Peterclaver Egbochue examines the measures undertaken by some of the state governors to ameliorate the plight of their workforce.
There is no doubt that the ‘wheel’ of civil service in some states where salaries are yet to be paid to the workforce has partially grounded to a halt. For any government to function effectively and deliver on its mandate, the wheel of its workforce must be oiled regularly.
According to the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) Task Force source, 18 states owe salaries or pensions of its workforce. They include, Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Benue, Cross River, Ekiti, Imo, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, and Kogi. Others are Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Plateau, Rivers and Zamfara states. It therefore follows that governance in the affected states are at a halt. The implication of this state of affairs especially for the first time governors is that the people will not feel their impact.
Perhaps, it is against this backdrop that Abia State Governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, his kaduna State counterpart, Malam Nasir Ahmed El-Rufai and Kano State governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, have each initiated measures to minimize wastages and check profligacy in government in their respective states. Specifically, Dr. Ikpeazu has slashed his salary by 50 per cent and the emoluments of political office holders under his purview, a development which has since attracted commendations from well-meaning stakeholders across the country.
He also announced a cut in his travelling allowances by 50 per cent until the backlog of salaries and allowances owed workers are cleared. Ikpeazu who disclosed this during the swearing- in of the state’s new Head of Service (HOS), Dr. Vivian Uma at Government House, Umuahia, also promised to do everything to ensure that salaries and allowances of workers in the state are systematically cleared.
He also called on other appointees to follow his example if they could, stressing that there was need to cut down on the cost of governance. He suggested the introduction of innovative ways of doing things especially in terms of enhancing the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of the state.
In a related development, Malam El-Rufai, had also urged all legislators in the State House of Assembly and other political office holders to emulate his recent decision and that of his Deputy Governor by slashing their salaries and other personal emoluments. The governor who made the plea to the lawmakers during his maiden official visit to the KSHA recently stressed that all hands must be on deck to return Kaduna State to the path of development and growth. El-Rufai lamented that hitherto, 80 per cent of the state resources was being spent on salaries and allowances of civil servants and political office holders, while 20 per cent was left for the state’s development.
His words, “Once done with paying salaries, allowances, overheads and pensions, the state is unable to do much by way of building infrastructure or providing services. The stark fact is that Kaduna State spends 80 per cent of its total revenues on its public servants and political office holders. “Can we as elected leaders deliver any significant service or implement progressive actions or attain desirable outcomes for the majority of our people if we devote only 20 per cent of available resources to their needs? “Would we not be undermining the very rationale of democracy if, after being elected by majority vote, we uphold a system that solely serves the pleasures of a servant-minority?
How many good roads or decent hospitals can we build and maintain when we leave so little monies for the things that actually matter? “The elections that have thrust the responsibility of governance on us reflect the yearning of our people for leaders that are competent, responsive and willing to offer dedicated service. As elected officials, we must view our massive mandates as instructions by our people for unrelenting work on their behalf. The change they voted for is for substantive improvements in the delivery of public goods, a new way of doing things and the prioritisation of their needs.
“As you are aware, the executive branch of this government has been taking briefings from the ministries, departments and agencies that constitute the public service of Kaduna State. The preliminary findings indicate that our Kaduna State is in dire financial straits, with its finances in shambles, saddled with huge debts and other liabilities, including pension arrears and pending obligations to contractors.”
On its part, Governor Ganduje of Kano state has also slashed the emoluments of political office holders under his purview by half, citing the prevailing economic situation in the country. Those who would be affected by Ganduje’s belt tightening measure are the Kano State Deputy Governor, Hafiz Abubakar, all 13 Commissioners, special advisers and several assistants. Earlier on, the governor had advised his colleagues on the need to cut cost of governance to enable them meet their responsibilities to the electorate. Ganduje who gave the advice recently in Yola while speaking with newsmen noted that the step was necessary in view of the dwindling revenue from the Federation Account.
