Hundreds of workers in Benue State on Tuesday expressed shock over the alleged recall of the final tranche of the Paris Club refund earlier paid to the state government.
Two workers were alleged to have slumped as they received the news of the recall of the Paris Club refund.
Governor Samuel Ortom had last Thursday confirmed the receipt of N14.9bn Paris Club refund.
Also on Monday, the governor directed the state ministry of finance to commence the payment of workers’ salary arrears and allowances to pensioners.
The state civil servants are owed seven months’ salary arrears while local government workers are being owed 11 months’ salaries.
But some of the workers, who reacted to the recall of the Paris Club refund on condition of anonymity, accused the Federal Government of deliberate attempt to kill workers in the state.
“Since the governor directed the immediate payment of workers’ arrears on Monday, we thought we would begin to receive alerts from this (Tuesday) evening only for us to hear the recall of the money.
“I was told that two workers slumped immediately they heard about the recall of the Paris Club refund by the Federal Government but they were later revived.”
Another worker, who spoke to a Punch correspondent, said, “This is unfair. Having raised our hope, this (Federal) Government has dashed our hope.
“I have promised those I owed that I would pay part of the debt on Wednesday; I have also planned to use part of the money to buy books for my children and pay their school fees.”
The Benue State Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Godwin Anya, expressed shock over the development.
He said, “I don’t know the reason for the recall of the Paris Club loan refund. Everybody has been expecting to be paid because the governor on Monday directed the payment of salary arrears.
“I don’t know the reason for that nonsense; I don’t know where this country is heading to.”
Also reacting to the recall of the Paris Club refund, the Special Adviser to Governor Samuel Ortom on Media and ICT, Tahav Agerzua, described it as a “trajectory of victimisation.”
Agerzua said it was strange in accounting parlance to pay money into somebody’s or government’s account and suddenly withdraw it, describing it as another form of impunity by the All Progressives Congress Federal Government.
“This is not a gift. It is a legitimate right of the government. This is part of a series of moves aimed at subjugating the people. This action has shown clearly that the APC cannot protect the people,” he said.
Tahav further observed that the issue had been politicised, stressing that it was an act of desperation as a result of the party’s failure in the Osun governorship election.
“There is serious anger in the land as a result of recalling of the Paris Club refund by the Federal Government. The people now know who their enemies and oppressors are.
“Benue people should rise up and vote out the APC government,” Tahav said.
When contacted, the Director of Information in the Ministry of Finance, Hassan Dodo, said he could not comment on the matter as he did not have any information relating to the development.
He asked our reporter to write a letter to the finance minister to seek a clarification on the issue.
Meanwhile, the convener of the Middle Belt Movement for Justice and Peace, Joe Bukka, on Tuesday, described the decision of the Federal Government to recall the Paris Club refunds paid to Benue and four other states as “the height of impunity, executive recklessness and a witch-hunt against ordinary Nigerians.”
Apart from Benue, some of the other affected states were Delta, Imo, Benue and Rivers.
Speaking in Makurdi, Bukka insisted that the Federal Government had embarked on a systematic witch-hunt of some state governments probably for political reasons at the detriment of the ordinary Nigerian and civil servants.
He said, “In the first place, it is not the responsibility of the Federal Government to monitor how states disburse and utilise their funds. Moreover, the Paris Club refund was only warehoused by the Federal Government on behalf of the states; it is not a gratification or loan.
“So, the Federal Government lacks the powers to recall the money which belongs to the state from the onset. As far as we are concerned, this is the height of impunity, executive recklessness and a witch-hunt against the ordinary Nigerians who were expecting to get the backlog of their salaries from the fund.
“We just wonder if this Federal Government has the interest of the ordinary people at heart. Just take for instance a state like Benue that has over time been contending with socio-economic and security challenges as a result of the lingering herdsmen killings, and you want to treacherously sit on their legitimate funds.
“No doubt, this directive will cause collateral damage to the socio-economic life of the government and people of the affected states. Hence, it should be reversed without further delay because even if the states fail to transparently appropriate the funds, they would have the people to contend with.
“The Federal Government must realise that this move will deepen the animosity of the people of the states like Benue towards the APC-led Federal Government because they will be hurt the more and obviously unhappy.”