10 Jul 2015

Bailout For The Bruised, Not Boom For Bandits - by Fola Ojo

You may call it deliberate wickedness; you may define it an action from a depraved mind; or just brand it sheer sweeping governorship ineptitude. But no one is in doubt that these are precarious and horrifying times for those who labour daily as workers in at least 23 states of the federation; and who have been denied their rights to be remunerated for the work they do.

Stories we have heard about workers in many states are heart-wrenching. Many workers who were owed between six and 16 months salaries have become beggars. Many of them have been afflicted with strange illnesses as a result of burrowing poverty; the conditions of many who are ill have got worse because they cannot afford a visit to the doctor or fill a prescription at the pharmacy. Many have died waiting for generous gestures from their governors who are unable to come through for them because of financial chokehold that has lately traversed the length and breadth of some financially invalid states.

A couple of days ago, and against his reported earlier promise not to initiate a rescue operation for defaulting states, President Muhammadu Buhari engineered a algebraic financial formula to dispatch urgent help to douse the tension and loosen the leach around the necks of state governments and governors engaged in protracting duels with their workers over non-payment of salaries.

The three-pronged relief package announced by the Presidency package includes:
  • The sharing of about $2.1bn (N413.7bn) in fresh allocation between the states and the Federal Government. The money is sourced from recent LNG proceeds to the Federation Account.
  • A Central Bank of Nigeria-packaged special intervention fund that will offer financing to the states, ranging from between N250bn to N300bn. This would be a soft loan available to states to access for the purposes of paying backlog of salaries.
  • A debt relief programme proposed by the Debt Management Office which will help states restructure their commercial loans currently put at over N660bn, and extend the lifespan of such loans while reducing their debt-servicing expenditures.
Only a depraved person as president will not come to the rescue of his citizens at a crucial time like this. Only a president without a heart will watch members of the labour force drop dead on the streets from hunger and suicide because of the sloppiness of some profligate governors who refuse to pay workers’ salaries. Only a president deputising for Lucifer will fold his hands and do nothing to relieve Nigerian workers. Only a president who lacks wisdom will sit idly by and watch states he presides over go up in an infernal uprising in which he may also be eventually consumed. The full faith and credit of the governments stem from the people; and the Organised Labour is a large component of the creed. Only a president who has a grasp of the true meaning of this tenet will do what President Buhari did. From a humanitarian viewpoint, the President’s gesture is laudable. From the economic standpoint, I am not sure of the effectiveness of the largesse dumped on the system without stringent conditionalities stringed to the bailout.

The widespread workers’ salaries saga has revealed the weakness and the corporate ill-health of not just our economy, but also of our democracy. It has revealed the mindset of some of our governors who we now know are bereft of sound ideas. Many state governments have become like draining bath-tubs; the more you dump water in them, the more they continue to drain and leak through the conduit of corruption. The drain in the bath-tubs of these state governments are still loosely plugged and lousily positioned. Some of these states and their governors suffer from fatal diseases of corruption and viruses of profligacy. With Buhari playing the angelic being of rescue, I wonder if the leopard of some of these governors will ever change its spots. We hope that the bailout meant for bruised workers will not end up a boom and bounty for bandits residing in the state Government Houses.

Senate President Bukola Saraki corroborated my concern. He declared that some of his colleagues in government houses all across the nation are locusts and cankerworms of corruption that eat up what belongs to thousands of our helpless workers. “…The cost of corruption on our national life is beyond financial cost. You see in some states now that they are not paying salaries; it has led to poor funding of the education and health sectors and it’s affecting the cost of governance and failure of public institutions and infrastructure.” Saraki told the visiting Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Practices Commission, Mr. Ekpo Nta. Although I am not on the same side of the bed with Saraki on politics and morality in government, I concur with him on this.

We thank the President for the rescue; but how do these states survive beyond the bailout? The global dwindle in oil fortunes simply means that state monthly allocations are shrivelled and drastically reduced. How then does a state, for example, with a monthly wage bill of over N3bn meet the wage demands of its workers with a paltry monthly income of less than N2bn coming from the monthly handout from Abuja? What will happen to workers’ salaries in the month of August, September, October, November and beyond? Will it not make sense to force many of these entities to scale down on, or scrap off completely some non-viable projects already embarked upon? The feet of many of these states are not out of the hot water of economic kamikaze even after this bailout. Many of these states are not too far away from the storm of financial turbulence with this help. Their viability is constantly put to test through their inability to generate funds internally within their state territory. The wind that blows across the globe regarding the price of crude oil drives the destinies of these states. If the price of crude goes down, they go down because the governors don’t possess creative strategies to travel other roads for funds.

All thanks to Mr. President for the rescue effort; but If we don’t keep our eyes open, the bailout allocation may find its way onto the next available flight to a land far from here, or find its way around useless and inflated projects that add no value to the state territory. If this is allowed to occur without any restraint, six months from now, cries for help from Abuja may get even louder, and we may be back to ground zero.

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