By Jonathan Eze
President Muhammadu Buhari has finally resisted pressure from cash strapped state governors, who have been agitating for the release of balance of Paris Club refund, and insisted that the payment would only be made to states that are not owing workers salaries.
The president, according to THISDAY presidency sources, is said to have given firm instructions to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Ministry of Finance, not to make any further payments to salary debtor states.
The Federal Executive Council (FEC) had in September, 2018 approved the release of N689 billion balance of the refund to states.
But this was vehemently opposed by workers, under the auspices of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), who appealed to the federal government to deny salary debtor states the release unless they commit to instant payment of all salary arrears and other outstanding emoluments.
State governors, however, continued to agitate for the release, saying it was needed to tie them over, particularly as they approach electioneering for the 2019 general elections.
Buhari, according to THISDAY sources, met with the leadership of labour, represented by NLC President Ayuba Wabba, and CBN Governor Godwin Emefiele, and agreed with them that only states that were up to date would have the balance of their refund released to them.
However, states that still have salary backlog could only get the fund if they sign iron clad guarantees that the release would be used to clear the arrears of salaries and outstanding emoluments of workers.
Earlier in September, the Federal Ministry of Finance had blacklisted salary debtors, state, insisting they could step forward for their balance if they cleared arrears of salary and commence the repayment of Budget Support Loans granted them in 2016.
The other conditions it gave were, clearing amounts due to the Presidential Fertiliser Initiative as well as commitment to clear matching grants from the Universal Basic Education Commission, UBEC, where some states have available funds, which could be used to improve primary education and learning outcomes.
The federal government had earlier released N766.54 billion in two tranches to the states. N522.74 was initially released in November 2016, followed by another N243 billion.
Buhari had based the release on the condition that a minimum of 75 percent of the fund would be applied to the payment of workers’ salaries and pensions by states that owed workers.
The governors, however, did not keep to the agreement, forcing the president to publicly rebuke them, saying he was surprised how the governors slept soundly in spite of their failure to pay workers.
Twice beaten Buhari has now insisted that the only condition for the release of the balance of Paris Club refund is a clean bill of health from labour.