An online news site known as Dataphyte, in May this year, reported that only three states out of 36 in Nigeria had the capacity to pay workers’ salaries without waiting for federal government allocations. The states were Akwa Ibom, Lagos and Rivers. Also, the news site reported that about 20 states owed pensions in the same month.
This gloomy financial picture of our states appears to have explained the prevalence of the delayed salaries syndrome in a majority of the states.
Workers in states such as Abia, Kogi, Ekiti, Ondo among others, have sordid stories to tell regarding their monthly pay.
The late former Gov. Sam Mbakwe, acclaimed to have been the best thing to happen to Imo since the inception of the state, incurred the wrath of many when he could not pay teachers their salaries regularly. Since the administration of Mbakwe, whose delinquency in this aspect was limited to teachers only, every succeeding governor in the state has always had problems paying workers and pensioners.
Indeed, General Ike Nwachukwu, who governed Imo during General Muhammadu Buhari’s regime as head of state, devised a system he called Imo Formula where he paid workers from whatever revenue sum that came into the state coffers at the end of every month, whether it matched the wage bill or not. Of course, the workers were hamstrung from organizing an open agitation because it was a military government, coupled with the prevailing drop in oil revenue at that time due to what they called oil glut in the global market.
As governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha’s popular refrain when speaking in public was “my people, people”. This often got the reply of “my governor, my governor”. On one occasion, however, when he was addressing civil servants, he hollered out his usual “my people, my people” but got the reply, “my salary, my salary”. Rochas did not need a soothsayer to tell him he had lost the enormous goodwill that gave him an easy ride to Douglas House as soon as he began to toy with the workers’ pay.
Equally problematic is the irregular payment of pensions to retired civil servants across the country. Often, the senior citizens constitute a pathetic lot when they pour out in the streets protesting for money that they had sweated for in their youth.
Before the civil war, and right through the colonial era, it was unheard of that workers were owed salaries. Industrial disputes were based on staff welfare rather than the mundane issue of salaries and wages. The government never touched pensions, and the civil service was attractive because of the job security and regular salaries and pensions it offered.
The inability of state governments to pay workers should be considered as an impeachable offence under a democratic setting. It is, however, a leadership failure traceable to our home-grown federal structure where the Federal Government remains the sole repository of common funds in the federation while states troop to Abuja on a regular basis to beg for money.
In the hands of the federal government are the oil and solid minerals sectors as well as the value added tax (VAT) that are the all time money spinners in the federation. States, both the viable and unviable ones, are, therefore, allowed limited space to raise their own revenue besides other minor taxes.
This notwithstanding, there is no justification for states to be delinquent in payment of workers. Often, reasons of bloated workforce, ghost workers, salary padding, among other irregularities prevalent in the ministries and parastatals, have been presented as excuses for not paying the civil servants. It still does not place on the worker the responsibility to eliminate these cobwebs that trap their salaries. The civil service rules and regulations stipulate penalties for culprits and the government reserves the right to apply appropriate sanctions.
To bring this evil phenomenon to an end, each state must take pains to analyse and understand the dimensions of the problem as it affects them individually. For the ghost workers syndrome, it takes just a few weeks of digital maneouvres to capture the real workers and pensioners into a central data storage system.
States with a seeming heavy workforce may consider the staff rationalization option where workers are seconded to areas of need and in environments where their capabilities would enable them to justify their pay. Dead woods must be constitutionally shown the way out.
Regular payment of salaries has a spiraling effect on the economy as it injects needed funds into the system and stimulates enterprise. Workers’ solvency translates to effective demand for goods and services, a situation which results in the boosting of commerce and manufacturing upon which employment generation depends. It forestalls corruption too.
Judging from the fact that the phenomenon of delayed or denied salaries and pensions has refused to disappear, mainly because of the lack of political will to wipe it out, it would not be out of place to assume that some politicians have seen it as a ready tool to destabilize the workers, keep them perpetually poor and then manipulate them politically. The poorer the masses get, the more beggarly they become and the easier they are to manipulate.
As the cry of “my salary, my pensions” fills the air across the country, it is essential for people in power to disabuse the minds of the people they serve that it is not what they are thinking. Workers and pensioners need their pay every month, not excuses.
However, it is thumbs up for state governors who have braved all odds to pay workers regularly. Delinquent ones are encouraged to face the challenge squarely and write their names in the good books of Labour.
Dr Odu is an Owerri-based journalist
“Equally problematic is the irregular payment of pensions to retired civil servants across the country. Often, the senior citizens constitute a pathetic lot when they pour out in the streets protesting for money that they had sweated for in their youth”