Drama as NASS staff protest unpaid salary arrears



Members of the National Assembly Legislative Aides Forum (NASSLAF) Tuesday staged a protest rally over alleged unpaid salary arrears.

 They accused the Clerk to the National Assembly, Arc Olatunde Ojo, of failure to pay their salary arrears dating back to 2019, implement Consolidated Legislative Salary Structure (CONLESS), minimum wage, duty tour allowances (DTA), lack of training and conditions of service.

 There was however drama when they sighted Speaker House of Representatives Femi Gbajabimila, who was on his way to the chamber. 

 The protesters had relocated to the back entrance in the foyer of the National Assembly when they noticed the arrival of the Speaker and started chanting solidarity songs.

Upon sighting the protesters, Speaker Gbajabiamila stopped and demanded to hear from their leaders.

Reeling out their grouse, leader of the group, Mr. Zebis Prince, representing the South-south geopolitical zone of the group, told the Speaker that the aides wanted the CNA to meet their demands.

 Some of the demands, according to Prince, included non-payment of the routine DTA, lack of training, non-implementation of National Minimum Wage and the CONLESS.

 The group said: “Since the inauguration of this 9th Assembly, salary arrears of some Legislative Aides were withheld by the management. 

“That issue was a subject of a motion moved on the floor by Hon. Bamidele Salam. The matter was referred to House Services Committee headed by Hon. Wale Raji with the mandate to, amongst other things, ‘investigate the irregularities in the payment of Legislative Aides salaries’. 

“After much denial, the CNA insisted on either the House report or a written authorisation from the Chairman of the National Assembly Service Commission before he would pay the arrears that had been outstanding since June, 2019. 

“Fortunately, that report was laid, debated and adopted on 17th March, 2021. The House Resolution expressly directed the Chairman of the Commission to mandate the CNA to pay aides, their arrears.

 “Specifically, we are disturbed that despite an express Legislative resolution mandating the CNA to ensure the payment of this long overdue entitlement, three weeks after, the Chief Accounting Officer of the National Assembly has chosen to hold Honourable members and by extension the whole institution to ransom. 

 “The continued refusal of the CNA to pay about 2,500 aides their 2019 salary arrears has created a sharp division between aides on one hand and the management on the other. 

 “As you may be aware, in December, 2020 aides under the auspices of ‘Salaries Arrears Affected Legislative Aides’ had through a letter dated 13th December, 2020 notified the Commission, the Senate President, the Speaker, Sergeant-at-Arms, DSS (Department of State Services) and the National Assembly, DPO (Divisional Police Officer) of their intention to commence series of actions to drive home their demands for the payment of their salary arrears. 

 “The protest was however suspended after the NASS Director of DSS prevailed on them to stay action. The director had assured the aggrieved aides that the money would be paid on or before 21st December, 2020. 

 “The CNA as usual failed to keep to his words. On account of this breach, we have set machinery in motion to bring our plight to the attention of all relevant stakeholders and agencies. 

“We would like to use this opportunity to express our great displeasure at the miserable and inhuman working conditions of aides in the National Assembly. 

“The disdain, disregard and discrimination meted to aides need to be looked at. Some of these capricious acts include non-payment of the routine Duty Tour Allowance (DTA), lack of training, non-implementation of National Minimum Wage and the Consolidated Legislative Aides Salary Structure (CONLESS); benefits that are already being enjoyed by other workers in federal establishment. 

“We are wondering why the money is being withheld by the CNA even after management had long admitted that the funds were available. 

 “Let it be on record that having exhausted our patience and internal dispute resolution mechanism, we have resolved to pursue our grievances using all legitimate tools at our disposal. 

 “Apart from this sensitisation campaign, we also intend to embark on sustained social media campaign, petition relevant agencies and NGOs to look particularly into Legislative Aides account and how it is being administered. 

 “As a last resort, we may approach the National Industrial Court not necessarily on the vexed arrears alone but on other entitlements that have been denied us. 

 “We have been pushed to the wall but we have the resolve, resources and documents to pursue these matters to a logical conclusion. We will continue our sensitisation rally for as long as it takes.”

 NASSLAF Chairman Salisu Zuru later presented the written demands to the speaker.

Gbajabiamila pleads

Receiving the document from the group, Speaker Gbajabimila promised that the leadership of the National Assembly said it is “inexcusable” not to pay workers arrears dating back to 2019.

He said: “I believe that every labourer should be paid his wages. We are looking into it. While these things can be protracted, not paying wages of 2019 is inexcusable. 

“We will look into it. I will just ask that you be patient. We plead for your understanding. We know there are financial constraints but one thing I know is this will be resolved amicably and your arrears will be paid. 

 “We appreciate you for bringing these demands to our attention and we will attend to it accordingly.”