Workers from across the country have welcomed the news of the approval by President Muhammadu Buhari of a special bailout package for the three tiers of government to settle outstanding salary obligations.
However, the workers and other analysts have warned government officials, especially state governors, against spending the money on frivolous things instead of paying civil servants and public service employees.
Presidency sources had disclosed on Monday that Buhari had approved a comprehensive relief package worth N713.7bn to pay federal workers and bail out cash-strapped states, many of which had been unable to pay their employees.
The package includes the sharing of $1.6bn dividend and $500m tax by the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas Limited paid between the federal and state governments.
Besides, the Central Bank of Nigeria is to set up a special intervention fund that will offer between N250bn and N300bn as a soft loan to the states to enable them pay the backlog of salaries.
The President also approved a debt relief programme proposed by the Debt Management Office, which would help the states to restructure their commercial loans with banks currently put at over N660bn to extend the life span of such loans and reduce the states’ debt servicing expenditures.
In Osun State, the Chairman of the state chapter of the Nigeria Union of Teachers, Mr. Wakeel Amudah, on Tuesday hailed Buhari for approving the bailout package.
He said the approval of the funds for the states, including Osun, was a confirmation that God answers prayers.
He said any governor, who diverted the funds, should be sanctioned heavily by the President.
Amudah said, “We can only advise our governor and his colleagues to adhere religiously to the purpose for which the money is meant for. We have to drum it into their ears not to divert the funds.
“I will also suggest that the President should sanction any governor who diverts the fund for other uses. The money is meant for the payment of salaries of workers and it should be strictly used for that purpose.”
A cross section of workers in Cross River State on Tuesday commended the President’s gesture, but insisted that the funds must be properly monitored so as not to create an avenue for another round of corruption.
A Calabar-based legal practitioner and activist, Chief Utum Eteng said, “The gesture shows the unparalleled generosity of President Muhammadu Buhari. The bailout is for all the states and not the APC controlled states alone.
“However, releasing money to the states requires proper supervision of disbursement because that is the hotbed for both corruption and stealing. Some governors may end up not paying this money if not properly monitored.”
The Chairman of the state Trade Union Congress, Mr. Clarkson Otu, said the bailout was commendable as it would allow the state governments to reposition their economies and start afresh.
“There was just no way the state governments would have continued to run. This bailout is commendable. It will enable the governments to pay salaries and reposition themselves,” he said.
In Oyo State, the state civil servants received the news with mixed feelings. While some were optimistic that their situation would change for the better, others said it was a thing of shame that state governments could accumulate many months of unpaid salaries, wondering what would have been the workers’ fate if the Federal Government had not intervened.
A mid-level officer in the state Ministry of Health, who did not give his name, urged the state government to restructure its spending and boost savings.
The state chairman of the NLC, Waheed Olojede, said it was too early for celebration because no one was sure of how much the states would get.
The Nigeria Voters’ Assembly also commended the President for bailing out the states that were facing difficulties paying their workers’ salaries.
In a statement signed by its President, Mashood Erubami, the group described the gesture of the President as welcoming and lifesaving.
A civil right activist and Bayelsa State Coordinator, Environmental Right Action, Mr. Alagoa Morris, urged the governors to ensure that the money was used for the purpose it was approved.
“The state governors should ensure the funds are used to bridge the lacuna in salaries and pensions, especially in Bayelsa State where pensioners are crying out over unpaid gratuities,” he said.
Though he commended Buhari for the gesture, he wondered where he got the money from when he had already claimed that he met an empty treasury.
The Kogi State Government and the state Chairman of the NLC, Mr. Onuh Edoka, described the bailout by Buhari as a cheering development.
The state Commissioner for Information, Zainab Okino, said the bailout came at an appropriate time when many state governments had become cash-strapped.
“The bailout has come in the nick of time when almost all state governments in Nigeria are cash-strapped. It will help a lot in the payment of salaries. Though we have been paying salaries and owe only a month, it nevertheless will shore up the finances of the state government,” she said.
Edoka urged state governments across the nation to ensure that the money was strictly used for the payment of workers’ salaries.
He also advised state governors to make the payment of workers’ salaries a top priority, adding that infrastructural development should not be prioritised above the payment of salaries.
Some stakeholders in Ondo State commended the President for the gesture, saying it would go a long way in ameliorating the sufferings of the workers as a result of the non-payment of their salaries.
The state Commissioner for Information, Mr. Kayode Akinmade, explained that the development was the outcome of a meeting of the state governors and the President.
The Chairman of the Joint Negotiating Council of the NLC and Trade Union Congress in the state, Mr. Sunday Adeleye, commended the President for the gesture, adding that with the development, there would not be any excuse for any state government to owe salaries again.
The Kwara State Chairman of the TUC, Mr. Olumoh Kolawole, the organised labour would monitor the utilisation of the bailout funds.
The Centre for Social Justice, however, faulted the bailout package approved by the President, stating that the release of the funds would encourage fiscal rascality.
The Lead Director, CSJ, Mr. Eze Onyekpere, said while the intervention appeared good on the surface, a careful analysis of the legal and policy implications of the move indicated that the Federal Government might be setting a bad precedent in the area of fiscal governance.
For instance, he said in all the discussions between the President and the governors that preceded the bailout package, there was no mention or acknowledgement of the contributions of the governors to the inability of their states to pay the workers and the parlous state of their finances.
Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose, said the N2.1bn accruable to the state from the N413.7bn dividend and tax paid by the NLNG was not a bailout but a legitimate earning of the state a one of the federating units in the country.