A few days ago, Teachers in Oyo state under the umbrella of the Nigeria Union of Teachers(NUT)Oyo state council organized a rally to oppose the clamor for Local Government autonomy in the country. In this interview with Federationews2day, the President of the state branch of the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees(NULGE), who also double as the Vice Chairman of the state council of the Nigeria Labour Congress(NLC) Comrade Bayo Titilola-Sodo speaks on this and the current situation of things in Local Governments in the state. Excerpts :
Workers in the 33 Local Governments of Oyo state have expressed worry over the non payment of their salary arrears, they blame this on the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the executive of the state branch of the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees(NULGE) and the state Government on percentage salaries. What is your reaction ?
There is no time that the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees has entered into a separate agreement with since we came on board The agreement that has covered us up to date, is the agreement with the Nigeria Labour Congress, Joint Negotiating Council and the Trade Union Congress, signed. We are under the umbrella of the NLC, so whatever agreement the NLC signs covers us. I am the Vice Chairman of the NLC in the state. So the labour movement in Oyo state signed this agreement with government and it is expressly stated that we would not take percentage payments, it is expressly stated that we would always take full salaries, it is expressly stated that where there is no sufficient funds, they should start paying from levels on e, and will come up when the next payments comes and will go up and up like that until a month’s salaries are fully paid, rather than paying percentages in any month for that matter. But unfortunately, some of these Local Governments in collaboration with some of the people now complaining, we are going against the content of the two agreements, so they w ere colluding to pay themselves percentage salaries. Where I work, which is Ibarapa Central Local Government, we have never paid percentage salaries, we’ve always maintained, where there is insufficient funds, to start from level one, maybe to stop at level 7, wherever the funds gets to, and when the next funds come we pay the topmost levels. But where the funds are sufficient, we just pay everyone a full month’s salary at once, which is the case in the last two months. So, there is no time NULGE or the umbrella under which NULGE operates, the NLC entered into any agreement with government to pay percentage salaries.
The state Government is laying off Local Government workers who have questionable certificates, what is NULGE doing about this ?
The exercise started last year with the verification of the WAEC and NECO certificates of workers, and the Government came out with thousands of names alleging their certificates to be fake or forged, came out with the list and dismissed such staff summarily an insisted that each staff should approach the court individually. And labour took the matter up and a committee was set up, my humble self is the chairman, up till today the committee still sits and we requested every member of staff, sure of the authenticity of their certificates to come before the committee, we collected their names, made our own, made our own independent investigation and requested them to verify from the examination body and write a letter to the Head of Service and I can assure you that over 80 per cent of those people that came before us, have been reinstated, that action has shown that the government has reversed from its former position that the people should go to the courts to seek justice, secondly it is implied that the consultant is incompetent to carry out the job, because the letters from the examination bodies, authenticating these certificates were again passed to the same consultant, who now agreed that it was a mistake and that the certificates were genuine, that shows incompetence, it show that he does not know his onions, it shows he did not do a thorough job and therefore on that ground the government should have decommissioned that consultant, the consultant should have been relieved of that assignment and if the government is still interested in continuing with the verification, to appoint a more competent consultant who will do a more thorough job, but unfortunately, the government continues to use these consultants, who does shoddy assignment and that has led to the issue of the Trade Test Certificates. NULGE has requested all their members affected by this issue to go the way we handled the earlier matter, bring their matters before us at NULGE office and it would be taken up. But as we speak, no member off staff, none of them has been served a letter to that effect, but we have heard, we even heard that some names were pasted on the notice board, but you don’t relieve people of their jobs through notice boards, you write them individual letters terminating their appointments on whatever grounds.
Teachers in Oyo state have held a rally to protest against Local Government autonomy, what is the position of NULGE ?
