In the light of the continued rise in the prices of goods, transport fares and skyrocketing inflation, federal university lecturers have lamented that the refusal of the Federal Government to pay their seven and a half months outstanding salaries and the delay in paying their December salary have foisted on them a bleak Christmas.
Similarly, in federal universities, members of the Non-Academic Staff Union, Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities and National Association of Academic Technologists said the government still owed them between four and five months of unpaid salaries, which they said dampened their celebration.
They said they had yet to be paid for December; a development they noted had only compounded their woes and plunged some of them into misery.
They admitted that even though no law says salaries must be paid before festivities if the month had yet to end, they expected to be paid their December salaries so that they could have money to cater for their families and loved ones.
In some institutions, NASU and SSANU members are still owed up to four months, while NAAT members are owed about five and a half months.
A cross-section of university lecturers across the country, who spoke to our correspondents, said the situation had plunged many of them into huge debts as they had pressing financial obligations that must be met, especially in a season like this.
The Federal Government had withheld the university workers’ salaries due to their strike actions that spanned months in the course of the year. The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, insisted that the no-work-no-pay policy invoked on the striking university workers would be strictly enforced.
Speaking with one of our correspondents on Saturday, the Chairman of ASUU, Federal University of Technology, Minna, branch, Prof Gbolahan Bolarin, said, “We have not been paid December salary. University workers have not been paid. As for the withheld salaries, there is no new information as regards that as the government has not released them.”
Also speaking with one of our correspondents, the National Chairman of SSANU, Muhammed Ibrahim, confirmed that the withheld salaries had not been released.
Efforts to reach the President of ASUU, Prof Emmanuel Osodeke, were not successful as he did not take his calls. However, his predecessor, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi, who has remained active in the union’s struggle, said it was unfortunate that the Federal Government did not care about the welfare of the lecturers.
He noted that even before the Yuletide season, the refusal of the government to pay their outstanding salaries had made life difficult for many academics, adding that some lost their lives, while some could not continue leading healthy lives because of the withheld salaries.
He told Sunday PUNCH, “It is very sad that our members and their families are treated to what we call a bleak Christmas. These are people who have made enormous sacrifices but it is like they are punishing us.
“Non-payment of salaries has impacted on people’s health. We have lost some of our members because of the inability to purchase their medications. Our members have been afflicted with all kinds of ailments. People who are healthy have not been able to meet their family demands.
“Their spirits have been dampened and they are depressed. This is a gradual destruction of the intelligentsia. That is what the ruling class is trying to do. They want to decimate us so that our members will scamper for survival and those who cannot survive will be eliminated from the system.
“But, we praise the guts of our members. We praise their determination. What the government has done is dehumanising. They are supposed to be treated like eggheads that they are and not what we are witnessing. It is very unfortunate.”
Speaking further, Ogunyemi said it was obvious that the government was punishing the lecturers and that drawing the attention of the government to the declining quality of education in the country was being misconstrued by the ruling class, which he stressed, would not be in the best interest of the country.
He added, “If lecturers’ welfare is treated with levity, we stand the risk of killing their morale and their enthusiasm to deliver on their mandate will be dampened. In the long term, the country will have to pay for it.
“We hope the ruling class will have a rethink and prioritise education. They should acknowledge that what the union is doing is in the interest of the youth and the country.
“We are in an age of knowledge-economy and there is no way we can talk about this without reference to what the academics are doing. Their mandate is about creating new knowledge, engaging processes to bring about inventions and innovations through research. So, when their morale is low, it will kill their zeal and indirectly put the nation’s progress in a reverse gear.”
He accused the government of trying to kill public universities so that private universities could thrive, saying, “It is not surprising. This is part of their orchestrated moves to ensure that they continue what they have done to public primary and secondary schools.
“If anybody is saying they are surprised, I will say that such a person should go back and look at what has happened at the lower levels of education. That was how they killed the morale of public teachers in primary and secondary schools such that, today, they have no union to fight for them. Their union has been seriously castrated such that they do not have a voice.”
He said the government exposed itself when it said lecturers would not be paid because they were not teaching, noting that the greatest driver of tertiary education was research.
