Nigerian governors have refuted a presidency statement that President Muhammadu Buhari reprimanded them for not doing enough to resolve ceaseless agitations over salaries and pensions during a meeting at the State House Tuesday.
Instead, the governors said their meeting with Mr. Buhari ended on a fruitful note, with the president assuring them that their demands would be looked into by relevant administration officials.
“We had a very fruitful meeting with Mr. President and Mr. President accepted all our requests,” Abdulaziz Yari, chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum, told reporters in Abuja Thursday.
A State House statement issued shortly after the meeting Tuesday had stated that Mr. Buhari expressed concerns about unpaid workers’ salaries.
”President Muhammadu Buhari Tuesday in Abuja expressed concern on the growing complaints and agitations by workers in states over unpaid salaries and allowances, in spite of interventions by the Federal Government,” Mr. Buhari’s spokesperson, Femi Adesina, said.
“How can anyone go to bed and sleep soundly when workers have not been paid their salaries for months,” Mr. Buhari was quoted as saying by Mr. Adesina.
“I actually wonder how the workers feed their families, pay their rents and even pay school fees for their children.”
But the Zamfara State governor said Mr. Buhari was not scolding him and his colleagues by the remarks, contrary to the official account provided by Mr. Adesina.
He said the media should have stuck to his narration of events that transpired with the president.
“You got the full briefing from me and then some of your people went and said they got from inside,” Mr. Yari said. “I don’t know which inside that the president is not happy with the governors.”
Both Mr. Adesina and his associate, Garba Shehu, declined PREMIUM TIMES request seeking to ascertain if the presidency stands by its version of the meeting.
A spokesperson for Mr. Yari, Ibrahim Dosara, maintained that his principal stands by his position on behalf of other governors.
“The governors have said that (what the presidency released) was not what happened,” Mr. Dosara said. “But it’s better to let this matter rest and concentrate on national development.”
“The governors have a good relationship with the president and we should not allow unnecessary controversy jeopardise that,” he added.
Mr. Yari was at the State House with six other governors to demand a new round of payouts from the Paris Club refund.
The governors at the meeting included: Emmanuel Udom, Akwa-Ibom State governor from the South-south; Abdulfatah Ahmed, Kwara State governor from North-central; Rotimi Akeredolu, Ondo State governor from the South-west; Atiku Bagudu, Kebbi State governor from North-west; Mohammed Abubakar, Bauchi State governor from North-east and Kelechi Igwe, Ebonyi State deputy governor from the South-east.
Mr. Yari said Mr. Buhari agreed to release new funds in principle, but requested for more time to allow his aides work out the details.
Because Mr. Buhari is not “a technical person,” he said “we should wait for the minister of finance to return, and the chairman of the economic council to be around, so that they can give him update and support on what he is going to say to,” Mr. Yari said.
Workers in several states have faced hard times since 2014 when dwindling price of crude oil began to take its toll on the country’s revenues.
At least 20 of the 36 states are estimated to have defaulted on salaries and pensions ranging from four months in Oyo State to an alarming 36 months in Taraba State, according to a June 2017 survey by BudgIT, a digital transparency firm that tracks public expenditure.
The crisis persisted despite governors receiving nearly two trillion in bailouts and Paris Club refund since 2015, prompting critics to accuse them of squandering the support rather than clear salaries and pensions.
But the governors denied the allegations, saying their respective shares of the released funds were not sufficient to meet their wage bill and other capital projects.
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