From John Adams, Minna
Government activities at the Abdulkareem Lafene Secretariat in Minna, the Niger state capital were on Thursday paralyzed as Former local government councillors from the 274 wards in the state besieged the Secretariat and locked the main gate and disallowed workers from gaining trance over no payment of their allowances.
The councillors are those who serve between 2016 and 2019 in the 274 wards of the state are being owed about N1.27billion as severance and furniture allowances.
As early as 7:00am, the former local government lawmakers in their size-able Numbers converge at the Secretariat and barricaded the main entrance gate and prevented everyone from gaining access into Secretariat to register their protest.
The counsellors in a 10 points demands contained in their placards which were pasted at the entrance of the secretariat gate, includes the payment of there furniture and severance allowances and furniture allowances.
According to them, due to the inability of the government to pay them the allowances most of them are in prison as a result of debts, while others claimed that they have been thrown out of their houses due to their inability to pay house rents.
The councillors in their placards therefore threatened not to open the gate until the governor Abubakar Sani Bello came to address them because “we fought for his success of his second term in office.”
The leader of the protesting former councillors, Mallam Garba A.Umar said the former councillors are being owed over N4.6 million each since 2019 but the government have refused to pay them.
According to him, “We tried all efforts to ensure that our entitlements are paid but to no avail. We equally met the commissioner of ministry for local government, Community Development and Chieftaincy Affairs, Mallam Abdulmalik Sarkin Daji in saveral occasions but all ended up with promises.”
But reacting to this development, the commissioner for local government admitted that the former counsellors were being owed some allowances but quickly added that the inability of the government to pay the allowances was not deliberate.
He attributed the delay in the payment of these allowances to the short fall from the Federation Account Allocation occasioned by the global COVID 19 pandemic which has made it impossible for government at all levels to meet up with it financial obligations.
“Again apart from COVID 19, the Insecurity in parts of the state is greatly taking a toll on the finances of the ministry for local because a lot of resources are being channel to tackling the Insecurity, and I can tell you that it has not being easy.
“You know that the ministry for local government does not get intervention from anywhere either internationa donor or anywhere, the ministry relied solely on federal allocations and it from here that salaries of primary schools Teachers are paid, it from here that primary healthcare staff are paid and from here that the eight emirate council emoluments are paid.
“In addition to this, over 300 District Heads and over 400 village heads are paid from here. It from the allocation that the ministry used to consolidate the payment of Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida University (IBBU) lapai staff salaries”.
At the moment, he disclosed that the Ministry for local government requires about N800million to meet up with 100 percent payment of salaries to local government staff, primary schools Teachers among others.
“We understand their plight and frustration over their unpaid allowances, but because of the dwindling resources as a result of global pandemic that have affected the economy of the country, the allocation we used to get has drastically reduced.
“It is not what it used to be, We can barely pay salaries of local government staff, so when we are managing to pay salaries where do we get extra money to pay allowances of these counsellors”, he asked.
He nevertheless appealed for patience from the aggrieved counsellors, stressing that “when there is improvement in our allocation, we will definitely address these challenges.
“But if the allocation did not improve, how can we cope with all these and still pay other outstanding allowances like the one the counsellors are demanding.
“They need to be patient and show some understanding with the government, and as soon as things improve, and we can pay salaries comfortably nothing will stop us from the payment of their outstanding allowances, We will surely look into their demands.
He reminded the counselors that calling for the removal of the commissioner for local government will not solve the problems, adding that “they just have to be patience, we will address their problem when the economy improves”.