Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari has declared that the Nigerian economy is in dire straits, warning Nigerians to once again tighten their belts.
This revelation was made by Chairman of Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF), Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara State, shortly after a 30-minute meeting of governors of the 36 states with the president inside the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa.
Yari told State House correspondents that President Buhari shortly after thanking them for their visit said “the economy is in bad shape so we have to come together, think and rethink on the way forward.”
The governors had met on Thursday night over the crisis arising from the lingering new minimum wage for Nigerian workers with a resolved to meet Buhari to seek lasting solution to the problem just before the year ends.
A tripartite committee comprising government, labour and the private sector, headed by former Head of Service of the Federation, Amal Pepple, recommended payment of N30,000 as minimum wage.
But the governors have repeatedly said that they cannot afford to pay the sum, saying that the only solution is to carry out massive retrenchment of workers or the nation’s revenue sharing formula b changed to favour the states and local governments.
Yari who declined comments on what they actually discusses with the president regarding the minimum wage, said: (He)”talked to us in a manner that (suggests that) we have tasks ahead of us; we should tighten our belt and see how we can put the Nigerian economy in the right direction.”
The NGF chairman said, the president also lamented how under the previous administrations, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the nation’s infrastructure decayed despite huge petrol revenue available to it.
Yari said: “He wondered about what happened in the past, that for 16 years PDP was in power and with oil (output) at 2.1 barrels per day at an average of $100, many infrastructure were in bad shape.”
The NGF chairman recalled that Buhari who had recently said that he would not complain against the PDP again, told them that, that would be his main campaign tool.
“He is going to open a vigorous campaign and these are key issues that he is going to raise with Nigerians so that they can weigh their choices.”
The Zamfara State governor also said that President Buhari expressed optimism that all of them seeking re-election including himself or those going to the National Assembly would be victorious, adding however, that “it is not going to be easy; it will be harder than before.”
Yari said that they thanked Buhari for coming to the aid of states, enabling them to pay arrears of workers’ salaries courtesy of the Paris and London clubs refunds.
”As governors, we appreciate what Mr President has done. Without the president, with our mindset and thinking, it would have been very difficult for us to govern; that’s the truth”.
He said unlike in the past, Buhari authorised payment of bailout funds without recourse to party differences.
“When Mr. President came on board, 27 out of 36 states could not pay salaries some for between five and 13 months.
During “our first encounter with him, he told us that we have no business being in power if we could not do the basics, that is to pay workers’ (salaries). So he asked that we discussed how we could support those states that could not pay salaries so that the workers would be paid.
“Those in position then came up with the idea of bailing out the states so that they could pay the arrears. But paying the arrears was not enough because the performance of the economy at that time could not sustain the current salaries. That was how he paid the London Paris clubs bailouts in batches until we exited last month. The payment of the London and Paris club bailout has been lingering for the past 12 years.
“So we came here today to thank Mr. President because in bailing out states, he did not discriminate along party lines unlike in those days when you could only get audience with Mr. President if you had long leg before the issue will be raised with Minister of Finance.
“He knew that Nigerians were going to be beneficiaries of the bail out and not governors. We believe without this mindset, it would have been difficult for us to govern,” Yari said.