From PETRUS OBI, Enugu
According to the governor, “no girl is nursing a baby for me.”
Chime spoke on this as well as the contentious minimum wage issue, among other things, in a chat with newsmen in Enugu.
Well, you can see I am here; you did not even finish the story; that was not the only thing they wrote. They wrote about the non-existing female Permanent Secretary living behind the Government House. I have tried to find out if there is anybody that fits into that description; no such human being exists. But they have written about it. They wrote how I was beaten up mercilessly. When you hear such stories, you don’t even come here to ask me questions; you go and verify.
The young lady they talked about, if you are interested to know, I am sure you will be seeing her around. I can tell you sitting down here that she is one of the most decent human beings I have ever seen. Why they chose to rubbish her, I do not know; if they had written about, maybe, some other people, it will make sense, but not that particular girl. I am not talking about myself; they can write anything about me; after all, you were there when I came to seek your support to be the governor. So, everything is not siren; they can say all sorts of things about me. But the truth is that no such thing happened; nothing resembling it happened; nobody had any baby boy for me. As a matter of fact, the young girl being talked about is getting married this December; she is getting married to an Onitsha man and was actually staying with the young man when they alleged she was in my home in the village nursing a baby boy for me. So, it is all nonsense.
I also learnt that I bought Piccanto cars for all the girls in Enugu; I don’t see Piccanto in Enugu; the car is not popular in Enugu; and they have not been able to point at least one such beneficiary; I will like to know them. You stay in Enugu and hear such stories; the first thing you should do is to look around; you look for the Piccantos, know if they exist. Some even said it is Piccanto Jeep. I don’t know of any car like that. They are just writing all sorts of nonsense; taking advantage of the Internet to publish nonsense.
It’s unfortunately and regrettably that some local magazines have published those articles. My lawyers are at work on those ones we can reach. You can write anything on the Internet. You are on your own. That is the price we pay for occupying such offices; so whenever you see me, try and make me happy because so many things make us unhappy.
First, on the observation that some workers have not been fully paid for September, I don’t know if you also investigated to see if the workers worked fully for September. No responsible government will pay you for work not done; no responsible government, nowhere in the world will do that. In Enugu State, the labour leaders and their workers called for strike for no reason; they were alleging non-payment of minimum wage and we paid minimum wage, not minding that they were even on strike at the time. We used the skeletal services we had at the time and made sure we paid on the 25th of the month, as usual. It’s on record that throughout the South East, and I make bold to say, apart from a few who had been paying that before, maybe throughout the country, Enugu State was the only state that paid minimum wage, as agreed in August; we are not talking for August; we paid for August in August. We did not just stop there; we also agreed with labour that we will have up to October to pay the arrears; but because of what you may call windfall, we felt we had enough to pay the arrears and we felt there was no need waiting for October to pay the arrears. We paid all the arrears in August. What we got in return was for the national leadership of NLC, TUC and whatever names they answer, to come here and take our workers for a ride. Meanwhile, these people come from states that have not paid the minimum wage and they all came here and the workers were hailing them.
So, the workers went on strike for no reason. Thank God they have seen reason to go back. They wasted September; the earnings we ought to have made in September, we did not make; so we had no money to pay them. You work and you get paid; so no sentiments about it and we made it clear before they embarked on the strike; so it did not come to them as a shock. We had precedence. We begged them not to go on strike; we warned them of the likely consequences, but they chose to go on strike. So, if tomorrow the labour leaders ask workers to go on strike, I expect the workers to ask a question, like, why are we going on strike? They have wasted one month; nothing has come out of it. Now, they have gone back to work; if they like, let them continue with their strike. It is the press that encourage them; when they do something you hail them; when they came here we try to prevent them from holding a rally because, one, it’s illegal; secondly, as the chief security officer, I think I have the right and the powers to stop rallies or even any gathering that will cause any kind of breach of the peace. So, we tried to do that; unfortunately they saw themselves as heroes; some television stations were showing how they were being held hostage; so they had their way, they went to address whoever they wanted to address and they went on strike.
