For a considerable number of weeks since the beginning of 2016, the Ekiti political landscape triggered fireworks between the governing Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC). This was until issues arose from the spheres of the economic hardship that has nearly crippled many states of the country. Almost all through the course of this year, the issues in Ekiti had largely hovered around the stinging statements by Governor Ayodele Fayose on the Nigerian economy and how President Muhammadu Buhari has been handling it, along with his anti-corruption fight, since he assumed office one year ago.
However, the economic issues, which had been smouldering in the state for weeks earlier, crystallised when public sector workers raised their voice against their piling unpaid salaries and allowances. They had all along endured the non-payment of their salaries by the state government since the advent of the Fayose administration on October 16, 2014. As a matter of fact, the workers were on strike when Fayose came to power in the state, having declared an industrial action on October 2, 2014.
The arrival of the new administration was entirely a different kettle of fish. The government began very early to decry what it described as “the huge debt” it inherited from their predecessor. And this has largely remained the issue till date on the Ekiti workers’/government face off. On November 2, 2014, barely three weeks in office, the Fayose government claimed in a statement by Special Assistant to the governor on Public Communications and New Media, Lere Olayinka, that the state had been “ruined economically.” It alleged that the “Fayemi administration put the state in a financial bondage till year 2020 and that the state government was indebted to the tune of N86,013,689,097.”
But the APC in the state, through its publicity secretary, Chief Taiwo Olatunbosun, was quick to react to the statement released by the government thorugh Olayinka. He claimed that Fayose was only resorting to “blackmail and mischief just to smear the image of his predecessor.”
From all indications, there haven’t been any marked difference in the Ekiti economy, regarding the issues argued above. As things stand today in Ekiti, the issues have not changed from those highlighted in the late 2014 verbal altercation between the ruling PDP and opposition APC in the state. It is even not surprising to informed residents that issues relating to the controversial debt profile of the state has been at the nerve of the current labour/government impasse of recent weeks.
When the labour centres in Ekiti gave the indications that they would down tools should the government fail to pay their outstanding salaries and allowances as well as deductions from the workers’ emoluments, many became curious about how the state government was going to handle the issue. But the national strike called by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), which commenced on May 18, 2016, subsumed the Ekiti workers’ agitation. To many in Ekiti, however, the NLC strike, which was largely an unsuccessful outing in many states of the federation, was a huge success in Ekiti as a result of the extant labour issues in the state.
But after the Ayuba Waba-led NLC had announced that they had ceased hostilities, the Ekiti labour unions continued from where they had stopped. On Thursday, May 26, 2016, the current indefinite strike in Ekiti came on stream. To many people in and outside the state, the strike has caused the reopening of the old wounds of the discussions in the state’s debt profile and financial status. To many others too, it is an opportunity for the government to truly test its avowed and often announced love for the workers and the masses of the state.
The NLC, Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the Joint Negotiating Council (JNC) had given the government a 48-hour notice on May 24 and in announcing that they would go in strike, declared that there was “a limit to endurance.”
The NLC chairman, Ade Adesanmi; TUC chairman, Mr. Odunayo Adesoye and JNC Secretary, Oladele Blessing, in a joint statement, said the strike became the last resort after they had “displayed uncommon understanding over the state’s financial status.”
The workers said their demands were: the release of the staff audit and verification conducted in April , 2015; disclosure of the monthly internally-generated revenue; payment of arrears of salaries, pension and gratuities; payment of September 2014 salary to primary school teachers; and payment of 2014 and 2015 leave bonuses. The workers also wanted the implementation of promotion of for 2013, 2014, 2015; approval of inter-cadre transfer; remission of 10 per cent IGR to local government and stoppage of Joint Allocation Committee’s account; resuscitation of LG staff pension fund and release of running grants to secondary schools and local governments.
The government’s immediate reaction was an appeal to the workers “to show understanding and return to work.” Governor Fayose took to his usual, frequent radio and television broadcast to the people to explain that the allocation accruing to the state was dwindling and that they had to collectively seek out “a pragmatic approach to solve the crisis” and that “strike is not the only way out.” He even stated that he knew that for many weeks, many workers had not always been reporting at their duty posts owing to the non-payment of their salaries. Fayose added: “I can only deploy what I receive from the Federation Account. If workers want to go on strike, I sympathise with them but we will be here waiting till when they come back. I can’t sell myself to pay workers.”
In a matter of days, the issue of the Ekiti workers’ strike moved from the economic realm to the political turf. Various stakeholders began to show interest in the strike and soon made it a political issue. The APC in the state latched on the industrial dispute to lambast Fayose and his supporters. The party dished out figures of amounts it claimed were received by the governor as security votes, calling on workers to demand for the bailout the Federal Government gave to Ekiti State and also charged them to resist attempts by the government to break their ranks.
The open intervention of the APC in the strike drew the ire of the PDP and its supporters and they accused the party of manipulating the workers to further their plot to bring down the government of Governor Fayose. The PDP, through its spokesperson, Jackson Adebayo, said a statement by the APC on the industrial action was “a confirmation the APC was meddling in the strike and a confirmation of the insinuations that the APC has infiltrated the ranks of labour unions in the state and is fuelling the crisis.”
The strike soon became an all comers’ affair as students, commercial drivers from various transport unions, artisans, commercial motorcyclists, etc, held rallies and issued statements either for or against the strike. Figures were commonly reeled out while some workers even argued among themselves on the propriety or otherwise of the strike action. Part of the contentions postulated among the citizenry about the strike, on the political turf are hinged on the arguments of the APC, chief among which is that Governor Fayose should not blame his predecessor, Dr Fayemi, for his inability to pay the workers. The party also alleged that this was a gratuitous way of shifting blames and a descent into lies and propaganda.
But the PDP said it was shameless of the APC to still be throwing words around on the near comatose economy of the state, saying “the financial handicap the state is experiencing today is as a result of the profligacy of the Kayode Fayemi-led APC government that ran the state aground from October 2010 to October 2014. Yet the party that is supposed to bow its head in shame has now suddenly become the advocate of the workers it owed several months of salary and deductions before it was flushed out of government in 2014.”