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Salary Crisis: Putting An End To Governors’ Profligacy

The financial crisis rocking the states is an extension of our ugly national life, and the governors cannot exonerate themselves from it, no matter how clever they may sound in their arguments

The show of shame playing out among the Nigerian state governors who have been dramatizing the financial constraints that have lingered for a long time now is highly condemnable.

It is saddening that over twenty states are in arrears of workers’ salaries, unpaid for upwards of ten months running. This untoward development which is not occurring for the first time is an indication of how bad our culture of management of national resources has been over time.

Since the return to democracy in 1999, the three tiers of government have not shown sufficient evidence of approaching the issue of public financial management with the seriousness it deserves. It is in the public domain that all the three arms of government are riddled with astonishing levels of impunity and financial recklessness that characterize what has become our adoption of corruption as a way of life.

The Legislature, Executive and Judiciary have each contributed to our national woes while we heap all the blames on “Government” as if government is an amorphous entity with no individual involved. The financial crisis rocking the states is an extension of our ugly national life, and the governors cannot exonerate themselves from it, no matter how clever they may sound in their arguments. The explanation being brandied by their colleagues who serve as spokesmen for these state chief executives has not been impressive.

Rather, it demonstrates how insensitive, carefree and incurably unprincipled the governors are; and it did not start today. It will be recalled that we still have a crop of ‘first generation’ governors who ruled their states between 1999 and 2007 being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for looting the treasuries of their states.

They embarked on white elephant projects and engaged in alleged merciless money-laundry and other financial misbehaviour that laid the foundation of the financial trouble the states are suffering today. The governors indulged in unpardonable levels of profligacy.

While we do not in any way absolve the federal government in the lingering habit of mismanagement of public resources, the attitude of most state governors shows that they do not consider the payment of workers’ salary as a matter that should be accorded the priority it demands.

We hold this view because of the antecedents of the governors in the way they engage in the management of state and local government funds. It is on record that in 2003 the then Economic Adviser to President Olusegun Obasanjo, Professor Charles Soludo, warned that the way most governments were running their states showed they had signed away their future statutory allocations to contractors whom they owed.

Soludo had observed that many states were technically bankrupt as a result of huge deductions made from their allocations to pay their creditor-contractors. According to Soludo, after such deductions from allocation to the states, they are left with little or nothing to operate with. As a result, most of the states are not able to perform their statutory obligations. “Instead of telling the people the simple truth,they keep complaining of lack of funds,” Soludo submitted.

It was further observed that most of these states go into further indebtedness through heavy borrowing and undertaking projects they have no financial capacity to carry through. Earlier this year, the chairman of the Forum of Finance Commissioners, the Ebonyi State Finance Commissioner Timothy Odaad revealed that those owing had not made payment of salaries a priority; rather they spent state funds on electioneering campaigns and should be held responsible by the workers and the public.

Director-General, Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) Mr. Mounir Gwarzo has also condemned the high indebtedness of some governments, which he said did not measure up with infrastructural development in their states, just as the agony of unpaid salaries haunt most of them. Gwarzo who described the indebtedness as a bad omen noted that the phenomenon was more worrisome as there are no infrastructure in place to underpin their debts.

This level of financial recklessness was also stressed by former EFCC Chairman, Farida Waziri, who was consistent in her condemnation of the governors for their reckless management of the funds meant for the development of their states. Waziri once stated that as soon as the governors received their share of the monthly allocation from the Federation Account, they embarked on needles overseas tours by which they engage in mindless laundering of their state funds.

The state governors were also accused of being responsible for the pressure on the Naira as they besiege the foreign exchange market, both the official and parallel windows, to change their allocations to foreign currencies to facilitate their looting spree. We have no reason to believe that this practice has changed, or that the governors have become less insensitive, irresponsible and greedy, which is why they now brandish empty treasuries with various unconvincing excuses. We commend President Muhammadu Buhari for not considering any “bail-out” option for the reckless governors.

We also commend his remarks that those governors claiming refund of expenses they made in fixing federal infrastructure in their states must wait for due process to be taken in determining the veracity of their claims. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) both at national and state levels must be outspoken enough in demanding accountability from the governors. The people and their traditional rulers must change their docile attitude.

They must confront their governors and use the media effectively to expose those who are corrupt. They should also approach the Judiciary and the anti-graft agencies with concrete evidence that would nail the corrupt governors. President Buhari in his inaugural speech announced that his administration would not tolerate the stinking corruption in the states and local governments. This is the time to demonstrate that he meant what he said.

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