Sen. Theodore Orji, the immediate-past governor of Abia State, has distanced himself from the struggles faced by Abians workers due to a backlog of unpaid salaries, ordering his successor and the current governor, Okezie Ikpeazu, to accept responsibility for failing to pay employees.
Workers at Abia have vowed to continue their ongoing, indefinite strike until their backlog of unpaid wages is cleared.
The employees denied the Secretary to the State Government’s (SSG) assertions that the strike had been put on hold and rejected them as incorrect.
Senator Orji expressed shock that the outgoing Governor despite receiving billions of Naira from the Federal Government as bailout funds, was unable to pay Abia workers only to turn around and blame his failure on him.
Orji in a statement entitled: “Ikpeazu Should Carry His Cross”, explained that when he left office in 2015, core civil servants were not owed any salary arrears while workers in parastals were owed not more than four months.
He, therefore, expressed surprise that his successor had allowed salary arrears to accumulate up to 40 months and still points accusing fingers at him.
The statement read in part: ”It’s unfortunate that I am forced to comment and refute the half-truths being dished out by those who through their own bad choices have found themselves in a quagmire.
“For the avoidance of any doubt, neither myself nor my administration is responsible for the staggering salary arrears owed both civil servants, parastatals and pensioners in the state.
“Before my administration came to an end on May 29, 2015, core civil servants were not owed even one-month salary arrears. Parastatals were the ones that were owed between two and four months. The records are there.
“At any rate, the arrears were necessitated by the dwindling federal allocation occasioned by the worsening global economy. The price of crude had crashed and the states were getting a paltry two to three billion naira monthly which was not even enough to run the state including capital and recurrent expenditures.
“Those who took over from us inherited both assets and liabilities. In this case, the government is a continuum. So, if we were owing two to three months, we expected out successors to clear them.
This expectation was based on the fact that they received bail out funds from the federal government more than three times running into billions of naira. Again the economy had picked up considerably enabling the outgoing government to chalk up considerable income as can be confirmed from the ministry of finance.
“So why was it difficult for them to offset the debts? Again if for any reason they couldn’t or were unwilling to offset, why did they allow it to skyrocket to between 35 and 40 months? Why are they also owing core civil servants?
“So basically, I am not the problem. They should carry their cross.”
Meanwhile, the Labour union has urged workers to ignore claims by the State Government that the strike had been suspended, arguing that Government has no right to suspend strike it did not declare.
A release by the Secretary, State Council of Congress, Comrade Emeka Alozie, urged workers to stay away from their offices “until further notice”.
The release read: ”The attention of the State Council of Congress has been drawn to the press release signed by the Secretary to the State Government (SSG) Barr. Chris Ezem with the intent that the ongoing strike declared by labour has been called off.
“It is a known fact that Government does not have the prerogative to call off a strike it did not declare.
“Therefore, the State Council of Congress wishes to state unequivocally that the ongoing indefinite strike has not been suspended nor called off.
“Abia workers are therefore requested by the State Council of Congress to continue to stay away from all their offices/working places till further notice.”
The release explained that only workers in key offices were excused to report for duty to work out salary payments based on a truce with Government after an intervention by a security agency.
“It is however imperative to inform us that this afternoon, the Director of State Security Service (SSS) intervened in the face-off with the government. He appealed that labour should allow the government to access some critical offices that relate to salary payment as requested by the government.
“The offices are, offices of the HOS, SSG and AG to enable the government to be able to pay salaries, with the promise that alerts will start coming this evening while we continue the strike action. Hence the three offices that were opened this afternoon.
“However, part of the agreement is that if by Monday the government did not implement their promise, labour has the right to picket the offices again.”
The Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, had last week declared an indefinite strike in Abia until the backlog of salary arrears is cleared.
Doctors in Abia State University Teaching Hospital Aba ABSUTH are owed for 24 months while teachers are owed for many months.
Pensioners are also owed for over 35 months.