“I think it is necessary that they (incoming governors) reposition, as business is no longer as usual with the present economic reality. “My advice to my colleagues is to block leakages for optimum utilisation of what is on ground. There must be some element of political and economic fasting; I think we should learn how to fast before the month of Ramadan,” Ganduje said.
He insisted that some states needed to cut the benefits of political office holders and enhance their Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) alongside other measures, to be able to pay salaries and meet their obligations. As expected the organized labour movement, which often bears the brunt of workers plight has commended the decision of El-Rufai and his deputy, Baba Barnabas Bantex to reduce their salaries and other benefits by 50 percent, and called on other public office holders, including President Muhammadu Buhari, to emulate the gesture.
Deputy-President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Issa Aremu, in a statement made available to newsmen said that all political office holders under the new regime should be able to make sacrifice, as part of the match towards reviving the nation’s comatose economy. According to him, “We are particularly encouraged by the determination and commitment of Governor El Rufai and his Deputy to lead by example by sacrificing 50 percent of their salaries and allowances until the fiscal situation of the state improves”.
However, he argued that “the crisis of compensation in Nigeria is made worse by the unacceptable gap between the prohibitive tax- free pay of legislators, Governors and political office holders on one hand and miserable pay of public civil servants”, pointing out that “Nigeria workers are among the least paid in the world based on either national currency or purchasing power parity, which adjusts the national currency wages for the differential cost of living of the relevant nations. “We therefore call on other political office holders at all levels to emulate Governor El Rufai and his deputy by offering leadership by sacrifices instead of giving excuses for non-payment of workers’ salaries.
Governor El Rufai and his deputy have shown that if there is the will there will be the ways to offer good governance,” he added. According to the NLC Task Force report, Adamawa, Anambra, Bayelsa, Borno, Delta, Edo, the FCT, Gombe, Kaduna, Kwara, Lagos, Nasarawa, Niger, Sokoto and Taraba states are not indebted to their workers. However, the report of the Task Force of the NLC further revealed that while some of the states had paid salaries of workers up to date, they owed arrears of pensions running into months. Take Abia for example.
The report states that it has not paid the salaries of workers at the State Teaching Hospital for nine months. The state is also said to owe workers of the Hospital Management Board eight months’ salary; Abia State Universal Basic Education Board, six months; Abia State Polytechnic, five months; local government workers, four months; and teachers, three months’ salary arrears. Enugu may have paid the salaries of civil servants till date, but parastatals are owed 12 months’ salaries and pension and gratuity payments haven’t been issued since 2010.
Osun, on the average, owes seven months’ in salary and pension payments; Plateau, six months in salaries and seven months in pension entitlements; Benue, five months of salaries and four months of pension benefits; Kogi, four months in arrears of pension and salary payments; and Oyo, which owes three months in salaries and between five and 11 months of pension payments. While Zamfara has paid workers’ salaries up to date, the salaries of workers recruited in 2014 have not been paid, Rivers State owes onemonth salary and three months worth of pension payments while Kano is yet to pay newly employed teachers for three months.
The report was silent on the status of Yobe and Ebonyi on the ground that “there was no information on them.” According to reports, this is not the first time states owe workers. In 2003, then Economic Adviser to President Olusegun Obasanjo, Prof. Charles Soludo, disclosed that most state governments had signed away their future statutory allocations to contractors whom they owe. Soludo explained that many states were bankrupt and could not fund developmental projects. He noted that most of these states go into further indebtedness through heavy borrowing and undertaking projects they had no financial capacity to carry.“The problem of states in the Federation is their total dependence on the Federal Government.
Their internal revenue drive and generation are so weak that no state can operate without federal allocation or grant in some cases,” he observed. It would be recalled that in April, the Forum of Finance Commissioners openly criticised state governors who owe workers’ salaries, saying that no governor had any excuse for owing their workers.
