By Idemudia Oviosun
On labour matters, the incumbent Executive Governor of Edo State, Mr Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki, may not be cut out in the exact mould of his immediate predecessor in office, Comrade Gov Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole, whose whole life has virtually involved labour activism, leading in the extreme to several “labour wars”.
Nevertheless, that does not in any diminish in Governor Obaseki a deep concern for the welfare of the workers in the state workforce in all possible ramifications. On several occasions, including the last Labour Day celebration on May 1, 2017, the governor has said it loud and clear that his government fully appreciates the strategic place of workers in the wealth creation process of a people, underscoring the imperative to take their concerns closest to heart.
It was in that sense that he declared: “Our most valued asset as a government is in our workers… so I stand with you workers and will work with the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to improve workers’ welfare and reward system.”
These were no frivolous declarations from a man who pledged during the electioneering comapaigns that ushered him into office the provision of 200,000 jobs for the citizens of Edo within four years of his administration which took off on Nov 12, 2016.
Truly over the years, governments at various levels had unwittingly diminished or completely eroded the trust and confidence of the people in them, especially the labour force/workers who felt, perhaps justifiably too, that they had been continually short-changed by the very people they entrusted with governance over them.
Since 2008 when the APC took charge in the state, the story has been different as the civil service has been reinvigorated and the working environment enhanced for improved welfare of workers, in addition to improved infrastructure and systems across the state.
Part of the mind-warming story of success in Edo is that, contrary to the punishing delays and inconsistencies in salary payments, payment of workers’ salaries has become prompt and precise – never exceeding the last week of every month. This, to say the least, is cheery and hitherto unheard of in the labour history of Edo State. That momentum has been sustained till date and even improved upon by the incumbent governor.
As the governor made clear, “Salaries are important and must be paid as at when due. But beyond salaries, labour must begin to partner government on the issue of workplace efficiency and service delivery.” For the governor, the payment of workers’ emoluments is not being celebrated as favours done to the workers. Rather, what is celebrated is the enhancement of human dignity, hence the governor’s call for such collaboration that ensures efficient service delivery.
No least important on Governor Obaseki’s mind is the payment of pensions and gratuities to retired workers of the state’s civil service. As the Chairman of the state’s Economic and Strategy Team (EST) during the tenure of Adams Oshiomhole, the incumbent governor is fully knowledgeable and indeed significantly imputed into ways and means to enhance the circumstances of the retirees – men and women who had put in their best services to make the state what it is today. Added to that is the fact that the governor had also served on the Presidential Committee on the Reform of the Nigerian Pension System.
In secret and in the open, the man who now steers the ship of Edo has said repeatedly that he is indeed deeply pained by the stress retirees went through to get their entitlements at the end of their service years. It is that unaffected concern that informed the establishment of the State Pension Bureau, designed to resolve all issues bordering on Pensions in the state.
The state government has already commenced its participation in the contributory pension scheme as obtained at the federal level and which has significantly eliminated the bottlenecks associated with pensions and gratuity payments of federal workers. It is, therefore, with all optimism that economic experts project that very soon Edo State will breathe a sigh of relief in pension settlement.
Governor Obaseki may not be loud and chatty, but he is fully at work to creatively consolidate on the gains of the last administration and reclaim the economic glory of Edo State. As he said: “It is our character as a government to say less and do more and also to under-promise and over-achieve.” His is not the truckload of promises and a teaspoon of fulfillment.
Evidences abound of the resolve and commitment of this administration to improve the state economically and socially. It is as well fully committed to the good of the workers and the work environment. The Palm House and State Secretariat are billed for renovation; a new Administrative Building is springing up in Government House while in terms of workers welfare, several workshops have been concluded for several MDAs, with the aim of improving the human capacity of workers and deepening a holistic understanding of state of affairs.
Moreover, the government has revealed that it is in talks with several serious investors in the areas of agribusiness, housing, hospitality and infrastructure that are designed to create jobs, improve real incomes and expand the state revenue base. The Agripreneur Project has been flagged off at three designated centres in the state, focusing on major crops with identified outgrowers and off-takers, while a total of 150,000 persons have been registered as unemployed under the Edo Jobs Initiative.
Certainly, these measures, economic experts project, will improve the quality of life in the state, especially for the labour force.
Consequently, beyond the May-Day Celebrations, all stakeholders in Edo State, including Labour and government, must cooperate, collaborate and synergize to make the state economically viable. If this is done well, there will be attendant benefits of improved living standards for the people in Edo State.
Oviosun writes from Benin City