The wind of change that has blown on workers across Ondo State in the last 15 months has restored hope and happiness to many individuals and homes in the state.
The workers, many of who had before February last year found it difficult to meet their daily personal and family needs including the education needs of their wards courtesy of many months of unpaid salaries and denial of entitlements, can now raise their heads high.
Lending credence to the popular saying that human memories are short, many of the workers have today forgotten those days of hardship and acute blow of penury and lack under the immediate past government as the present administration led by Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu has been up to date in the payment of their salaries.
When Akeredolu assumed office in February 2017, he inherited a backlog of seven months’ salary which his predecessor, Dr Olusegun Mimiko, left unpaid.
In his inaugural address to the people of Ondo State in February last year, Akeredolu had promised the workers that he would not deny them their pay when due and as well assured that his administration would pay all the seven months’ salary arrears left unpaid by his predecessor.
Considering the dwindling resources, the economic realities and the need for government to address other issues, many who had thought the governor was only making empty promises characteristic of many politicians, had said time will tell.
But walking the talk, Akeredolu gave the workers a new lease and sigh of relief by paying their salaries when due since February last year – a treatment which they could not remember when last they received such under the previous administration. The governor has also within the period offset four of the seven months’ salary arrears that he inherited.
Apart from prompt payment of salaries, the government has, since assumption of office, kept its promises as far as the welfare and expectations of the workers are concerned.
This was, however, the reason many have faulted the ugly protest on Workers’ Day over delay in the payment of 2017 Leave Bonus to the workers.
Some of the observers, who wondered why the workers did not hold Mimiko to ransom when he owed them salaries for seven months, are of the opinion that the workers’ May Day celebration protest left more questions than answers.
Akeredolu had, in response to the request of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) leadership for when the 2017 leave bonus would be paid to the workers, said the state was still going through difficult time economically and that government would pay when the economy of the state improves, urging them to exercise patience.
NLC State Chairman, Comrade Bosede Daramola and her TUC counterpart, Comrade Soladoye Ekundayo had on the occasion lauded efforts of the state government as they requested payment of the 2017 leave bonus. Ekundayo, who observed that there was shortage of teachers in the state, had called on the state government to recruit more teachers.
Observers feel the workers ought to, based on the honesty and interest which the administration has for workers as displayed in the last 15 months, give the governor the benefit of doubt based on his antecedents as a man of his words.
Justifying his statement over his administration’s inability to pay workers’ leave bonus until when the state is buoyant which led to the protest, the governor said payment of the bonus now would make it difficult to meet other obligations such as employment of more primary school teachers, construction of roads, classrooms and other infrastructural projects.
The governor said although the workers had expressed their fundamental human right to protest, he would continue to act in the overall interest of the people of the state by ensuring he meets their needs as captured in his administration’s blueprint for development.
These needs, the governor listed include “the problems of shortage of teachers in primary schools. How do we build classrooms, how do we provide transformers for communities without electricity, the majority want their roads constructed”.
According to him, the current state of affairs whereby his administration has been earning about N5 billion every month whereas N4 billion goes for salaries and allowances is depressing, adding: “It is a tragic irony that some people now refer to our state as a civil service enclave where governance has been reduced, virtually, to the payment of salaries, allowances, grants and subventions”.
Among the strides of the Akeredolu administration in the area of alleviating the plight of workers and senior citizens is the monthly release of N200 million to the Pensions and Transitional Department to offset backlog of gratuities of retired public servants who had served the state just as pensions are also paid with salaries of workers.
The administration has approved N500 million as car loan for civil servants in the State just as Housing Loan is being disbursed on a continual basis in addition to continual training and retraining of public servants for enhanced performance.
Moreover, the Akeredolu administration is keeping its promise to take the civil service away from the age-long tradition whereby partisan politics truncate the careers of deserving public servants by ensuring that merit is the basis for promotion.
The governor said: “The last time Permanent Secretaries were appointed in Ondo State Civil Service was in 2012. There was a lot of disaffection among workers, especially the hard working and committed civil servants whose careers were stagnated. There was deep frustration as erstwhile juniors were promoted above their senior colleagues in the service on account of extraneous considerations, hitherto unknown to civil service regulations. This obnoxious practice negated the principles of equity and law.
“We did not stop at mere avowal to uphold the principles of equity and justice. We have appointed 15 Permanent Secretaries and 1 Tutor-General based on merit. We shall be appointing other deserving career civil servants. Nobody will suffer persecution under our watch. We will continue to encourage our workers to give their best. We will not relent in ensuring that all interests are protected in the quest for optimum service delivery,” he said.
Akeredolu, while assuring the workers that his administration would continue to prioritise their welfare needs, appealed to them to reciprocate the gesture by adopting a new attitude towards the business of governance, saying “it is only this progressive partnership which holds a true redemptive promise”.
The governor, who said “the pervasive poverty in the land is traceable to a largely unproductive and parasitic workforce”, called on all and sundry to join hands to rescue the state.
He said: “The current state of affairs is depressing. We are far away from our destination, even if we have found the right path. The journey to redemption is arduous, no doubt. All of us must show sufficient commitment to drag the state out of poverty.
“The practice of near-total dependence on Federal Allocation must change. Other states can afford to be complacent, not our dear Ondo State whose people’s industry contributed immensely to the country’s GDP in the past,” Akeredolu said.
However, it is expected that workers will join hands with the government in the interest of moving the state forward so that it can regain its lost glory of industry and productivity.