By Itaobong Offiong Etim
Our leaders never disappoint the pessimism of the many citizens of the country. I recall the remark of one analyst who warned civil servants not to celebrate the news of the Federal Government’s release of Paris club refunds for the payment of their outstanding salaries. His reason was that the present crop of governors are neither sympathetic nor altruistic, therefore, would lack the commitment to channel such funds to the payment of salaries and the backlog of gratuities. The reason being that in doing so, they would not be able to use the released funds as they wish. The usual practice is to initiate a project and use it to siphon the money with the help of some money laundering agents who would stash the funds into some private accounts.
With the plight of civil servants in this economic recession and their meager earnings from the same minimum wage of more than five years ago, I would not have believed that anybody would have the effrontery to divert such funds to other uses. But, with the revelation that about 760.17 billion naira has so far been released to the 36 state governments to settle the salaries of their workers, and yet workers’ salaries still remain largely unpaid in many states, this sad narrative has raised more questions than answers.
Recently, the president was reported to have asked the governors if they were able to sleep when their civil servants are being owed salaries for many months. But, while the civil servants continue to suffer under the weight of untold hardship occasioned by non-payment of salaries, we are not aware of any governor who has denied himself of his entitlements, which runs into millions of naira monthly. Instead, they have continued to change their cars and their convoys have not reduced.
Clearly, these people do not feel the pains of their workforce. There may not be money to pay salaries in the state but there is never a paucity of funds for inflated estacode and needless revelry in some government houses. The over-bloated budgets for domestic affairs of governors do not know this recession.
The most flagrant display of a blithe detachment from the plight of the hapless civil servants is the disclosure of the government of Kogi State that Edward Soje, a Director with the state’s civil service who committed suicide, was only owed eight months salaries, and not eleven months, as being bandied about. One would only have a cause to wonder and ponder if eight months of life without salary for a man whose livelihood depends on such monthly payment is not a terrible case of man’s inhumanity to man With the present recession, even if salaries are paid monthly, most homes would still feel the heat of the times. Staying for two months without salary would throw many homes into real hardship, not to talk of eight solid months of sordid experience of ‘salaryless’ existence.
The utilisation of the Paris Club refunds by some governors is still a matter of controversy which has impugned their integrity. For instance, EFCC is investigating a case of N19 billion which was allegedly diverted into a personal account of a certain governor. Also, the media was awash a couple of months ago with the news of how a governor from one of the Northern States allegedly diverted about $3 million of Paris Club refund to build a hotel in Lagos. Recently, EFCC was said to have probed another governor over alleged diversion of N680 million to a private fixed deposit account.
There has been one allegation or the other involving misapplication of the said Paris refunds by most governors. One begins to wonder what would have been the fate of civil servants in these states, if there were no such funds. It would be of interest for us to note that salaries are not paid because of the simple reasons of paucity of funds but the reason why they are not paid is because such payments are not prioritised.
Why should state governments depend on Federal Government to meet their obligations? What happens to their IGR? I think this idea of states having to wait for Abuja for monthly allocations has created laziness and over-relaxation by state governors. There is no state in Nigeria that does not have economic potentials that if well harnessed would not be able to at least handle its recurrent expenditure. There is an obvious deficit of ability to think out of the box by governance at that level. Instead of thinking development, precious time is spent on fighting their godfathers, perceived enemies, working for re-election or struggling to impose their cronies as successors. The life of a typical Nigerian governor is that of struggling to dominate his political environment. If only half of the energies mustered by the governors for political warfare were to be channeled into socio-economic development, our situation would not be this deplorable.
Globalization has created enormous windows of opportunities in ICT, tourism, processing, biotechnology and modern agricultural practices that should be leveraged upon. Take, for instance, no one had thought about the possibility of a business alliance between Lagos and Kebbi States until Gov Ambode and his counterpart, Gov. Baguda, thought out of the box. While the former has funds, the latter has land, and a deal was struck. Today, Lake Rice is gradually becoming a household name in Lagos and its environs. The chronic deficit of such initiative by others is the bane of the country’s development and the reason for over-dependence on an oil economy, a situation which also makes states not to see beyond federal allocations to run their economies.
In view of the apparent irresponsibility and crass irresponsiveness of state governors on the utilisation of the Paris Club refunds, the Federal Government should as a matter of necessity set up a monitoring and transparency team to see how such funds are being managed for the sake of impoverished Nigerian workers.
Etim writes from Calabar