Public workers and unpaid salaries
REPORTS that public service workers in more than half of Nigeria’s 36 states, at the last count are being owed salaries of between three and eight months by their governments have further highlighted the leadership deficit which citizens have had to endure over the years. That Federal Government workers are not immune to the harrowing ordeal of unpaid salaries particularly towards the close of last year and early in the year makes the situation more tragic. If this seeming state of financial bankruptcy is disgraceful, more shameful is the leadership bankruptcy that has engendered it. Of course, to continually demand workers’ loyalty by the governments in default is antithetic to any claims of good governance and in states where they have so acted, the workers are justified to go on strike.
Nothing at best also advertised the insensitivity of affected governors (and, without shame, the political parties) to the plight of their people as they hit the campaign trail early in the year to solicit for votes to keep them in power. No shame, no compunction.
However, the current chief executives in the states, old or new, have to find means of redressing this unfortunate development in the shortest time frame because a labourer is deserving of his wages. Owing workers unjustifiably and for no fault of theirs is indefensible; families should be spared this ordeal. In fact, the change preached so vociferously by the current dispensation must start with the settlement of the salary commitments as a priority of the states concerned and, where applicable, the federal service.
Listed as debtor-states are Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Benue, Cross River, Ekiti, Imo, Jigawa, Kano, Kastina, Kogi, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Plateau, Rivers, and Zamfara. Ironically on the infamous list are at least three of the leading earners from the Federation Account, including Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Cross River. It stands reason on its head for instance if a state like Akwa Ibom which had been showing off massive infrastructural development has also failed its workers and forced them into poverty. That is a misplacement of priority.
It is a fact too that many of the states are contending with bloated workforces they either inherited, or created for political patronages but cannot cater for. The appointments into those offices at whatever level lack honesty of purpose. The governors should, however, be creative enough to improve on their revenue drive to honour their commitments.
It is also on record that many of the governors hardly present themselves as models of good governance with lifestyles that are flamboyant or too extravagant for comfort. It is rather unfortunate indeed that some of the governors who are too quick to plead helplessness and seek understanding on the sliding fortunes of the country’s economy due to falling oil prices had enough funds to pursue their political ambitions and even donate to parties’ purses during the campaigns. They have also always found enough to charter private jets for their travels and sustain a luxurious lifestyle. In no unmistakable terms, a number of the governors have proven themselves unworthy of their offices. They are mere opportunists, incapable of human and material resources management.
The multiplier effect of earned but unpaid wages is real. The worker suffers, the immediate family and dependants suffer, society is worse off for harbouring stress-filled human beings who are not proud to call themselves citizens and lifespan is gradually shortened. In the face of all of these, the so-called leaders live in the clouds, do little to redress the hopelessness and, at the same time, glory in their cluelessness on governance.
With the way Nigeria is structured or the states are made to function, there is no economy outside of civil service. If civil servants, teachers and the like are not paid, nothing else happens. What then obtains in Nigeria today is a cycle of distrust between governors and the governed who have been pauperized into submission.
Certainly, a total dependence of many states on federal allocations has never been and will never be a way out, thus raising again the question of fiscal federalism. The nation certainly must retrace its step to genuine federalism. Monthly allocations to the states are not shared on equal basis as some receive far in excess of others for some statutory reasons. It cannot be justified, therefore, when all states are required by labour provisions to pay workers the same minimum wage. Each state deserves to negotiate with its workers to enable it pay salaries well and regularly too. States must also be encouraged to explore and invest in resources in their domains, pay royalties to the federal authorities and have access to more revenue.
However, the current crisis may necessitate federal assistance in whatever form to bail out affected states even if on agreed terms of repayment over a period.
The national embarrassment on display now need not go on any longer.