By Ademola Yaya
The inability of many states to pay accumulated workers salaries has been in the news for sometimes. Whereas, as many as 18 States are affected by this reality, Osun and its Governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, are particularly singled out for the most vociferous attacks by opposition interest groups and their accomplice media anchors while some well-meaning persons and interest groups, too, have tried to express their deep concerns about the reality.
It is in this context that a clear analysis of the issue becomes necessary, especially to establish objectively the causes of the crises and determine whether they are possibly avoidable; are they the result of economic mismanagement on the part of the State or the result of other determinants outside of it? Thus, it will be possible to dispose of the campaign of calumny rooted in malicious political interests while taking good lessons relevant to the successful resolution of the problems and prevention of future repeats.
As at present, from media reports and the reports of none less than the NLC Task Force on the wage crises, not less than the half of the entire 36 States of the Federation are owing workers salaries to various extent: and the State of Osun is by no means the one leading the pack in terms of the number of months owed. Why then the singular and intense focus on Osun? Of course the answer is simple – the progressive and innovative governance approach of the Governor of the State, Ogbeni Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola, his leadership style and political exploits. While it has earned him huge applause and recognition in enlightened quarters and internationally, it has equally earned him envy and malice from reactionary constituencies, as well as misunderstanding and confusion in the minds of many ordinary people whose understanding of life (Political Economy especially) is incomplete.
Aregbesola, with his huge status and high profile as a prudent, proficient, visionary manager is not expected to be counted among the ranks of shortsighted overseers of failed States. He must, therefore, suddenly be a soft target for his longstanding traducers and their media stewards; why would they pick on his other peers who are not known to be that “newsworthy”?
But then, let us examine the issue objectively going back to the root of the matter, the chief causative factor, which various subjective analyst always choose to conveniently ignore: the warped Nigerian Federation and the grave mismanagement of the nation’s economy by the Federal Government in the last 6 years (whence stealing is not corruption). Mismanagement is an understatement, and well-meaning and far-sighted Nigerians as well as Aregbesola and a few of his colleagues had raised alarm way back, but are now suddenly confronted by the devastating impact of it all.
Federal Republic of Nigeria! It is an open secret that there is nothing federal in the Nigerian Federation; its REPUBLIC is not a Republic; its constitution merely an academic exercise on paper; its Rule of Law is a rule of might; and its corrupt institutions mere paper tigers, except when in ill-use; its mono-product economy ‘largest in Africa’ merely in its potential.
However, even within the context of these realities, all that is required is for the head to purge itself of rots, in the furnace of democracy and justice, and commence the righting of all its bodily wrongs. A visionary leadership, at the Federal level, committed to the greatest good of Nigeria and Nigerians, is all it takes to begin national rejuvenation and prosperity; even within the limiting framework of the free enterprise variety of democracy: rule of law, a genuine federation, a true republic, the observance of fundamental human rights, and just leadership with a forthright example to follow.
But what did we have since the return to the democratic (civil rule, rather) dispensation in 1999, and especially so in the last 6 years of the PDP-Jonathanian Presidency? One needs not chronicle the realities of those years that volumes in books will not exhaust as we are all living witnesses to an unprecedented reign of corruption and impunity in the hands of a divisive, inept, clueless and self-serving leadership, culminating in our worst yet insecurity experiences and unheard-of economic mismanagement and looting of the commonwealth on a scale and depth yet to be unraveled. The singular most devastating affront on the economy was the state-organized and sustained theft of incredible volume of crude oil, our key fountain of wealth; an act of economic sabotage that directly impacted the free fall of international oil price and the flight of fund from the Federation Allocation Account, especially since 2013 till the handover to a new government.
It is well known, and has been a continued subject of public discusses, how most of the states in the federation are unviable. How then these federal allocation-dependent, unsustainable entities will not in the the long run be excruciatingly affected by a woefully managed economy by the federal government is unknown. Mind you, in the Nigerian circumstances, the task of taking the state’s economy to the path of self-sufficiency, even for the best economic genius as Governor, must begin with an intermediate (sustained for no less than 2 tenure – 8 years) plan, for which the seed fund (to explore productivity areas where the constitution had not already excluded it) must still be from the Federation Allocation Account; existing IGR being next to nil.
Overwhelmed by recurrent expenditure never ever less than 60% of their entire earnings however much they wish to be prudent, saddled with a long-suffering and untaxable populace, and an infrastructure deficit (power , water and roads, especially) that undermine all potential investment drive, it has always been clear that nothing short of a complete overhaul of the socio-economic system (a revolution) would right all the wrongs. While the social revolution may be ages away, deep-going reforms of a popular nature will definitely inch the society along, and ameliorate the critical situation; providing a Federal Government that upholds the sanctity of the rule of law, democratic culture, refraining from impunity, near-zero tolerance for “stealing” and corruption, and intelligent, people-oriented investment of public wealth, which sources of flow must be quickly and systematically diversified – in agriculture and mining especially but also in tourism, medium and small scale enterprises, all happening within an environment of security, social welfare, functional education and guaranteed access to primary health care.
