The chairman of Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara state, has said President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday told them that the Nigerian economy is in bad shape and that citizens need to tighten their belts.
Yari disclosed this to State House Correspondents after the governors of the 36 states met with Buhari for about 30 minutes in the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa.
The NGF chairman President Buhari after thanking them said “the economy is in bad shape and that we have to come together, think and rethink on the way forward”.
The governors has met Thursday night over the lingering issue of a new minimum wage for Nigerian workers and had resolved to meet with Buhari to seek lasting solution before the year ends.
A tripartite committee comprising of government, labour and the private sector, headed by former Head of Service of the Federation, Amal Pepple, recommended the payment of N30,000 as minimum wage.
The governors have repeatedly said that they cannot afford to pay the new wage, saying the only solution was to carry out massive retrenchment of workers or if the nation’s revenue sharing formula changes to favour the states and local governments.
Yari who declined to comment on what they actually discusses with Mr Buhari regarding the minimum wage, said the President ”talked to us in a manner that we have task ahead of us, we should tighten our belt and see how we can put the Nigerian economy in the right direction”.
The NGF chairman said, the President also lamented how the previous administrations under the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), led to the nation’s infrastructure decay despite huge petrol revenue.
Yari said, “He wondered about what happened in the past; that for the 16 years of the now opposition party, the PDP in power and with oil at 2.1 barrels per day at an average of $100, many infrastructure are in bad shape.”
The NGF chairman said Buhari who had recently said that he will not complain against the PDP again, told them that, that will be his main campaign tool. ” He is going to open a vigorous campaign and these are key issues that he is going to raise with Nigerians so that they can weigh their choices.”
The Zamfara governor also said President Buhari expressed optimism that all of them seeking re-election including himself or those going to the National Assembly will be victorious, adding however, that ”it is not going to be easy, it will be harder than before”.
Yari said they also thanked Mr Buhari for coming to the aid of states to enable them pay arrears of workers salaries by paying them the Paris and London clubs refunds.
He said without those payments, ”as governors, we therefore, appreciates what Mr President has done. Without the President, with our mindset and thinking, it will be very difficult for us to govern, that’s the truth”.
He also said unlike in the past, Buhari authorised bailout funds without recourse to party differences. “When Mr. President came on board, 27 states out of 36 could not pay salaries some for 13, 12, 8, 5 months respectively. Our first encounter with him, he told us that we have no business of being in power if we cannot do the basic, that is pay workers. So he asked that we discussed how we can support those states that cannot pay salaries so that workers will be paid. Those in the position then came up with the idea of bailing out the states so that they can pay the arrears.
But paying the arrears was not enough because the performance of the economy at that time could not sustain the current salaries, that was how he paid the London Paris Club in batches until we exited last month, the payment of London Paris Club has been lingering for the past 12 years. “So we came here today to thank Mr. President because in bailing out states he did not discriminate along party lines unlike in those days when you can only get audience with Mr. President if you have long leg before the issue will be raised with Minister of Finance. He knew that Nigerians were going to be beneficiaries of the bail out not governors. We believe without this mindset, it would have been difficult for us to govern,” Yari said.