Nigeria In The Valley Of The Shadow Of Debt - by Fola Ojo

As expectation continues to fiercely fistfight with reality, and as we choose to face the facts and phase out the fallacies, it is certain that Nigeria, under President Muhammadu Buhari, is sitting pretty deep in the valley of the shadow of debt.

Speaking with reporters recently in Abuja, President Buhari painted a very discouraging picture of the state of the Nigerian state in these few words: “…this culture of 100 days is bringing so much pressure with (the) treasury virtually empty, with debts in millions of dollars, with state workers and even federal workers not paid their salaries is such a disgrace for Nigeria…”

The above statement made by the President, and a few more by his deputy, Yemi Osinbajo, has given us the necessary insight into the intenseness of the “horror movie” the presidential economic management team may be watching now in Aso Rock. But unfortunately, there is no gory picture the President can paint about the economy that will diminish the high expectations of performance and success Nigerians have about his government. My President must remember that.

Between 2011 and 2014, a whopping N41.6tn was reportedly realised as revenue from crude oil sales, taxes, and duties. During that period, the three tiers of government, federal, state and local governments shared a whopping N29.26tn. All the state governors then were smiling to the bank every month.

Today, 23 states in Nigeria owe between three and 12 months’ workers’ salaries. Enugu State is the biggest debtor owing parastatals 12 months; and pension and gratuity payment for five years, according to a recent report of the Nigeria Labour Congress. It is now apparent that non-payment of workers’ salaries has become a crippling epidemic in a prosperous country like Nigeria.

Many of the affected states have shouldered some major road projects that are the Federal Government’s jurisdictional responsibilities. They committed billions of naira into these endeavours with promises of prompt refund from a Federal Government whose word was apparently not its bond. For example, my home state of Osun committed billions to major Federal Government road projects; and it’s yet to get a refund so it can pay its workers.

Until lately, the working condition in Osun was pleasant. For four consecutive years since December 2010, the state government consistently offered to pay an extra month salary called “13th month salary” to workers just to inspire and keep them loving what they do. Governor Rauf Aregbesola did not have to do it. Salaries were paid regularly on or before the 25th day of every month and the governor creatively shot up the state IGR to about N9bn annually from a paltry N900m before he came on board. Following the minimum wage increase in 2012, salaries and emoluments later incrementally jumped from N1.4 billion in November 2010 to N3.6bn. The highest Osun received in statutory allocation was N5.5bn in February 2013; and around this figure, lofty accomplishments were recorded for all eyes to see. By July 2013 in a terrifying twist, allocation to all states dropped by 40 per cent; and now by nearly 80 per cent as a result of global oil crisis. Now, all the 23 states are scorched up in the valley of the shadow of debt.

But how do we get out of this? President Buhari must plug all leakages around crude oil business; our governors and leaders must be re-orientated on personal and business conducts in office; and we must trim our bloated workforce while emphasising personal responsibility.

Crude oil is Nigeria’s mainstay shovelling in over 70 per cent of the nation’s revenue; but a chunk of the product continues to fall into wrong hands. Before the global drop in oil prices, our fortunes had already begun dwindling because of the daily dastardly heisting of 400,000 barrels of crude oil totalling N4.8 billion. The Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was the first to reveal this in July 2013 as a known Niger Delta ex-militant was contracted to provide security and prevent crude oil thieving. The notable ex-militant was reportedly paid N1.5bn monthly; this hint was dropped by the first chairman of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Dr. Ahmed Ramalan, earlier in the year. The heinous haemorrhaging of the crude, however, continues until today.

Although the international audit firm, Price Waterhouse Cooper, later confirmed the allegation in a forensic audit, when a former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, now the Emir of Kano, Lamido Sanusi, alleged that $20bn oil money was not remitted into the Federation Account by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, he was pushed into troubled waters. Sanusi could have drowned in politics of revenge and avenge, but the palace in Kano became his sanctuary, and the power vested in an Emir, his lifeguard. Too much dirt hang around oil business in Nigeria; and the mess is driven by two seemingly competing parallel governments-the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Federal Government of the NNPC.

Before she left office, Okonjo-Iweala had claimed that the total Excess Crude revenue from 2011 to 2014 was N2.92tn; but some independent investigation puts the true amount at N18.5tn. Where is the difference of N15tn? The NNPC runs multiple bank accounts running into billions of dollars that its officials can’t even name. Over 5.5 billion pounds has been reportedly lost between 1999 and 2011 because of fuzzy accounting procedures which came from undertaxing, underpayment, and incomplete transactions in the sales of crude oil. There is a pending audit query issued by the Auditor-General of the Federation to the NNPC over another unremitted N2.3tn.

We also recently heard that the Nigerian Extracting Industries Transparency Initiative found out that Nigeria made the sum of $1.8bn from the sale of eight oil wells to the NNPC. Only $100m was remitted to the Federation Account. What happened to the difference of $1.7bn? It may have travelled on a jet or submarine very far from the Nigerian shores.

Some of our states are in trouble today because the governors are personally irresponsible and ethically disabled. Some governors have stopped governing; they are gulping. They are profligate by political indoctrination, insensitive to the plight of the people by nature, unlearned and never-learning. They do not have a clue about financial literacy; and to some of them, government money is the Governor’s personal savings account. With billions collected monthly from all manner of sources, their states are still comatose. The same dilapidated buildings and raggedy roads they inherited four years ago continue to be the testimony of abhorrence as they audaciously live like King-Kong amassing wealth and wives. One governor was just forced to return 22 vehicles bought from public funds for three of his legion of wives. This state in question is among those that have not paid workers salaries for seven months.

Good governance is about the mindset of a leader; if the mindset is warped, the whole state territory is enmeshed in warts. Personal irresponsibility and ethical disability are part of the reasons why our feet are deep in the valley of the shadow of debt.

I hereby declare that for every right, there is a corresponding responsibility. It is the right of workers to get paid; and it is also the responsibility of the worker to be productive. A worker who adds no value to his work community is nothing but a parasite, a moocher, and a freeloader that must be offloaded and tossed off into the high current waters of irrelevance like the biblical Jonah. Not until our governments face the reality of bloated and ghost workforce; not until redundant hands that have outlived their usefulness in service are bid bye-bye, we will remain in asinine status quo that got our feet in the valley of the shadow of debt in the first place.