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Unpaid Salaries, Cost Of Governance And Ibrahim Shema

Posted: May 22, 2015 at 5:09 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Tayo Ogunbiyi


It is no longer news that the Nigerian economy is currently experiencing a downward trend. The current fall in global prices of crude oil, a major source of revenue for the country, has serious implications for the country’s economy. The Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, recently revealed that a 50 percent decline in oil revenue has led to severe cash crisis resulting in the federal government borrowing N473bn to meet up with recurrent expenditure, including salaries and overheads. As part of its response to the challenging economic situation in the country, the federal government came up with a series of austerity measures. To what extent the measures have been able to impact the economy remains to be seen.

As it would be expected, in most of the States, workers are threatening to go on strike in order to press home their demands for prompt payment of their wages. In Plateau State, for instance, irate workers recently refused State legislators access into the State assembly complex over salary issue. The National Vice President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Lucy Offing, while supporting the aggrieved Plateau State workers, also threatened to shut down the entire country if defaulting governors decline to pay their workers before May 29. In Benue, Kogi, Ebonyi and Osun States, among many others, government –labour relations have become quite volatile over same salary issue. The way things currently stand, the situation, if not properly handled, could become a major threat to democracy in the country. It could be a major distraction to the incoming Muhammadu Buhari administration. Labour unrest, if not quickly tamed, could worsen the declining economic fortune of the country.

The various State governments concerned in the current salary imbroglio need to handle the issue cautiously and tactfully. They need to look inward in order to boost their Internally Generated Revenue, IGR, base. The Lagos State experience has shown that with proper planning and visionary leadership a State can reduce her dependence on stipends from Abuja. Ideally payment of workers’ salaries ought to be treated as a priority. It becomes a serious moral issue when government couldn’t pay the wages of its workers over a long period of time. In an economy that is characterized by high level inflation where workers that receive their wages promptly still groan under severe financial pressure, the condition of those that are being owed months of salaries is better imagined.

While it is true that the national economy is experiencing a downward turn which has put the economy of many States in disarray with resultant implication on workers’ wages, it needs to be stressed that the huge cost of governance among all tiers of government in the country is partly responsible for the inability of many States to pay workers salaries. Except for Lagos and very few others, the budgets of most States and, indeed, the federal government, in the last sixteen years reflect excessive high rate of recurrent expenditure over capital outlay.

In most cases, it is so bad that the percentage earmarked for capital expenditure is less than 20%. With such trend, no meaningful development could take place.

The situation has been further compounded by what many have termed as the jumbo pays of elected political officials and other political office holders. It has been revealed that about 25 percent of federal government overheads are spent on allowances of lawmakers. Indeed, a recent data indicates that Nigerian lawmaker ranks among the highest paid in the world. A federal lawmaker, according to the data, receives about $2 million annually. With the current exchange rate, this translates to over N400 million annually. In a country where most States couldn’t pay the N18, 000 minimum wages, this is rather outrageous. In America, which is the model for our democracy, a Senator earns $174,000 annually.

Aside huge pay earned by lawmakers, there are other drain pipes in the system. One of such is the unnecessarily big cabinet that most State governments keep. This is equally true of the federal government where ‘senior’ and ‘junior’ ministers oversee ministries. The attendant financial strains of the ‘senior’ and ‘junior’ ministers’ syndrome on the economy cannot be over emphasised with each minister parading hordes of aides who in turn feed fat on the system.

Considering the parlous state of the economy and the prevailing poverty situation in the country, the incoming Muhammadu Buhari administration need to address the issue of high cost of governance. Democracy is about bringing development to a greater number of people. It ceases to be democracy when just a few individuals or groups corner the commonwealth while the rest of the society suffers in dismal poverty.  In 1978, when Deng Xiaoping took over the rein of government in China, he was faced with similar challenge of huge cost of governance and profligacy. But, with the good of the general public uppermost in his heart, Xiaoping cut down all sources of waste in the system and laid a solid foundation for the economic restoration of China. Today, the Chinese economy is enjoying a new lease of life. This is what Nigerians expect from the incoming Muhammadu Buhari administration; a change that will radically alter the old ways of doing things so that new results could be gotten.

Meanwhile, some of the governors whose States currently owe workers salaries need to take a cue from Ibrahim Shema, the Governor of Katsina State. Shema has been described as a “stingy governor,” for his prudent style of managing the State’s economy. Despite, the lean resources of Katsina State, it is on record that Shema remains one of the few governors, like Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State, who does not owe workers’ salaries. Additionally, Shema is one of the few governors who will be leaving the office with no debt behind. The Shema’s template has become an eye opener that the poor state of the country’s economy is not enough justification for States to owe workers months of unpaid salaries. It has equally shown that it is not a sufficient excuse to plunge a State into needless debt crisis. God bless Nigeria.

•Ogunbiyi wrote in from Alausa, Ikeja