24 July 2014

Nigeria: Drama As Ministry Staff Block Okonjo-Iweala Over Benefits

The staff of the Ministry of Finance staged a protest barred yesterday from entering the premises of the ministry by protesting workers demanding for improvements in their benefits.

The workers of the ministry were joined by their colleagues from the budget office of the federation, an affiliate of the ministry, to protest what they described as their poor welfare conditions.

The protest, which started gathering momentum about 10:00 am when the minister was away attending the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, saw staffers leaving their duty posts and going to the protest venue.

They barricaded the gate of the ministry, preventing visitors from going in or out of the premises for the period of about five hours that the protest lasted.

The protest was, however, devoid of carrying of placards on which the demands of protesters or their grievances were normally listed.

None of the leaders of the protest was willing to speak with the media or agreed to state in concrete terms, the basis for the protest.

The only reason they kept singing was that staff welfare has been relegated to the background by authorities of the ministry.

Some of the staffers who spoke to our reporter on the condition of anonymity accused the Permanent Secretary Mrs Anastasia Nwoabia of denying them their benefits.

They said: "We have been experiencing difficulties in getting some of our allowances, such as overtime and training allowances and even benefit that should be given to us during festive periods."

When the Finance Minister Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala returned from the FEC meeting, however, the protesters started cheering and chanting at her: "Mama oyoyo," forcing her to alight from the car and dance with them before heading to the ministry's auditorium for a meeting.

Speaking to the press later, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala said: "This is a family matter and we will resolve it internally"

The meeting between the protesters and the minister was still ongoing as at the time of this report while the ministry's doors were opened for normal activities to thrive. In a statement from the Spokesman of the minister, Mr Paul Nwabuikwu said the staff union embarked on a protest against the Permanent Secretary, Mrs Anastasia Daniel-Nwaobia on issues bordering on their welfare, training and related issues.

The finance Minister at the meeting gave an update on challenges in the environment including revenue shortfalls which have made prudence in the management of government business critical if priorities are to be met.

She explained that resources are front loaded to security and other key priorities and there is therefore need to manage the implications of doing so.

Responding to complaints by staff about challenges in their working environment such as breakdown of the lift and ACs, bad smells caused by structural problems in the building and so on, CME asked the Permanent Secretary to submit a report on progress in dealing with these issues in 2 weeks.

On scarcity of working materials, CME, while acknowledging that staff should and must get the requisite equipment and materials they need to do their jobs stressed that waste and hoarding of stationery, toners, printers must be discouraged. She instructed that the materials be made available but there should be clear and necessary controls applied.

On training which was a particularly contentious issue, the minister declared that there should be no favouritism and that equity must guide decision making in this area.

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