Buhari approves N713.7b for states to pay workers…Bank loans to be rescheduled

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CASH-STRAPPED states got a breather yesterday. President Muhammadu Buhari approved the release of N713.7billion  intervention funds for them to pay workers’ salaries.

The bailout is part of a three-pronged relief package that will end the workers’ plight.

In the package are N413.7billion   special intervention funds and the balance of about N250billion to N300billion, which is a soft loan to states.

Also, N413.7b( $2.1b) is sourced from the recent LNG proceeds and the remaining N300b is a Central Bank-packaged special intervention fund.

The Debt Management Office(DMO) is expected to assist states to restructure over N660billion commercial loans.

With the development, President Buhari has stopped deductions from monthly allocations to states at source.

Instead, the Federal Government will “use its influence to guarantee the elongation of the loans for the benefit of the states”.

The beneficiaries of the relief package include workers in Federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies(MDAs) who have remained unpaid for many months.

According to sources, the President took the decision to boost the purchasing power of Nigerians, especially average and low-income earners, and to reflate the economy.

The  sources said: “In his resolve to put an end to the lingering crisis of unpaid workers’ salaries in the country especially in many states, President Muhammadu Buhari has approved a comprehensive relief package designed to save the situation.

“Specifically,the President has okayed a three-pronged relief package that will end the workers’ plight.

These are:

•The sharing of about $2.1b (N413.7bn) in fresh allocation between the states and the Federal Government. The money is sourced from recent LNG proceeds to the federation account, and its release okayed by the President;

•A Central Bank-packaged special intervention fund that will offer financing to the states, ranging from between N250b to N300b. This would be a soft loan available to states to access for the purposes of paying backlog of salaries; and

•A debt relief programme proposed by the Debt Management Office (DMO), which will help states restructure their commercial loans currently put at over N660B, and extend the life span of such loans while reducing their debt-servicing expenditures.

The sources said the bailout will take immediate effect from this week to ensure stability in all the states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

The sources said: “While the over $2b, which is sourced from LNG proceeds to the federation account would be shared among the states, using the revenue allocation formula, the CBN will also make available the special intervention fund to states and then negotiate the terms with individual states.

“The packages that have now been approved by President Buhari is expected to go into effect this week as the President is said to have directed that release of the funds should be made as soon as possible to assuage the plight of thousands of Nigerian workers in the federal and state governments.”

The sources said with the rescheduling of states’s debts, their allocations will no longer be deducted at  source by commercial banks.

The sources added: “This third option, by extending the commercial loans of the states, would therefore make available more funds to the state governments which otherwise would have been removed at source by the banks.

“The Federal Government will use its influence to guarantee the elongation of the loans for the benefit of the states.”

Government sources explained at the weekend that this package, which was considered at the National Economic Council( NEC )last week,  had been designed specifically for workers.

“Furthermore, President Buhari has now reviewed and approved the package in his bid to intervene and alleviate the suffering of workers some of whom have not been paid for over ten months,” the sources said.

The bailout will be extended to workers in Federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies.

“There are also workers in the Federal Government’s employ whose salaries have been unpaid for months. This package is expected to address those cases also,” one of the sources added.

The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, confirmed that indeed a special package was on the way for workers.

He added that the president is deeply concerned about the plight of the workers who have been unpaid for many months.

During the inauguration of  NEC last week, President Buhari asked the Council, which is a constitutional advisory body to him, to, as a matter of priority consider how to “liquidate the unpaid salaries of workers across the country, a situation he observed has brought untold hardship to the workers.”

“At the NEC meeting, the relief measures were extensively discussed between the state governors and top officials of the Federal Government, including the CBN Governor, and the permanent secretaries from Ministries of Finance and Petroleum Resources. Other agencies that were actively involved in the process include the DMO and officials from the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation.”

Media reports last month indicated that about 12 of the 36 states of the federation owed their workers about N110b

They are: Rivers, Oyo, Ekiti, Kwara, Kogi, Ondo, Osun, Plateau, Benue and Bauchi states.

However, informed sources said the Finance Ministry and the CBN may have pegged the amount needed to settle all the outstanding public workers salaries at about N250billion.

It was, however, gathered that President Buhari advised governors at the NEC session to be prudent in managing state resources.

A governor said: “The President has done his best to assist us to take off properly. The ball is in our court to abide by his counsel to be prudent.

“Some of the measures we are looking at include appreciable reduction of security votes, stoppage of chartered flights and pegging the high cost of maintaining Government House to a low benchmark.

“With our experience in the last one month, we do not need a soothsayer to teach us to cut our coat according to our size.”

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