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todayAugust 23, 2022

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The states should first put their house in order

In apparent admission of the worsening situation in the country, governors of the 36 states under the auspices of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum recently made suggestions to the federal government. They recommend the retirement of federal civil servants from age 50 and above as remedy to reposition the nation’s battered economy. They also admonish the federal government to implement the updated Stephen Oronsaye Report which recommended mergers and shutdown of agencies and parastatals of government with overlapping and duplicated functions as a way of reducing the cost of governance.   

We agree with those who argue that the size of the civil service across all tiers of government should be weighed against productivity. But major stakeholders including the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) are aghast, describing the proposal as repugnant and insensitive. Government at all levels has lost the moral argument with its inability to demonstrate prudence in the conduct of public affairs.  

While the rationalisation of the workforce as recommended by the Oronsaye panel makes a lot of sense, a unilateral and premature termination of appointments of experienced workers will do further damage to the economy. Besides, where will the cash-starved government get the money to pay the one-off retirement packages of the would-be retired staff? Or will they be queuing up daily like many retired staff for their pensions and gratuities? The nation needs the energy of the youth as well as the experience and skill of the old.  

Already, there is a fightback from organised labour. NLC president, Ayuba Wabba said the implementation of this proposal “will lead to the sacking of almost a quarter of the public sector workforce, the decapitation of that workforce through the retrenchment of its most experienced layer, and the intensification of poverty and misery among citizens”. Former Trade Union Congress (TUC) president, Peter Esele also condemned the suggestion, accusing the governors of contributing to the economic challenges in the country. He also urged them to provide effective leadership in their respective states.  

We subscribe to the view that the governors should first remove the speck in their eyes before advising others. Out of the 36 states, only few are solvent enough to meet their obligations without resorting to borrowing and other extra-budgetary revenue sources. With the drastic decline in their average monthly revenue from Abuja, many of the states are increasingly finding it difficult even to take care of half their needs. Their drive for internal revenue is mostly lethargic. Many states are worse off as some are owing civil servants’ salaries, some for upward of six months. Almost half of the 36 states have not been able to implement the N30,000 minimum wage years after it had been signed into law. The rate of unemployment, particularly among the youths is sky high, contributing largely to the upsurge in crimes of desperation.  

Despite these economic constraints, there is hardly accountability and prudence in the affairs of many states. Leakages and waste not only define governance in many of these states, but they have also become institutionalised. Governors do whatever they like, with some appointing as many as 1000 personal aides. Only last week, the Cross River Governor Ben Ayade appointed 35 personal assistants. Top officials in some of the states live ostentatiously, still being ferried around in private jets and helicopters mostly to attend unnecessary social events, including marriage ceremonies and birthdays. Yet good governance is that which is focused on the people, their safety and welfare, the optimal allocation of scarce resources and the effective implementation of policies for service delivery.  

In the long run, the issue of bankruptcy for many states poses the same challenge as the survival of the government at the centre.   

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todayAugust 23, 2022

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