He described the pro-rated salary paid to the lecturers in October as “amputated salary,” noting that all hands must be on the deck to ensure that the welfare of lecturers was prioritised.
“If academics don’t rescue this country, nobody will and that is why we think Nigeria should not be left behind in the 21st century race and knowledge economy,” Ogunyemi added.
Meanwhile, civil servants in Zamfara State and pensioners in Delta State say the delay in paying them their salaries and pensions, respectively may hamper them from having a swell Christmas.
In some states and federal institutions, however, workers and pensioners have been paid, while some also got bonuses.
In Zamfara State, for example, civil servants have yet to get their November and December salaries. It was learnt that the delay in paying the two months’ salaries was as a result of the promise by Governor Bello Matawalle to implement the new minimum wage.
Sunday PUNCH learnt that the state government had directed the Ministry of Finance to make sure that the new minimum wage was implemented in November. But due to certain irregularities, the ministry was unable to pay the November salary, while the December salary was almost due for payment.
This is said to have affected government activities, as many civil servants also find it difficult to report to their offices as they could not afford transport fares.
Civil servants in Gusau, the state capital, and other parts of the state lamented that the delay in the payment of their November and December salaries had deprived them of funds to purchase some basic needs, including transport fares.
Speaking on the issue, the Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress in the state, Sani Haliru, explained that there were a series of irregularities detected in the implementation of the new minimum wage, which needed to be addressed.
Haliru stated that when the print-out for the November salary was released, it was discovered that some civil servants would be underpaid, while others might be overpaid.
He stated, “When the print-out for November salary was released, we discovered a lot of mistakes. Some of the mistakes we detected included overpayment of some civil servants, while others would have been underpaid.
“We also discovered that more than 1,000 civil servants were not included in the new salary structure. As a result of that, we quickly drew the attention of the state government to it and the payment was halted until corrections were made.”
The chairman called on civil servants in the state to exercise patience, stressing that the delay in the payment of salaries was in their best interest. “We want to make sure that everybody gets what he is supposed to be paid as a result of the implementation of the new minimum wage,” he added.
Delta pensioners groan
In Delta State, although civil servants have received their December salary, pensioners say they are unhappy that they have yet to be paid. They, however, said they had resolved to protest against the state government if their demand for the payment of the pension arrears was not met.
Rising from their meeting in Asaba at the Labour House, the retirees said they had yet to see the 33 per cent pension increase approved for them.
Speaking on behalf of the pensioners, Mr Silver Savede, on Wednesday expressed dissatisfaction over the government’s attitude, saying, “We express dissatisfaction with how the Delta State Government treats pensioners.
“For almost four years now, the defined benefits scheme pensioners have been demanding in writing to meet with Governor Ifeanyi Okowa to discuss the issues affecting us. None of these letters was replied. These issues are agitating the minds of pensioners. Okowa should pay us the outstanding arrears of 99 months.
“Okowa should implement the payment of arrears consequential adjustment of pension of monthly pay occasioned by the N30,000 minimum wage. Tomorrow is Christmas, no salary. How do they want us to eat? Our people are dying and our parent body in the state is not helping us in the course.”
The pensioners, who gave Okowa, two weeks’ ultimatum to meet their demand or face another round of protest, resolved to suspend the monthly due payable to the NLC.”
In several other states, however, workers have been paid due to the Yuletide.
Ogun workers speak
In Ogun State, civil servants have applauded Governor Dapo Abiodun for fulfilling his promise to pay the December salary before the Yuletide.
The applause was contained in a message of appreciation sent to the governor by the state Chairman of the Trade Union Congress, Akeem Lasisi.
The state government on Wednesday promised to make the workers smile during the Yuletide by paying their December salary on time. It also apologised for the staggered and delayed payment of the November salary due to hiccups in some banks.
However, Lasisi said in the message, “Workers in the state woke up (on Saturday) to receive their December 2022 salary. I want to sincerely appreciate you for saving the heads of the labour leaders. Instead of name-calling, it was praises upon praises that you said so and it came to pass. We collected our December salary before Christmas.”
The governor said he remained committed to the welfare of civil and public servants in the state.