Top civil servants working at the State House, Aso Rock, Abuja had a bleak yuletide with members of their families, as they spent Christmas and the New Year without the payment of their December salary.
One of the affected staff who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES on Wednesday said this was the first time in several years that any administration in the country would fail to pay the staff working directly under the President their salary before Christmas and the New Year.
The staff, who pleaded that his identity be protected for fear of being victimised by the authorities, said in the past, workers in the Villa were not only sure of their salary, but also other goodies as well, especially from the President.
Another source said the workers were not surprised that they had to go without their normal pay this time, as it was widely speculated there was no money to meet such obligations, with the Presidency budget overspent.
The source also said that no one has been able tell the workers when they would be paid their salaries, as there has not been any official communication to explain why they have not been paid.
Another staff also informed our reporter that the hopes of the workers were raised on Christmas Eve when the Accounts Department issued payment slips for their December pay.
Those hopes were dashed when the affected workers went to their banks to discover that their various accounts were not credited, while others waited in vain for the alerts from their banks, a familiar development usually after the receipt of their pay slips.
"We thought that since we had a bad Christmas we would at least celebrate the New Year well, but again we were disappointed," said the obviously distraught official.
The staff, who said he was not surprised at the latest development, said having worked all his life in the Presidency and seen what usually happens during most yuletide seasons, never has the villa been so broke that there was no money to pay December salaries to workers.
The situation also affected other categories of workers in the civil service, as the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria, ASCSN, on Monday threatened industrial action if their December salaries and outstanding emoluments since July 2013 were not paid. The association alleged that thousands of federal civil servants were denied the joy of yuletide, as they were yet to receive their December 2013 salaries.
The association said the inability of the government to meet its obligation to the workers at such a period had confirmed fears that the managers of the public sector economy were not only insensitive, but also "grossly incompetent and rabidly corrupt".
The association's secretary, Alade Lawal, who signed the statement, demanded an explanation from the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on why the federal government has not been able to pay salaries to its workers in recent times.
Claiming that the Nigerian workers were the least paid in Sub-Saharan Africa, Mr. Lawal said it was disheartening that even with that the workers were no longer getting their pay as and when due.
"We wish to emphasise that if federal civil servants are not paid their December 2013 salary and arrears outstanding since July 2013 immediately, the entire Federal Civil Service will be shut down shortly," Mr. Lawal said.
"We have never had a situation in this country where the federal government cannot pay the salary of civil servants particularly during festive periods. This development is very unfortunate and is making Nigeria a laughing stock before the international community," he noted.
In her reaction, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, said through her Special Adviser on media, Paul Nwabuikwu, that prompt payment of salary has remained one of the top priorities of government.
The Minister, who said the reason government was unable to pay some workers' salaries was communicated to all relevant agencies, restated the commitment of her Ministry not to compromise the prompt payment of workers' salary.
She denied that government owed the workers any entitlements and said 98 per cent of federal workers had received their December salary.
"The salaries of a small proportion of civil servants have been delayed because their MDAs are yet to update their bank accounts with the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation," Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala's spokesperson said.
"The accepted account number is the 10-digit NUBAN number specified by the Central Bank of Nigeria. There are also a few other issues which are now being resolved as quickly as possible.
"All unpaid salaries are intact so the claim by those who issued the statement that salary delay is a proof that the country is broke, which parrots partisan political claims, is ridiculous and groundless."