INTERVIEW: Delta NUT Was Trying To Frustrate Our Biometrics Exercise–ALGON Chairman

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Although, the strike embarked upon by the Delta state chapter of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), following some unresolved issues of salaries, deductions, promotion and salary arrears, has been called off since Monday. In the course of the strike, three secondary school principals and vice principal lost their lives in a ghastly motor accident while on their way to attend a meeting at Kwale at the instance of the state basic and secondary education commissioner, Mr. Chiedu Ebie. In this interview during the NUT strike with HardReporters team in Lagos, the Isoko South local government chairman and the state Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON), Mr. Itiakor Constantain Ikpokpo (Malik) bared his mind on issues bothering on the strike, the much talked about autonomy for local government among other things.

Excerpt:

Regarding The Teachers Ongoing Strike, You Are The State ALGON Chairman, Sir What Are The Issues And What Do You Think Can Be Done To Resolve The Issues On Ground?

ANSWER: Well, my brother facts are always very sacred. One thing I have learnt is that when you are a leader, like yesterday I was telling people that the NUT chairman is not fit to be a leader because the leader tells the people the truth. If you are part of a process, plan and an institution who have been discussing a particular subject matter and all of a sudden you begin to act as if you are not part of the process then there is something wrong somewhere. Yes! Teachers who are part of the local government being owed two months, entering the third month. That they are even been owed that months, it has being to the detriment of the local government workers. If you put the wage bill of teachers and workers together in the whole local government, it amount to about N3.2 billion in one month. For instance, local government wage bill in Delta is about N1.8 billion while the total wage bill for teachers which used to be over N1.9 has now reduced to about N1.6 or N1.7 billion depending on the time and season (whether we have promotion and all that) and that is of course what we are doing with the biometrics in the state. Now, the point I am making is that even the so-called bailout that comes, when you hear N3.2 billion you think is one big money. In the North, their wage bill of an entire state, is about N1.7 or N1.7 billion (workers in the local government and state). In Delta State, I am sure you know how much workers wage bill is? So, you see the difference. Now let come to the local government issues, like I said, its being to the detriment of workers and we felt that, we go to the same market, we pay the same school fees, we go to the same hospital. Is not as if, if I go to the hospital as a local government worker because I am also a local government worker by virtue of my being chairman of the council. I won’t go to the hospital and they will give me preferential treatment because they don’t pay me, it is not possible. I am sure you have not heard it happened before. They don’t give houses to workers again on rent, please go and find out. We need to begin to consider the issues as they are and we took a decision in JAAC. The NULGE President made a passionate appeal and we took a decision in JAAC because the reason we invited them to be part of JAAC is for them to hear and see that nothing is hidden, that is the truth and I am sure Delta State is one of the few states in the country where you find the president of NULGE and the chairman of NUT. In fact, it was the NULGE President that dragged NUT to come and see what is happening in JAAC. In any event, we have moved further from there and we took a decision, after all the statutory deductions, whatever is left should be spread pro rata and that is what happened. That was the decision that was taken and then immediately you called your people to go on strike. In the first place, we also said that 81 percent is not static, this is what can be paid now. As soon as we get the next allocation, we will pay the balance and then move on from there. For instance, in Isoko South, teachers wage bill is over N120 million, it can pay two months of my salary. The important message was that, this is the money that is coming and it is local government money, I don’t know where issues of strike comes in. they now went and started raising issues we have handled in the past. You can confirmed from the office of the head of service. Issues that has been discussed and sorted out which they even appreciated the local government for. For instance, let them go and give you the report, you will be shocked. People are making noise even on facebook. I have seen them, they came to Asaba, paid money to increase their ranks in the civil service. They paid money that is where we are today. All we did in the biometric is to apply the civil service rule. You see people who were born in 1979, they finished primary school in 1978. People who were born in 1983, they finished primary school in 1984. You will see a lot of madness.

What Steps Have You Taken So Far In Regards To All These Anomalies?

ANSWER: We have applied the rules and the NUT is trying to cover them up. Trying to frustrate the biometrics exercise. That is the problem we have and we say no, you can cover up under the umbrella of NUT. These are open facts. This is corruption. In fact, the initial decision was going to be very stiff and they now said look let us melt out punishment that will not be too stringent on the people, we look at it and we considered it. Most of the issues they are bringing up, actually the main issue, is the 81 percent. All the other issues are neither here nor there, that is the fact of the matter, I don’t know how to paint issues.

What Is The Way Forward Sir?

ANSWER: Well, we are open to negotiation, they are not listening. It seemed as if something is pushing him, we don’t know what it is. It is true, because there are issues that you can’t run away from. The best anybody can tell you under this circumstance, is to tell you that when funding improves, surely we will pay, it becomes a backlog. The local government workers are owed 13 months. How come they have not gone on strike? Do you ask that question? Why is nobody caring about them? I don’t think is even fair that you are not discussing the local government workers. I don’t think it is fair on the part of journalists who are not discussing local government workers because it is a terrible situation that we found ourselves. And it is all over the country, it is also not the president’s fault to a large extend. It just happened, is recession and that is the reality of recession that it is not business as usual and that things are really bad. So, that is where we found ourselves.

Do You See The Action Of The NUT Chairman As Been Political Sir?

ANSWER: Well, honestly I don’t want to read meaning but I think he has not acted as a leader should and I hope he is not a politician, I hope he is just trying to lead his people. I don’t like to cast aspersions on people but I believe he has not shown leadership. He has not being able to address his people and tell them the true situation. You don’t come to a meeting with me, I bare my mind to you and you keep yours and go out and say this is what is in his mind and this is what we should do. No, where is the money going to come from, is still going to come from the same system.

How Would You React To The Much Talked About And Clamoured Autonomy For Local Government?

ANSWER: It is overdue, local government autonomy is overdue, these are part of the problem because you see, for us I think it will also erase suspicion. There is too much unnecessary suspicion, you can’t take another man’s sin to visit another man. In fact, sometimes, the governor gets embarrassed in JAAC and say please this thing should come and go but we know that the houses of assembly all over the country will still want to have a hold on the local government councils. Basically, that is how I see it but I think that this is the best time for us to have autonomy so that we can restructure the local government and make it work for our people. They are too many basic things that have left the local government councils. Look when the local government functions well, the state will function very well, the governor will have less headache in terms of security, employment, environmental sanitation, everywhere, the governor will sleep well because the chairmen have funds to perform well. So, chairmen will be struggling to perform to see who is doing well better that the other person because they have the resources and the resources coming straight to them. So, I think that for me, it is a drum that has been beaten for too long. You know when you beat drum, you sleep, you will be hearing it and shaking your head. That is the kind of thing that is happening in the case of this autonomy, it is overdue, the National Assembly should look at it and take a stand to save the country, it is about the country and not about an individual.

** This interview was conducted during the Delta state NUT strike which was called off a week ago.

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