in rendering efficient service to the people.
On his part, the President of Association of Resident Doctors, OOUTH, Dr. Mutiu Popoola, recalled the deplorable state of the teaching hospital before the emergence of the present administration, saying the recruitment of doctors and other health professionals as well as provision of basic medical equipment, was a clear demonstration of government’s determination to restore the glory of the health institution.
Responding, Abiodun said health is one of the priority sectors of his administration, stressing that the people needed to be healthy to function effectively in any capacity they find themselves.
The governor, who decried the poor condition he met the OOUTH, Sagamu, on assumption of office, explained that the recruitment of doctors and other health workers was to address the challenges of staff deficit, while the procurement of medical equipment was to urgently see to the needs of the hospital.
He added: “It is important to mention that I am, on behalf of this administration, hundred percent committed to ensuring that we provide a conducive environment for you to function at your peak and also ensure that it is supported with welfare package.
“I hope that, going forward, we will continue to relate and interact in such a manner that if there is any issue that arise by way of misunderstanding or on demands that have not been met, it should be handled in a way that it does not lead to a breakdown of service rendered.”
To the state NLC Chairman, Emmanuel Bankole, the payment of new minimum wage was “a commendable and welcome development.” “No doubt, the payment of new minimum wage to civil and public servants will greatly motivate the workers for enhanced productivity and efficiency,” Bankole said.
In the same vein, the Chairman, Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), Olude Isa Owolabi, said the payment was a demonstration of the governor’s commitment to workers’ welfare. According to him, the payment would make civil servants to renew their trust in government. Owolabi said the state government’s action showed that it has listening ears and would do everything possible to respond to the yearnings of the workforce.
“I want to thank the people’s Governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun, for paying the minimum wage. The commencement of the minimum wage in October shows renewed trust in government by our members. Ogun State is better in South West and the government is a listening government,” he said. But the state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Alhaji Abdulwaheed Odusile, said the Abiodun-led administration will not pay lip service to the welfare of workers.
He said the governor remained committed to fulfilling all his promises not only to workers but the generality of people of the state. Odusile said: “The Governor has promised the labour that he would pay and this is another promise made and promise kept. “The Government of Prince Dapo Abiodun will always take the welfare of workers seriously, just as it is committed to the welfare of all residents and indigenes of the state.”