The immediate past Chairman of the forum and Commissioner for Finance of Ebonyi State, Barr Timothy Odaah, told newsmen at the end of the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) in April that those owing should have made payment of salaries a priority, rather than spending state funds on electioneering campaigns and should be held responsible by the workers and the public. Some state governors have been accused of squandering their resources on unprofitable ventures such as hiring and flying private jets and excessive political appointments. Such governors did not use the resources at their disposal to develop their states’ economy.
As a result they could not generate internal revenue to support the state. For instance, some of the governors embark on projects that have no viable economic value to the state. Governor Aregbesola, for instance, embarked on the construction of a national airport in Osun when there are airports in the neighbouring states. The governor was also accused of diverting the state resource into his second term project, which he achieved at the expense of the state’s workforce, a situation that has continued to elicit reactions. A group under the platform of ‘Osun Mandate Group’ has continued to challenge Aregbesola to use any means to pay civil servants who are being owed seven months salaries and allowances.
In a statement made available to newsmen in Osogbo on Tuesday by its Chairman, Bimbo Adunola, and the Secretary, Gbemi Olufiade, the group charged the governor to stop giving excuses and look for money by all means to pay the workers who he said had been subjected to serious economic hardship because of the unpaid salaries. The group said that the economy of the state, which depended on the money paid to workers had been paralysed because of the crisis and this, he said, had become a serious security concern.
The statement read, “Since Gen. Buhari, on whom many indebted states put their hope, has come clear that there would not be quick fixes for many challenges facing the country, including poor financial situation of many states, Governor Aregbesola must find any means to pay workers’ salaries.” They further asked Governor Aregbesola to come out and explain to the whole world the true position of the financial Status of the State and reason why the State government could not pay its workforce again after the State has collected her monthly allocation till the month of May, 2015.
On its part, the Centre for Human Rights and Social Justice (CHRSJ), has called on the governor to pay workers’ salaries to alleviate their plight. The Executive Chairman of (CHRSJ), Comrade Adeniyi, Alimi Sulaiman, condemned what he described as the nonchalant attitude of the governor to the State workforce, regretting that Aregbesola’s government has disappointed the people of the state, particularly, the State workforce given his second term campaign promises to the people of the state.
Describing Aregbesola’s administration as clueless and unfriendly to the state workforce, he insisted that the accumulated seven months unpaid workers’ salary in the state was as a result of Aregbesola’s mismanagement of the state resources to prosecute the August 9th, 2014 governorship election in the state. According to Sulaiman, “It is a pity that Aregbesola that promised to pay Osun State workers salary throughout the period of his administration without waiting for Federal Allocation cannot pay seven months’ salary of the workers in the first year of his second term in office.”
It would be recalled that governors on the All Progressives Congress (APC) platform brought the dingy economic situation in the country to the fore recently. At meeting in Abuja, Imo State Governor and Chairman of the Progressives Governors’ Forum (PGF), Rochas Okorocha, painted a picture of desperation in several states that have not been able to pay workers salaries. Okorocha, who led his colleagues to meet with Buhari in Abuja, informed reporters at the end of the meeting that the terrible state of the economy had put the payment of April salaries of workers in jeopardy. “One of the issues that became of concern to all of us is the state of the Nigerian economy which is really in a bad shape.
We have come to notify the president of the challenges ahead of him. As it stands today, most states of the federation have not been able to pay salaries and even the federal government has not paid April salaries and that is very worrisome, by May and June, the unpaid salaries will be in cumulative of three months,” he said.
On behalf of the state governors, Okorocha pleaded with the incoming administration to consider implementing measures that could bailout federal and state governments from the critical situation to at least, enable them meet their salary obligations to workers. “We wonder with the huge expectation from Nigerians and people who have voted us into power, we are hoping that the president will do all the things that are humanly possible to bring about a bailout not only for the states but the federal government, at least for people to get their salaries and turn around the economy,” he noted. With this grim picture, observers urge affected state governors to make personal sacrifices to demonstrate their support for the state workforce.