Ever since I can remember, one common phrase that I have heard so frequently in our country is that “Nigeria is a rich country that can provide for everybody”. The assumption from that belief is that with petrodollars, our country can meet the needs of all citizens in education (which has to be free from primary to university); healthcare delivery (also to be free) and other essentials of life. It is the same kind of thinking that informed the idea of subsidy in the downstream sector of the petroleum industry that is now another byword for waste and corruption.
Even when representation and taxation are supposed to go together, in Nigeria, we have virtually turned government to one big Father Christmas that makes little or no demand of citizens yet provides everything for them. That perhaps explains why at every season those in authorities keep putting thousands of people on the payroll, at practically all levels, even when there may be no real job for them to do.
Having squandered all the opportunities to move in a direction that could have ensured national prosperity, as many countries in similar circumstance with us several decades ago have successfully done, it is no surprise that Nigeria has today ended in a big hole. Yet, while conventional wisdom teaches that when you are in such difficult situation you stop digging, it would seem that many of those in authorities actually believe that the solution to our problem lies in digging ourselves out of the hole. It never works that way.
Although he may be writing about a different people, American writer, Matt Taibbi, not too long ago made a point that indeed applies to the Nigerian condition today. He wrote: “Here’s what this game comes down to. Politicians run for office, promising to deliver law and order, safe and clean streets, and good schools. Then they get elected, and instead of paying for the cops, garbagemen, teachers and firefighters they only just 10 minutes ago promised voters, they intercept taxpayer money allocated for those workers and blow it on other stuff. It’s the governmental equivalent of stealing from your kids’ college fund to buy lap dances.”
Instructively, in Nigeria, what public officials intercept is not tax payer’s money but rather the allocations from oil rent that are usually shared every month in Abuja by the three tiers of government. While nobody should require any expert to tell him/her that the possibility of financial distress increases when a state depends on rent, whenever Nigerian politicians, at all levels, aspire for public offices, they would promise Eldorado that they are well aware would never be delivered. And to the extent that the people also do not demand any accountability of them, many of our public officials, including those who charter private jets all over the place, believe they can do whatever they want.
Today, the tragedy of the Nigerian situation is reflected in the drama of non-payment of salaries for workers in the civil service of many states with Osun leading the pack. Workers in the state have gone without salaries for eight months! Now there are reports of religious and charity organizations donating foodstuff and other items in a manner that suggests that we are dealing with some destitute and not about 30,000 workers who are performing legitimate duties for which they should be paid. But Mr. Rauf Aregbesola is not the only Governor owing, he just happens to be the only one who is honest enough to admit it publicly. In fact, the situation is worse in some other states given the statistics contained in a recent document I obtained from the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) office in Abuja.
In Abia, the State Teaching hospital workers have not been paid for nine months; the Hospital Management workers are owed for eight months; Abia State Universal Basic Education workers, six months; Abia Local governments, owed four months while teachers in the state have not been paid for three months. In Akwa Ibom State where the immediate past Governor, Senator Godswill Akpabio had, through the State House of Assembly, legislated for himself some hefty perks from the state coffers, workers in Akwa Ibom have not been paid for April and May. Bauchi State workers are also being also owed two-month salaries.
In Benue, workers have not been paid since January while the state is also in default in pension arrears to the tune of four months. In the same state, teachers were paid only half-salaries for five months. Workers in Cross River State are also being owed salaries for two months. In Ekiti State, workers have not been paid for three months. In Enugu, whereas workers in the core civil service are owed only the salary for the month of May, those working for parastatals have not been paid for the last 12 months. Pension and gratuity have also not been paid in the state in the last five years.
In Imo State, core civil servants are owed only for the month of May but the state is in default for 14 months on pension payment and four years for gratuity. Whereas workers in Kano State are not owed, the newly recruited teachers are yet to receive any salaries three months after employment. Katsina State workers are also being owed one month salary while gratuities have not been paid.
The case of Kebbi State is peculiar as the Minimum Wage is not implemented with some workers earning as low as N7,000 per month. Kwara, Ondo and Ogun States have not paid their workers for the month of May but notably, in the case of Ogun, pension deductions in the last 52 months have not been remitted to the Pension Fund Administrator (PFA).
