In response to a news headline in the Nation Newspaper of Saturday 21st October 2017 titled “FG set to disburse fresh Paris Club refund”. Ordinarily, this news should gladden the hearts of millions of Nigeria’s public sector workers, but that is not the case. This is because about 23 states in Nigeria are currently indebted to workers. These workers include civil servants, local government workers, pensioners and even contractors. Some of these state governments owe as much as a year salary arrears thereby causing untold hardship and pain to the families and dependents of these workers. The recent suicide of a Director in the Kogi State civil service due to financial hardship occasioned by the non-payment of salaries by the state government for 11 months speaks volumes of the misery and squalor that Nigerian workers currently wallow in due to inability of state governments to pay salaries and allowances of workers when it is due.
However, the problem did not begin today neither did it begin at the inception of the Muhammadu Buhari administration. It began in 2014 when global oil prices plummeted from $140 dollars a barrel to less than $50 dollars a barrel thereby triggering huge revenue shortages for Nigeria since we largely run a mono economy dependent on oil. The $40 billion dollars left in the Excess Crude Account by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2007 which was savings from the excess money realized from crude oil sales due to exceedingly high crude oil prices, had been depleted to zero. The money in the Excess Crude Account was shared among the 36 state governors by the Yar’adua and Jonathan administrations due to pressure from the governors who said they needed the money for infrastructural development in their states and therefore saw no wisdom in saving money for tomorrow. It was meant to be savings for the rainy day but now that the rains have started falling, it is the ordinary Nigerian worker that is suffering from the effects of the rain.
Since President Muhammadu Buhari came on board in 2015, he has given out two bailout funds and two tranches of Paris Club refund to the state governments to enable them meet their obligations to workers yet it seems the monies were diverted for other purposes other than that for which it was originally meant for since the narrative as regards the plight of workers is yet to change. Now that the federal government is about to release the third tranche of the Paris Club refund, i am appealing to the Governors to use the money to pay the workers salaries, allowances and entitlements. It goes against the grain for them to say that they cannot spend all the money paying workers salaries alone while they continue to pay huge salaries and allowances to political office holders. The argument by some of them that civil servants constitute only 10% per cent of the population of the state and so cannot consume 90% per cent of the resources is also not tenable as it is against the law of natural justice for a man to work for someone and not get rewarded after a period of time. Come to think of it, if they ( governors) do not pay the workers who then do they expect to pay them seeing that they are employees of the state?
What the governors should do is to reduce their monthly wage bill by weeding out ghost workers. This can be easily done with the Bank Verification Number and the use of e-payment platforms to pay salaries. They should also cut down on their profligate lifestyle. Some of the governors who are owing salaries still own private jets. Others are erecting multi-million dollar statues while some of them still spend a whole week celebrating their birthdays. Let them also begin to think of ingenious ways of increasing the Internally Generated Revenue of their states. Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu did it during his tenure as Lagos State Governor when he was almost strangulated economically by the refusal of the then President Chief Olusegun Obasanjo to release funds meant for local governments in Lagos State. The era of dependence by the states on the federal government typified by the monthly odyssey to Abuja in order to suck from the federal breast is outdated and antiquated.