We must state from the onset our embarrassment by reports last week that the Federal Government is to offer another bailout to enable states in financial straits clear workers’ salary arrears and other recurrent expenditure. We also consider this Father Christmas – beggarly states regrettable development as unacceptable as it is condemnable.
Moments after their meeting in Abuja under the aegis of Nigerian Governors Forum, state governors got a lifeline as the National Economic Council at its 63rd meeting approved about $150 million out of the $400 million proceeds from the Liquefied Natural Gas to be shared among the three tiers of government. The governors said they could no longer pay the N18,000 minimum wage that was imposed on them when oil sold for $126 as against its present $41. They cited economic diversification as the way forward, even as they urged the federal government to show more understanding now that some states today are taking N100 million monthly allocation while they have salaries of over N2 billion. The governors also resolved to reduce their salaries and other overhead expenses.
If we may ask: was it today the price of Nigeria’s blend of crude began to fall? Don’t state governors have forward-looking financial plans that should have made necessary projections and needed savings ahead of the kind of financial straits they now find themselves? Will reducing workers minimum wage or outright sacking them put more tons of Naira in the state treasuries? Why is that whenever government finances are threatened the first casualties must be the workers?
If state governors must be told, the multiplier effect of unpaid wages to workers is real. The worker suffers, the immediate family and dependents suffer; society is worse off for harbouring stress-filled human beings who are not proud to call themselves citizens. The situation is disaster waiting to happen. With the way Nigeria is structured or the states are made to function, there is no economy outside of civil service. If civil servants, teachers and the like are not paid, nothing else happens.
When Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu questioned the rationale of this emerging “feeding bottle democracy” being practised in this country, not a few state governors felt ill at ease. But the distinguished senator spoke the truth about what we have on our hands today; at any opportune time, governors run to the federal government begging for money.
To put it very succinctly, this second bailout, announced after governors of the 36 states rose from their recent meeting, last Thursday seeking urgent assistance in the foregoing regard, smacks of insensitivity on the part of the state chief executives for the overall economic health of the country as well as the well-being of their workers.
At the risk of crying out loud, we call on governors whose states are bankrupt to openly so declare so that further necessary constitutional action could be taken to put things right. But hiding under the cloak of workers salary arrears deliberately held down over the months, (in some cases, years) to accrue debts and related monies for their states imply subjecting generations yet unborn in their respective states to some debt burden too heavy to bear. And if we must underscore this fact, we hold that the obvious state of financial bankruptcy being manifested by the state governors is as disgraceful as the leadership bankruptcy that has engendered it.
Howbeit, the federal government has reportedly endorsed the second bailout plan. But for an administration that professes and markets the anti-corruption mantra as a new way of nationhood which all must not only believe in, but must also practice, the fact must be told that states’ indebtedness and the resultant salary arrears are products of profligacy and bad governance at the highest level in that tier of government. Such tendency we add, are precursors to graft, self-aggrandizement and outright incompetence. And if the anti-corruption war must be reasonably fought, the federal government must entertain any future bailout demands from the governors.
We not only fear the consequences of piling up these debts by state governors, we also stress that until they start to look inward towards identifying alternate sources of generating more revenues for their respective states, governors would choose to remain as lazy they are, always waiting to go cap in hand to the centre for some relief.
As a first step, governors must start to review downwardly their personal and related emoluments and allowances to boost their respective treasuries. They must stop their extravagant life styles too. A situation whereby governors and the leadership of the state assemblies award huge severance packages to themselves is deplorable, amounting to sheer robbery.