Akwa Ibom State Governor, Mr Udom Emmanuel, has demonstrated a strong and abiding commitment to the welfare of workers. He is according priority to the public service even in this era of COVID-19 pandemic. And as such deserves to be called a worker-friendly governor.
On Friday, April 24, 2020, for instance, in the heat of the total lockdown in Akwa Ibom State and indeed Nigeria and the world as a whole, workers in Akwa Ibom State woke up to screaming alerts, notifying them of payment of their April 2020 salaries. Their joy and surprise knew no bounds considering the fear that April salaries might not be paid as offices were closed due to the lockdown.
Recalled that on Monday, March 30, 2020, Akwa Ibom State Government had announced a complete lockdown on workers, shutting all government offices as a measure towards curtailing the spread of COVID-19 pandemic in the state. The action sparked off uncertainty over the payment of the April salaries with the downturn in the resources of government occasioned by the pandemic. The move became even more worrisome for the workers.
Consequently, when the alerts came – indeed before the 25th of the month, the usual payment date for workers in Akwa Ibom State Government employ – one can imagine the palpable joy of the workers. Guess what? The salaries came in the complete new minimum wage scale, a commendable feat that stood out Governor Udom Emmanuel as first among equals in Nigeria, as some of his counterparts in other states of the federation were still grappling with the payment of backlog of unpaid emolument of their workforce.
With the news of the incursion of COVID-19 pandemic in the state and his commitment to safety and well-being of workers and indeed the entire Akwa Ibom people, Governor Emmanuel had to promptly sign the Quarantine and Restriction of Movement Regulations 2020, with all the attendant guidelines towards the fight against Coronavirus to keep the state free of the pandemic. The regulations, among others, entailed the shutting down of public places including all government offices as well as the restriction of movements both persons and vehicles.
There were, however, few exceptions including, medical personnel on duty, essential workers, revenue staff and the like, thus, the payroll of government was alive with skeletal staff to ensure workers were given their pay to cushion the effects of the lockdown.
Worthy also of mention is that, prior to the complete shut down of government offices which commenced on Monday, March 30, Governor Emmanuel ensured that the workers’ salaries for March 2020 were paid earlier on Thursday, March 26, to enable them to stock up foodstuffs and other essentials before proceeding on the total lockdown.
It is common knowledge that the global economy has been threatened beyond its elasticity to the point of collapse due to the ravaging deadly COVID-19 pandemic including that of Akwa Ibom State with the nosediving trend in petrodollar in the world market necessitating drastic cut down in the finances of government processes and general governance.
Laying-off of workers or cutting down their emolument became eminent. These were the best two options for corporate institutions and organizations, in the face of the hardship occasioned by the pandemic.
But in Akwa Ibom State, Governor Emmanuel faced with these stark realities, came out clean on May 19, when he approved and announced a 20% slash in the salaries of all government political office holders in the state. This brave decision has won the governor applause from right-thinking members of the public within and outside the state. Gratefully and worthy of commendation too, is the fact that the political office holders themselves accepted the new status of their pay package, seeing it as a sacrifice they were rendering towards the fight against COVID-19.
Asked if workers salaries will be cut at a recent media interaction, Governor Emmanuel said emphatically that, no cut can be done to workers’ salaries without proper and agreed negotiations with the organized labour leaders, adding that they “are very reasonable and concerned in the hardship faced by the state in this era of COVID-19.
“We are not a tyrannical government, so we cannot cut the salaries of civil servants without negotiating with the labour leaders. Workers are indigenes and residents of Akwa Ibom State so they are part of the state and are seeing what is going on in the state. They know they cannot exist alone in the state and that all the resources of government cannot go into the payment of salaries alone.”
On May 1, during the 2020 Workers Day celebration, though without fanfare due to the lockdown, Governor Emmanuel had in a state broadcast titled, “Together in faith, we will overcome COVID-19 pandemic”, reiterated that, without labour, nothing prospers and expressed the optimism that, ‘together with labour, lasting prosperity will be brought to the state.’ The governor used that avenue, to thank and commend labour for the industrial harmony the state had enjoyed throughout his five years in the saddle as the governor of Akwa Ibom State.
Since assumption of office in May 2015, Governor Emmanuel has made, payment of workers and pensions a first-line charge. As the wheel and engine room of government machinery, workers welfare and development have remained on the top burner of government, receiving priority attention and approvals,
Among the things that have endeared the Governor to Akwa Ibom workers include: prompt payment of workers’ salaries and pensions as well as the release of promotion of over 25,000 workers, which had not only elevated them to a higher grade level but also motivated and given them fulfilled job satisfaction. In addition, Governor Emmanuel has been applauded for appointing 38 new permanent secretaries as of 2019 among career civil servants.
Furthermore, Governor Emmanuel had on assumption of office, cleared 10 years backlog of gratuities owed staff of the Unified Local Government Service in the state and recommenced the payment of gratuities to retired officers in the state public service in 2017.
Another lofty accomplishment of the governor is the recruitment of over 5,000 teachers into the education sector, employment of over 600 medical personnel who have worked seamlessly in the war against COVID-19 pandemic in the state and have received global applause for scoring almost 100% in recovery rate of COVID-19 cases and 99.1% in contact tracing.
Regular training and retraining of the workforce for optimal service delivery is another feat that stands Governor Emmanuel tall in the eyes of Akwa Ibom workers as well as the automation of the payroll for seamless migration from the Integrated workers’ Payroll to the Pension Payroll on retirement. The automated payroll eliminates piling up of arrears of pension as it ensures prompt pension payment on retirement.
Worthy of note is that while so many states in Nigeria are still at loggerheads with their employees over the new national minimum wage of N30,000, Governor Udom Emmanuel has long commenced the payment of the new Federal Government approved wage to workers in the state public service with effect from January 2020. The payment came with a month’s arrears for December 2019, which was paid in the subsequent month after January.
At the moment, Governor Emmanuel is constructing affordable houses in different housing estates across the state for the workers notably at Ikpedip Ibiono/Ikono off Uyo-Ikot Ekpene Road and at Ikot Ntuen Nsit in Nsit Ibom, opposite the University of Uyo Teaching Hospital, UUTH, handled by the Akwa Ibom Property and Investment Company (APICO) and financed by the Federal Mortgage Bank.
Governor Emmanuel has continued to keep alive to his avowed commitment to the well-being and safety of workers as he demonstrated again during the relaxed lockdown when he directed that only 30% of the workforce should be at the workplace within this period for ease of control in the face of the COVID-19. He was stern in stating that the head of any MDA that flouts the order will be disciplined and should anything negative happens vis-a-vis the spread or outbreak of COVID-19, the head of the affected MDA will bear the brunt.
On Monday, May 4, 2020, when offices were opened following the relaxed lockdown, Governor Emmanuel again made bold his statement on the prioritizing of the welfare, wellbeing and safety of workers when he approved the decontamination of all government officers against COVID-19 and the distribution of reusable facemasks to workers.
In the light of this, one cannot doubt the sincerity and commitment of Governor Emmanuel to the welfare of Akwa Ibom workers at any time, especially in the face of the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic.
Grace Akpan writes from Akwa Ibom State