Unfortunately, I waited and waited for a rebuttal or a refutal of that story by the relevant that is the NUT and its leadership and I have not seen any, therefore it is safe to believe that indeed their rally was against Local Government autonomy, I think their rally was misdirected, the issue of Local Government, what is their reason ? They claim that when the payment of salaries of Teachers was put under the administration of Local Governments about 25 years ago they suffered a lot of hardships, that was 25 years ago and the issue of Local Government autonomy transcends matter of salary payments. I want them to know that their salaries been paid by SUBEB, is from Local Government funds, through the Joint Account Allocation Committee(JAAC), if they now know this, why are they trying to misinform the public that their salaries should not be put under Local Government administration. There is no Local Government that insists on taking up the responsibility of the payment of Teachers salaries, in fact the constitution provides that we should participate in Primary education, and if we should participate, why is that the total salaries of Teachers is now been paid with Local Government funds, with the state contributing nothing, so we would like to state that the payment of their salaries should taken up by the state, so that we can participate and determine the percentage of participation, however they are saying no to Local Government autonomy is incredible because the matter of Local Government autonomy is about development in Nigeria, it is about development at the grass roots, it is about service delivery at the third tier of government, which is the tier of government closest to the people, which is the tier of government easily accessible to the people. How many citizens of any state can work into the Governors office ? How many citizens of any state can work into the Commissioner’s office ? But the Chairman’s office is freely accessible in all Local Governments, you know his Father’s house, you know his house, you know wives, you know his children, you know his relations, you know where to report him and you can mobilize yourselves to go to his office to lay down your facts, our roads require grading, we require culverts, we require bridges, we want schools built , it is Local Governments that can provide all these services. As we speak now in Oyo state all Local Governments are comatose, they have not been able to discharge their functions to the people, they cannot render the dividends of Democracy, which they all promised us, why ? , because there is paucity of funds, their funds is being cornered somewhere before getting to the Local Governments and therefore the Local Governments cannot grade roads, they cannot provide and a number of these Teachers who have cars can no longer drive to the front of their houses, because Local Governments can no longer grade roads. So, I don’t know the correlation between Local Government autonomy and the payment of Teachers salaries and why they think that Nigeria should not develop, they are in tandem with the idea that the public funds should be continue to be mismanaged, diverted and stolen, under the guise of paying their salaries, this clearly shows to me, that the leadership of the NUT has been collaborating to divert, mismanage and steal Local Government funds in Nigeria, because the instrument, through which Teachers salaries are paid, SUBEB, is manned by retired Teachers, you cannot be the chairman of SUBEB, if you are not a Teacher, you cannot be a full time or part time commissioner of SUBEB, if you are not a Teacher, you cannot even be a Permanent Secretary or Executive secretary in SUBEB, if you are not a Teacher, it means they don’t want that route through which they have been collaborating to steal Local Government money to be blocked, that is why they are not just talking about their salaries, but they are kicking against Local Government autonomy. What are the components of Local Government autonomy that we are clamoring for, one is political autonomy, you can see that in Oyo state elections have not been held in Local Governments in Oyo state for 10 years, when you don’t elect people, who is now representing the interests of the electorate, of the citizenry and of that constituency. Is it the kind of person they want to govern them that is governing them ? Even when elections are held at all, the party in power at the state level clear all the seats, the chairmanship seats including all the councillorship seats, in Oyo state we should have 33 chairmen and at least 330 councillorship seats. They will claim that the Government at the state level has won all those wards and Local Governments which is impossible, we know that does not reflect the true position of things are the grass roots. They should scrap state Independent Electoral Commissions, let the Independent National Electoral Commission conduct the elections, that will be free and fair and reflect the true position of things at that level. Secondly , we are talking about financial autonomy, with financial autonomy, the Local Government funds would come to them directly, and you can now hold them responsible, even if the payment of Teachers salaries, remains their responsibility. In 1992/93, there were no EFCC, no ICPC, there are now several anti-graft bodies and the chairmen and Councillors don’t have immunity, it is the Governors who have immunity, if any chairman should mismanage or divert, it is just one month he would do it, and he would be reported right here in Oyo state, we have an EFCC in Iyaganku, here in Ibadan, so he would be reported to the EFCC, these organizations were not available 25 years ago, when they claimed to have been shortchanged. Therefore, we should be building institutions that would be in the interest of Democracy in Nigeria, that would be in the interest of the citizenry of Nigeria. Institutions that would ensure at the grassroots and ultimately across the length and breath of our country, Nigeria. Thirdly, we are also talking of administrative autonomy, these Chairmen and Councillors when they are elected, at least in Oyo state where I reside, I know the spending limits of the Chairman, his Vice and 10 Councillors , 12 elected people, their spending limits, is N500,000 since 1991, can you imagine a project you could carry out with N500,000 when the cost of a fairly used car was N30,000, so what you can ow do with N500,000, when there is no fairly used car that you can get for N500,000. But it has remained static that way, is that Democracy ? Are those people been held accountable for their funds, someone else is managing the funds, they are just there as figure heads, whereas there spending limits is N500,000, someone who is now appointed, who was not elected by anybody would have an approving limit of N5 million, is that fair ? is that just ? is that Democracy ? is that accountability ? Therefore we clamor for administrative autonomy, let them be able to decide, they are the representatives of their people, let them be able to decide, that it is on this project we want to expend our resources, we want to build bridges, we want to classrooms, if need be, we want to build markets if need be, and they should not be constrained by someone who sleeps in an air condition office hundreds of kilometers away, who has never been to that locality, who does not know their needs in that locality, to take the decisions on their behalf, these are the things we seek for and we know that they are admirable things to seek for, for Nigerians, our situation is in tandem, and we have taken up the gauntlet, because there is no one to speak for the ordinary Nigerians, the ordinary Nigerians reside in the Local Governments, they know us, because we work closely with the, we know where the shoes pinches and we have taken up this responsibility on their behalf and we believe that this time we shall not fail , we shall succeed, because that is what is the best interest of Nigerians.