Tracking down Mr. Obinna Oriaku, Abia State Commissioner for Finance is a tough job. He is an extremely busy man. I have made numerous attempts but he is always busy. If he is not in a meeting with banks, he is busy with the Governor or with Directors in his ministry. If he is not meeting with Directors of Finance in the various ministries, he is outside the state on official function. 

But I was determined to see him. So, I devised a new strategy. I traced him to his quarters in the night. He had just returned from work and was obviously very tired but I insisted I must see him. I was keen to hear from him. I wanted to explain to the people what was happening. That's my job. As tired as he was, he obliged me. We are old friends. That helped. 

I had one question for him. 

What is happening with salaries in Abia State? 

I wanted to hear from because he is directly in charge and should have the details. I have been sincerely disturbed about the salary situation which appears to have become the biggest challenge facing the Ikpeazu administration. 
No one talks about about roads again. No one can deny the commitment of Governor Ikpeazu in this area. 

And so he spoke to me. He had his facts ...and figures. 

When the Ikpeazu administration came on board, what we saw was the absence of a Central Payroll system. Ministries, Departments and Agencies operated in silos.

What do you mean by silos? I asked him. 

Each ministry operated a different payroll system with payroll officers fully in charge at different MDAs. There was no harmonized central system of salary payment in the state. You could not at any point know the wage bill of the state in any particular document. You needed to wait for the respective payroll officers in different ministries to send in their figures. 
This gave the payroll officers huge leverage to manipulate the system and the result of complete chaos leading to unprecedented salary padding, lack of a unified salary structure and an explosion of ghost workers. 

You will find someone in say, the Ministry of Agriculture on Salary Grade Level 10 earning a higher salary than his colleague in the Sports Ministry on the same grade level. The different payroll officers manipulated the system so badly that your salary progression depended largely on their whims and caprices. 
As at June 2015, we paid a total salary of 3 billion Naira. We knew this was not only criminal but unsustainable. 

The first thing we did was to relieve these payroll officers of that assignment and centralized the salary system in the state. We have worked very hard to clean up the system and as at today, our total wage bill is around 2.2 Billion. It should have been 2 Billion if not for the over 2000 workers across the state who were promoted in the last one month. 
What this means is that we have successfully saved over this period, about One Billion Naira per month. These are funds which would have gone into private pockets unjustly. 

One more thing and this is very important. From available records,  this situation has gone on since the creation of the state. It is not peculiar to the last administration. This is actually the first time this kind of check and clean up is being carried out by any government. 

We conducted biometrics in the work force. We wanted to know exactly how many workers we have and how many are entitled to receive salaries. The report is almost ready but reliable reports from field operations show the following - 

Out of a total of 22,103 workers, 18,971 workers showed up for the exercise. They are the ones we refer to as active employees. 
3,132 are branded INACTIVE EMPLOYEES. They didn't come for the exercise. We don't want to brand them ghost workers yet until the official report of the biometrics is submitted to government. 
529 people who, from official records, should have retired some years ago, remain at work and drawing salaries every month. 
We also discovered that hundreds of workers who took study leave without pay, somehow end up getting paid over the years. 

The Governor has empaneled a high powered committee headed by a retired Permanent Secretary to investigate these cases and report back to government for necessary action. 

The truth is that no month has passed since we came on board without some money being released for salaries. The challenge there is that owing to the very drastic fall in revenues, what is available for salaries each month is not enough to go round. So from what is released per month, it is apportioned. Some get, some don't. 
At a point, we were getting allocations of 1.7 billion for the state and 1.2 billion for local governments in a month against a salary bill of 2.2 billion for the state and 1.6 billion for local governments. 
Remember too that in a state with a population of more than four million people, if you spend the entire resources available to the state in paying salaries of workers whose number even when it was over bloated is not up to 35,000, what happens to the other segments of the population? They are Abians too and are entitled to some attention from government. We need to build roads, run the government, support security agencies, fund environmental sanitation, fix other infrastructure. We need to fix our hospitals, renovate our schools, give subventions to parastatals, etc. 
Considering the state of roads across the state when we came, people will stone us if we keep telling them that we spend all our money to pay salaries. So there was need for some balance. 
This is why we keep having gaps in salaries. 

According to the Commissioner, as at today, workers in the Ministries, Departments and Agencies in Abia State are owed only one month salary. 
These workers represent about 80% of the entire Abia workforce. 
Local government workers are owed between two and three months maximum. 

The gist all over the place that Abia workers are owed for six months and above are political gimmicks and an unfortunate generalization. 

What of teachers? I asked him. What of ABIA POLY, ABSUTH, etc? 

Ok..time to drink water again and take my snuff. 

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