The issue of unpaid salaries to workers, particularly at the state and local government levels, has become a source of worry to most Nigerians. President Muhammadu Buhari, like every concerned Nigerians, has expressed great worry at the growing trend where Nigerian workers no longer get paid at when due.
Buhari, after a meeting with the delegation of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) led by its Chairman and governor of Zamfara state, Abdulazeez Yari, recently wondered how any governor, with blood running in his veins, could sleep soundly when workers have not been paid their salaries for months.
The anti corruption crusader who rode on the crest of populism to power wondered how the workers feed their families, pay their rents and even pay school fees for their children. The only answer to this wonderment, of course, is that some civil servants have devised other means of survival outside their legitimate earnings.
While some have gone into subsistent farming and diversified their means of income at the expense of their primary assignments, other privileged ones have resorted to helping themselves by corruptly ditching their hands into the till to enrich themselves.
When the President came into office in 2015, about 23 states of the federation were owing salaries primarily because of the significant drop in the revenue accruing to them from the federation accounts. The situation became so worrisome that Buhari gave some states bail-outs with the condition that such funds would be used to clear the outstanding salaries of their workers.
Even though half of the London-Paris exit refund, about N760 billion, has been released to the governors so far, most state chief executives have yet to settle their workers. While some have regarded the payment of salaries as special favors to their workers, others have been ‘magnanimous’ enough to pay only fractions of their workers’ salaries at the end of each month.
Each time the federal government intervenes in salvaging the parlous financial situation of the states, the President always drum it into their ears that they should prioritize workers salaries but only a few of them hearken to these words of wisdom.
Reasons for the default in payment of workers differ from state to state. The first being the drop in the revenue accruing too the federation accounts to be shared among the federating units from the sale of crude oil at the international market. This was made even more difficult with the poor level of internally generated revenue (IGR) in majority of the states.
But the paucity of funds owing to drop in earnings from the center should not be a reason why workers who have completed their contractual obligations should go on empty stomach. Whoever runs for the position of a state governor should be ready to confront the challenges in that office. Non payment of salaries to deserving workers has returned life to the Hobbesian nature where it was short, brutish and nasty.
Most of the governors also inherited truck-load of outstanding salary arrears and other sundry debt portfolios from their predecessors. In some states where the opposition ousted the incumbent, the outgoing government deliberately planted landmines by recruiting more workers into the civil service in order to bloat the states’ wage bill. However, since governance is a continuum, such debts must be settled by the incumbent.
For instance, there was an instance where a former governor at the twilight if his administration decided to jerk-up the minimum wage of the state civil service even when he was aware that it would be difficult for his successor to meet such financial obligation.
Because of the heavy debt overhang, many of the newly elected governors disown the outstanding salaries owed workers by their predecessors and began to count their indebtedness from the date they were sworn in.
Apart from this, almost all the governors are confronted with the challenge of ghost workers. For instance, Benue and Kogi states governors who have overbloated wage portfolio because of ghost workers have resolved to carry out staff verification in order to actually know the number of staff in their employ.
Benue governor, Samuel Ortom, in a recent interaction with newsmen disclosed that his monthly wage bill stands at N7.8 billion while his monthly earnings from the federation accounts and internally generated revenue was just a little above N6 billion. Ortom, is practically in a fix if he refuses to carry out effective staff audit to prune down his wage bill.
Granted that the governors were not elected to pay only staff salaries at the expense executing developmental projects in their states, only the living can enjoy the infrastructure they are building while their people suffer starvation and lack. This is notwithstanding the fact that no governor would be rated based on monthly payment of salaries alone.
It is on this premise that the governors are advised to prioritize the payment of their staff salaries at this time that they are asking to be paid their London-Paris exit refund balance. Like the President said, the issue of payment of salaries should be uppermost without prejudice to their capital projects aimed at making life better for the people.