When they sneaked out of town, we did not know, until after causing the trouble. So, it is quite unfortunate; you and I must come together to make this country what we desire it should be. Labour, unfortunately, most regrettably went on strike in Enugu for no reason and thank God they have found reason to go back. I hope they continue to work and see Enugu as their state.
You were said not to be interested in paying the minimum wage, but you just said you paid…
The minimum wage Act is straightforward; you don’t need to be a lawyer to understand it. It’s a very short law, you go and read it, and we have implemented what the law says. You ask us to increase using the same percentage for every other person’s salary; the least paid worker in the state before earned about N8, 500; now he or she earns N18, 500; that’s over 100% increase; and you want us to increase every other person’s wage, maybe including mine; we cannot afford it and no state can, not even the Federal Government. So, the minimum wage Act has fully been complied with; I am a lawyer. I can’t do anything that is illegal, I assure you.
We have always complained openly, not just myself as a governor but also my colleagues in the South East. We’ve complained; we’ve complained; we’ve complained. The ones we can do, we are doing with our state funds, with hope that we will get a refund. We’ve done a lot of federal roads, to make sure that our people at least move. We made attempts to see if they can give us concessions to build those big roads and then we will be paid later, but it didn’t work; so what do you do? We have limited resources and we can’t take over those roads, unless you want to waste your money there. So, it’s unfortunate but we are not relenting; we are still talking to the authorities and we hope they will improve on it. The Enugu/Onitsha road is very sad because as they are working, it’s failing and they want to repair it; they just built on the nonsense already built, instead of scrapping the whole thing; so it’s quite sad.
I want to start by reminding us that immediately I took over for the second term and in forming my cabinet, we established a full-fledged ministry of housing, to show how seriously we are taking the issue of housing. It’s no longer housed by the ministry of land; so we are taking housing very seriously; we are currently in the process of acquiring lands for the purposes of building new estates. The Maryland Estate, I don’t know if you have been there; we have been working round the clock to make sure that place is fully developed. From one uncompleted building we met in 2007, about five have been completed and each has about 36 flats; so we are building; I think there are nine of them and in no time we should be able to complete the remaining four; so we are working.
The housing corporation is also acquiring land, while the ministry of land is making land available to the ministry of housing; so we are taking it seriously. We certainly envisaged the influx of people, not because of Boko Haram, but we knew, from the outset, that making Enugu habitable would attract our brothers and sisters; they will want to comeback and stay here.
We are taking the issue of security very seriously. This is the ember period and people want to make more money to enjoy Christmas, but I can assure you that no stone is being left unturned; we are doing everything possible and God willing and in no time, we shall be able to restore that peace that Enugu is known for. So, I am assuring you that we will have a very peaceful Christmas.
The process that produced our chairmanship candidates was transparent; it was so transparent, to the extent that we didn’t shut out anybody; it was openly done. I personally went to vote for my own candidate. It happened in all the local government areas. There had to be a repeat in the few local government areas we received complaints from. So, these things were done openly. I don’t see what can be more transparent than that. It is not me sitting here in the Government House and telling you that I did not handpick anybody or whatever, but the process was so transparent; we held consultations; we met ourselves; some people, on their own, withdrew from the race; others fought till the end, until they lost. I mean this is democracy; it happens everywhere in the world; it’s democracy; no single candidate was handpicked and if handpicked, I will like to know who handpicked them and these things are very verifiable. It is a bit sad that people you stay with hear story about you and they believe what they hear from outside, rather than what they observe. So, no candidate, chairmanship or councillorship, was handpicked by anyone.
This is very strange, in the sense that if you look at the age bracket of the victims, it’s quite strange. The culprits, to me, should be examined. I don’t think they are well; they should be sick upstairs. It’s not normal; why should teenagers go after 60 to 80-year-old women, except of course we are told that all the young girls have fled the community? If not, you can’t explain this. But we can assure you that government is not taking the issue of rape kindly. Of course, you know the punishment for rape; anybody caught will seriously be dealt with. It’s a life jail offence; so if an 18-year-old boy wants to go to jail for life, for playing with an 80-year-old woman, so be it. It’s unfortunate.