•Finance minister’s attempt to demonise state govts unsuccessful
Even as she continues to put up a bold face trumpeting the purported successes and ‘solid economic legacies’ being bequeathed the nation by the outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan administration, which she is serving as finance minister and almighty Coordinator of the Economy, Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s claims are mocked by the glaring failures of the economy under her stewardship. One of the symptoms of the country’s current chronic economic crisis is the inability of various levels of government to pay their workers’ salaries, from periods ranging between three and six months.
Some of the state governments caught in this quandary are Oyo, Osun, Cross River, Rivers, Abia, Plateau and Bauchi. The affected workers in the states have reportedly adopted several demeaning and dehumanising survival strategies, including going to work only once or twice daily, begging for money from friends and relatives, doing menial jobs to survive, skipping lunch breaks or consumption of barely nourishing diets such as garri and groundnuts. These practices no doubt have severe negative implications for the psyche, health, self-esteem, motivation, productivity and fulfilment of workers and their families, and can only further deepen the economic crisis.
In her response to this crisis of unpaid salaries, Okonjo-Iweala turns out to be not too artful a dodger after all. She creates the impression that the Federal Government has been able to pay salaries of its workers as a result of the astute management of its resources in the face of drastic revenue shortfalls caused by the steep decline in international oil prices. On the other hand, she magisterially insinuates, the states have simply failed to do the rational thing of prioritising salaries, given the dire revenue situation.
The economic Czar cannot, however, conceal the reality that the Federal Government has indeed borrowed about N473 billion to pay salaries and that it raised its borrowing level from N570 billion to N882 billion to fund the 2015 budget. Even then, the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN) has claimed that thousands of Federal Government workers are being owed salaries and various allowances in the range of N50 billion.
As far as Okonjo-Iweala is concerned, the salary crunch is the inevitable result of the sharp dip in oil prices in late 2014, which accounted for about 50 per cent reduction in federally collected revenue, in addition to low revenue realised from non–oil sources. She conveniently ignored the fact that for at least two years before the over 50 percent drop in oil prices, a barrel of the country’s crude oil had sold for over $100. And even during this period of sustained high revenue performance, the country consistently lost over 20 percent of its revenue to massive oil theft and oil production shut-ins, as well as humungous corruption associated with the management of the Federation Account and other consequences of the ineptness and inefficiency of the Federal Government.
The incoming administration clearly has its work cut out on this matter. For one, the funds must be found to urgently pay the backlog of salaries in the interest of justice and equity. Again, the huge drain of scarce resources through the alarming level of corruption at all levels and the unsustainable emoluments and allowances of elective office holders must be decisively tackled. This requires that the president-elect in particular, General Muhammadu Buhari, draw on his tremendous goodwill and moral authority as well as that of his party to push through changes that may be painful but necessary.
Above all, the radical re-structuring of the current unitary system masquerading as federal, in which most of the component states of the polity are economically unviable and dependent on oil revenue handouts from the centre, must be the central focus of the promised change agenda.
CULLED FROM THE NATION