In the near-absence of all of the above, and with a Presidency that for 6 years travelled in the exact opposite direction, what happened in the case of the State of Osun, while not excusing the imperfection of its Governor or government, is conclusive proof that it is nearly impossible for recent, emergent states to achieve development in the present Nigerian equation unless there is a complete overhaul of the Federation system as presently constituted, economically and politically. State of Osun is a clear testimony to arrested development occasioned by Federal failure.
In arriving at the above conclusion, of course I am speaking with all those who are conversant with State of Osun realities and the mileage covered by the government in nearly 5 years since Ogbeni Aregbesola’s inauguration on November 27, 2010: a chronicle of advancement spanning all sectors and directly or indirectly touching all families in the state – from education, youth empowerment, social welfare, infrastructure, agriculture, to security, e.t.c, too numerous to catalogue here. The facts are in the public domain, and on the streets of Osun, wherever you turn your eyes to. Those who chose to ignore, or even deny, the facts as they are, I exempt.
In the meantime, whereas there is so much focus (genuine or malicious) on the failure of public governance to meet its workers’ salaries obligations, with its grave and painful consequences, there is an emerging and graver failure, being managed in a hush hush manner, in private sector and with private businesses. There is an indication of a huge bad debt volume owed to banks that must bother any patriotic citizen. To appreciate the concern, in just the case of Stanbic IBTC bank alone, over N400b is reportedly involved. This amount, given the best-ever monthly allocation that accrued to the State of Osun at N4.2b, is equivalent to the Federation Allocation to that State of 3.8m people for about 95 months! Money equivalent to what is expected to be used, at the best of times, for the uplift and development of about 3.8million people for about 8 years (2 Executive tenure) have been borrowed by private concerns who either cannot pay back, find it difficult or are reluctant to; and the bank now finds it expedient to threaten to expose and shame them. To IBTC, add similar experiences by other banks and the CBN, and your guess is as good as mine.
Public and private sector debts are in themselves not anomalies. In fact, it is not the first time that the State of Osun, or any one State, owes workers 6 months salaries, bad and unacceptable as it always will be. Indeed, in the Chief Bisi Akande Administration in Osun State, similar situation happened, and the State survived, as it will surely this time. The gravity of the current situation, which is what narrow-minded analysts picking on Osun should see, is that ALL AT ONCE, more than half of the entire states in the federation find themselves insolvent, while the Federal Government itself equally grapples! I doubt if this situation has precedence, and this is what defines the economic crises that must now be resolved. Happily, beyond the realm of narrow-mindedness and malicious politicking, deep thinking Nigerians, among them the CEOs of the concerned states, already recognize that what they have in their hands, minimally of their own making but majorly the result of sustained national economic mismanagement, is a national financial emergency requiring concerted input, especially by the patriarchal federal government.
The major repair work is of a long and intermediate term in nature and must involve reconstructing the federal architecture of Nigeria politically and fiscally as well as the diversification of its economy. However, as with all meltdown in every clime, an immediate bailout, however wrought, is urgently required to save the ordinary worker – now traumatized and endangered along with his family and society. Those making a comedy of this grave situation merely signposts the menace of infantile mind and politics, and their own all-round pettiness.
Far from being an isolated case of management ineptitude, the Osun default in paying workers salary and pensions for upwards of 6 months, is a national trend, including even the federal government, and has been long in the making, veiled only by an all-important general election through which a national salvation is expected. That task of national salvation must now commence with attention to saving Nigerian workers and pensioners in the affected states, and indeed all over Nigeria, from the havoc wrecked by prolong economic sabotage by the outgone administration, even as attention is now focused on national security and economic recovery by the new administration.
On the long run, unless we summon the courage to reconfigure Nigeria (even as we hopefully hope that we now have a presidency and federal government that will travel the right path of democracy, rule of law, justice, equity and the observance of fundamental human rights) a repeat of the crises, perhaps graver, is inevitable. The right principles and practices must go with the right structures; and happily, there is now in place a louder voice for the people and it is impressive that it is already seeking to drown the horrendous waste, extravagance and insensitivity of a bi-camera National Assembly whose configuration and consumption comparative to its value, the Nigerian reality and expectation, is simply exasperating.
Yaya, a researcher, writes from Alekuwodo, Osogbo. 08037127929.