By Jerry Gyado
Every leader has his defects. Governor Simon Bako Lalong of Plateau state is also not spared the limitations governance imposes on a leader either. Frankly, he has his fusillade of leadership challenges he battles every day to make positive impact on the Plateau, just like most or all governors in Nigeria.
But a good leader carves a niche for himself in specific leadership and governance areas. And what is inseparable and very dear to the heart of Gov. Lalong is the welfare of the people on the Plateau, the home of peace and tourism. It has always been uppermost in his leadership calculations.
So, the problem of months of unpaid state wages he inherited constituted one of his first priorities when he mounted the saddle of leadership. He vowed never to compromise it under any circumstance, even in the midst of meagre resources. He has personified it in words and actions to this moment.
No doubt, in 2015, Lalong inherited a state gravely afflicted with multitudinous problems. There was absolute dearth of development in all sectors; violence and consuming insecurity on the Plateau and months of unpaid salaries and pensions of civil servants.
Plateau public servants were owed seven months of unpaid salaries by his predecessor, Sen. Jonah Jang. Instantaneously, Gov. Lalong initiated actions to tackle the unpaid salary menace, which was partly responsible for the ominous discontent among the populace.
Within record time, he worked out modalities, which enabled payment of the pending salary arrears and current salaries simultaneously. It attracted his admiration of all, including his arch opponents.
By mid-June 2016, Gov. Lalong, an administrator per excellence, effectively cleared all backlog of unpaid salaries and sustained regular and prompt payment of subsisting state wage bill. This was even before the President Muhammedu Buhari contemplated release of bailout funds to salary-indebted states.
Workers in the state were pleasantly and constantly embarrassed with salary bank alerts. Some confessed being jolted out of sleep at midnight with salary bank alerts. Today, no worker on the Plateau is owed a kobo for salaries and allowances, as the state meets this financial obligations very timely.
It’s a plus for his government and a source of joy for people of the state, as he was able to navigate his path out of the unpaid salary dilemma. More perplexing was that it happened in the era of recession when most states fruitlessly battled the monster under biting economic recession.
The Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) muted the idea of a new minimum wage. And eventually N30, 000 new minimum wage was approved from the initial N67,000 proposed by labour. However, some State Governors schemed to frustrate adoption of the N30,000 nationally approved minimum wage, as they claimed that only N22,500 was payable.
But as a core welfarist, Lalong was ready to pay reasonable and living wage to his workers. Reports from the initial negotiations with relevant stakeholders on the salary increment indicated that Gov. Lalong was quite prepared to pleasantly shock his workers and labour by accepting to pay the sum of N57,000 from the N67,000 initial proposal. It was the highest, when states were asked to voluntarily peg down the amount they deemed capable of paying as minimum wage.
It revealed the heart of a leader committed to the welfare of his people. But when further negotiations were anchored by the FGN, Salaries and Wages Commission and the Organized Labour and the amount was pegged to N30, 000. In any case, state governors still re-negotiate what they were capable of paying in their respective states and Lalong had to flow along with his colleague-governors, but agreed to pay N25,000 new minimum wage to the least worker in his state.
Quite impressively, even with the reduced sum as it stands now, Plateau state still ranks among one of the states with the highest amount of N25,000 pegged as the new minimum wage. This was after the Nigerian Governors’ Forum were jointly re-negotiating a paltry N22,500 as minimum wage in spite of consensus reached during the tripartite negotiations.
Therefore, Gov. Lalong’s Plateau state went to the negotiation table with a promising case for the least paid civil servant in his State earning a minimum of N25, 000 per month as new minimum wage. He wanted a higher bargain not just for Plateau workers, but all civil servants in Nigeria, but was beaten to the game by the votes of the majority opposed to it.
But Gov. Lalong’s case is very unique because unlike some of his colleagues, he is not just ready to increase the pay. But he has a knack and reputation for embarrassing workers with bank alerts on salaries, pensions, and other legitimate entitlements of public servants. All can vouch that with the N25,000 endorsed by Lalong, the payment will still be regular and prompt, without hitches.
It explains the passion and unbreakable bond between workers and the Governor. Lalong is not only feted by workers; by acknowledged by the hard-to-please national leadership of the NLC led by Comrade Ayuba Wabbai for his exceptional commitment to workers welfare. So, chants of Gov. Lalong’s reelection in 2019 vibrates louder in workers camps in the state, much like the retinue of other interests who angling and actively working for his comeback in 2019.
The refrain consistently voiced out lucidly by people on the Plateau is that workers cannot afford to jeopardize the new reward systems for workers in the state, with another sailor, they reckoned could only be good in broken promises. Workers still remember gloomily, the level of physical humiliation, psychological or mental torture as well as the pains months of unpaid salaries caused them.
Observably, If the population in the state civil service remains thick as it is today, those eying Gov. Lalong’s job in 2019 are in deep trouble. Certainly, it will be a tough time for other contenders to do battle with Lalong in 2019.
Not just workers, but contractors, youths and all shades of interests on the Plateau who have been relieved variously by Lalong’s administration are the leading exponents of his reelection in cities, villages and communities. Clearly, Gov. Lalong has yet another fulfilling date with destiny come 2019.
Gyado wrote this article from Vom, Plateau State.