In Oyo State, workers have not been paid for three months while the pension arrears owed is between five to 11 months. Plateau State workers are owed salaries for six months and pension arrears for seven months. Workers in Rivers State are owed one-month salary and pension arrears for three months. While Zamfara State owes workers one month salary, some 1400 workers employed last year have not collected any salary. Meanwhile, the states that are up to date in the payment of workers are: Adamawa, Anambra, Bayelsa, Borno, Delta, Edo, Gombe, Kaduna, Lagos, Nasarawa, Niger and Taraba. States on which information could not be obtained are: Yobe, Sokoto and Ebonyi.
In explaining his dilemma, Aregbesola said he was deeply pained and unhappy that he had not been able to pay workers salaries in Osun State for eight months. “I have found it hard to pay the wage bills owing to the declining federal allocation to the state. Federal allocation to the state has reduced by 40 per cent since 2013, making it difficult for government to meet up its responsibilities,” he said. The governor added that the government went ahead to accumulate debts in his bid to pay salaries and now the banks are no longer extending to him such facilities.
In a country where majority of the civil servants have no savings andpractically live from hand to mouth, one can only imagine what many families are going through in some of these states. Even in advanced countries, default on payment of workers is usually a problem. For instance, a recent survey in Canada conducted by the Canadian Payroll Association revealed that more than half of employees (51 percent) report that it would be difficult to meet their financial obligations if their pay cheque was delayed by a single week while 63 percent of those aged 18-29, say they are living pay cheque to pay cheque. And we are talking about a country where there is an annual payment of $860 billion in wages and taxable benefits, $268 billion in statutory remittances to the federal and provincial governments, and $94 billion in health and retirement benefits.
Yesterday, I had an interesting conversation with Governor Adams Oshimhole of Edo State on the issue. A former NLC President, Oshiomhole said there are key principles that a governor must understand. Number one, according to him, “don’t bite more than you can chew and don’t chew what you cannot swallow”. I will expand on this thesis another day because he explained it. Number two, a governor must pay attention to both cost and revenues. Number three, it should always be recognized that the whole idea of civil service or public service is about service. Number four, a governor must always set priorities. Number five, no leader should base his/her plan entirely on resources (like rent from oil) over which he/she has no control.
My take-away from the interactions with Oshiomhole is that we need a national conversation on the structure of our federalism, the essence of public/civil service and the role of a thinking leadership. But the key issue is that no serious society runs government based on some allocations shared among the constituent units every month. Yet when you look at the internally generated revenues, it is obvious that some states virtually depend on their share of oil rent to stay afloat.
Last November, the National Bureau of Statistics released some figures of the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of 14 states for the 2013 fiscal period. According to the bureau, Lagos State recorded the highest IGR of N384.25bn which gives the state an average of more than N30 billion per month and represents about 65.07 per cent of the total IGR generated by the entire 14 states surveyed.
The NBS report added that while the figures for the other states were still expected, Rivers state, with a total IGR of N87.91 billion followed on the revenue chart. Others are Akwa Ibom with N15.39 billion; Anambra N8.73 billion; Bayelsa, N10.5 billion; Edo, N18.9 billion; Enugu, N20.20 billion; Katsina N6.85 billion and Kogi N5.02 billion. The rest are Kwara, N13.83 billion; Niger, N4.1 billion; Plateau N8.48 billion; Taraba N3.34, billion and Zamfara, N3.04 billion.
From the foregoing, it is very clear that there are critical issues we have to address as a nation if we must redirect the course of our country. But in a milieu where some political fat cats are collecting billions of Naira as wardrobe allowances, when idle public officials are never owed even for one month despite their hefty remunerations, how can anybody tell workers, most of who earn pittances, to continue to go hungry with their families?
In my column of last week, I mentioned that I would soon start a series to promote young Nigerian entrepreneurs who are adding value to the society and putting our people to work. I have received several mails suggesting names of possible candidates for the idea. I appreciate all the people who have written in on the issue but when I begin the series next week, readers will have an idea as to the kind of entrepreneurs I am looking for.