Barrister Abdullateef Okandeji is the chairman of Ilorin East Local Government, Kwara State who doubles as the state chairman of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON). In this interview with VICTOR SEYI, the local government chief adduces reasons why the councils are not paying salaries as at when due, among other topical issues.
It is alleged in some quarters that your local government owes workers about six months salaries, how true it is?
It’s a blatant lie that Ilorin East Local Government owes anybody six month salaries and I can say that for all the 16 local government in Kwara State as well. The issue is that in the last four months, we have been forced not to operate on the same page again because of the sharp drop in allocation and the depletion of the reserve the administration has for all the local government in the state. It (the reserve) has been fully depleted. That is how we have been able to pay salary till January. But with effect from January now, we now approach the issue differently because it’s what you have that you will pay. After each allocation meeting, we call the management team of the local government and NULGE and decide on what the allocation for the month should be used for. Some local governments will decide to pay net salary; some pay junior workers, some deduction, among others. But I can tell you conveniently that my wage bill for Ilorin East is N62m but the highest I have received was N57m; and last month, I was given N28m.
The alternative I have is to relief some workers of their job because there is no law that compels one to go and borrow to pay staff salary and once that is done, the person involved is not a good manager of resources. By still keeping backlog of unneeded staff, we are only
trying to render social services. And if the affected staffers are not seeing it from that way; they are living in dreamland. We know the backlog of unemployed youth out there and sending them away will increase that number negatively. That is why we now adopted the policy of converging to use whatever comes in for us. Now, I can assure you that I have met my obligations to February and I have only March and April as outstanding against me. So, any of my staff that goes ahead to tell malicious lies again me that I owe them six months salaries is being economical with the truth.
The way things are now, what solutions are you looking at?
The solution ordinarily is to look into our Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) but how much are we really generating in our local government? In the whole of Kwara state, we only have just three urban local governments There is no month I can conveniently get N2m in terms
of IGR and Ilorin West hardly gets about N4.2m and its wage bill is N68m monthly.
Will the council sack any worker under the current circumstance?
I don’t think the issue of sack arises at all because we all have faith in the wind of change that is blowing all over the country with the coming of President Buhari. What gave rise to the issue is the lack of transparency by the last PDP administration in managing the oil
sector with a lot of crude oil theft on the high sea. But if the current school curriculum teaches entrepreneurship to undergraduates and makes many see agriculture as a viable venture and encourages them to engage in vocation practice irrespective of what they have learnt in school, the spate of unemployment in the country would be tackle.
But will the council take punitive measures against staff that abscond from work?
Every staff is expected to mark the attendance register and if you don’t come to work; how do you expect to be paid salary? When you are owed salary, we know you are owed, and when the salary is paid; you will be paid you own salary.
Is there any plan to increase the IGR of your local council?
Presently, the state is a very peaceful one and the synergy between the state and local government is very superb and that is why lately the Tax Administration Bill was accelerated. Last week, we were at the Kwara state House of Assembly as one of the major stakeholders for the public hearing which attempted to regularise what they are doing at the state’s Board of Internal Revenue. When it is eventually passed, the board will collect on behalf of relevant bodies and distribute based on agreed proportion. This is expected to curb some of the leakages; incidents of fake receipts, no-remittance among others.
What is your view on local government autonomy?
It is highly desirable. But there is a lot of misconceptions about the issue of autonomy. In Kwara State, I can put it on record that the state government has never interfered with the funding coming to the local government. The only place we partner is the area of joint project and this is a voluntary contribution by the two of us. If we want to embark on capital project, we will contribute 40-60 per cent of the money or vice versa depending on the initiator of the project.
The other misconception is on this issue of augmentation. Augmentation is not the money coming from the government but from the local government reserve which has now been fully depleted. It is not the state government that is giving money to augment local governments’ salaries but this proactive step that was taken by the Bukola administration, which then forced the local governments not to fully consume all the returns that were coming. In some of our neighbouring states, those that do not have that kind of system are finding it difficult. In Ondo State for instance, with three months allocations, the state government pays one month salary; Plateau state owes about nine months’ salaries and Kogi State, eight months. Here in Kwara state, some of my colleagues that do not have
large number of staff only owe staff salary for the month of April and we have not taken April allocation. Some have paid February and March salaries.
What is your message to the state’s local government workers considering the continued shortfall in the monthly allocation?
KwaraSstate local government workers are having it good because they have information from the surrounding states. Its better here in all ramifications and that is why you will not see members of the labour union threatening to go on strike because they know they are getting a better deal here. So, we will just tell them to be more patient and be more alive to their responsibilities because they are part of this problem and they created most of them. There were so many incidents of ghost workers and we have a parent who has names of her five children who are in secondary school on our pay roll and that is why we have bloated wage bill.