Almost three-quarters of Nigeria’s 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, have accumulated fresh backlogs of salary arrears owed their workers. Only Lagos and, perhaps Kano, are near up to date with workers’ pay. The situation is so disturbing that President Muhammadu Buhari could not hide his disappointment when, on Tuesday October 17, he met a delegation of governors led by the chairman, Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) Alhaji Abdul’Aziz Yari, who is the governor of Zamfara state.
The president’s anger was understandable. Last year, the federal governemt helped the states out with cash bailouts amounting to sveral billions of naira. Again, this year, Buhari made refunds from the Paris Club savings, following our exit in1996, to the states. Each state received a reasonable amount in dollars, not naira. He noted, rightly, that “the challenge in payment of salaries in states has taken a toll on the people”.
The president asked rhetorically: “How can anyone go to bed and sleep soundly when workers have not been paid their salaries for months? I actually wonder how the workers feed their families, pay their rents and even pay school fees for their children.’’
Responding to Buhari’s probing questions, governor Abubakar Yari claimed that the 2016 bailouts and this year’s Paris Club refunds were “judiciouly utilized”. He said, impliedly, however, that the ‘free money’ the states received was a mere drop in an ocean of huge salary backlogs and crippling domestic debt portfolios. In other words, like Oliver Twist, the lead character in Charles Dickens’ novel of the same title, the states neded more. No doubt, that was what brought their governors to Aso Rock Presidential Villa, Abuja.
We see a trace of blacmail in the governors’ visit to Buhari and urge the president to not succumb to this cheap blackmail. Giving them more money is throwing valuable cash into a drainpipe; it will just go the way of previous interventions, without achieving the puropse for which they were meant. We demand that the federal government investigate what the governors did with the bailouts and refunds they received. Anyone found to have diverted the funds should be made to make a refund, deducted from their share of federation account allocations.
Dependence on the ‘fat cow’, which is getting leaner from overuse and abuse, has made the states lazy. They sit on a huge IGR (internally generated revenue) potential that is not being tapped. Again, only Lagos and Kano are doing well in this area. Lagos today can conveniently fund its annual budget from internal revenue earnings; not so for several other states.
Talking about the economic viablility of the states begs the question of fiscal federalism or what is euphemistically y referred to as ‘resource control’. As it is, the states cannot exploit mineral deposits in their soil because the power to do so is exclusively that of the federal government. The states, in the true spirit of our federal constitution, need to be weaned from the financial apron string of Abuja. We urge the National Assembly to revisit its decision to not devolve certain powers to the states in a recent constitution review exercise.