“A journey of 1000 kilometresSTARTS with one step. The man who removes a mountain starts by carrying stones away” – Osun State Head of Service, Sunday Owoeye, on the one month salary out of eight, paid by Governor Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola last week.
Last week’s “Hell for Nigerian workers and pensioners” drew, as usual, both applause and ire of readers. In emails, text messages, and phone calls, readers ventilated their views; with many of them accusing me of surreptitiously defending Aregbesola. I protest that I did nothing of such! What I said was that going by the avalanche of media reports, I had thought Aregbesola was the only governor owing workers and pensioners; but upon investigation, I found that more than two-thirds of governors owe workers and pensioners. Some governors’ record in certain respect was even worse than Aregbesola’s. These are statements of fact but which do not, in any way, exonerate the governor from blame or excuse him from his responsibilities to the good people of Osun State. The buck stops on his table and he must carry the can. No buck-passing of any kind will be tolerated. I, too, have family and friends in Osun. My elder sister’s husband, a retired school principal who hails from Igbajo, has not been paid in eight months. A bosom friend of mine called from Osogbo last Monday night to narrate the story of how a pot of amala that was left on fire by the owner to steam was stolen! But God be praised, solution is on the way. May it come speedily! (From 1976 to 1982), I lived at Ede; worked at Osogbo Grammar School; attended the Sixth Form at Ilesa Grammar School before proceeding to the then University of Ife. Therefore, apart from my native Ondo State and Lagos where I have worked and lived since 1986, I am most familiar with Osun State.
The opening quote by Owoeye (by the way, is he a poet?); amusing as it sounds, is based on a Chinese proverb which has proved truthful all through the ages. May it even now! Amen! Aregbesola will, however, have to do more than pay only one month salary/pension arrears. I know he is working assiduously on this issue because he told me so himself. I can only enjoin him to work harder still. After he succeeds to pay a few more months, I willJOIN in appealing to Osun workers to end their strike action. Importantly, I know help is on the way because of some positive steps being taken at the federal level, engineered by embattled state governors many of who have relocated to Abuja. Good, if that will bring relief fast to suffering – even dying – workers and pensioners. First step is the committee set up by President Muhammadu Buhari under the chairmanship of Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo to look into the demand for refunds of state funds spent on federal roads. This is one quickie that can bring solace to the governors. I enjoin the vice-president to expedite action. Without peace in the states, it is doubtful if the helmsmen in Abuja can sit pretty. Second step is the all-governors’ panel that is probing the NNPC/Excess Crude Account. The suspicion of many informed Nigerians is that the revelations so far, mind-blowing as they seem, are only a tip of the iceberg.
Third step is the pledge given by Buhari to the National Council of States and National Economic Council that all monies/receipts will henceforth be paid directly into the Federation Account by all government cash-cows. This statement is the best to have come from Buhari in his one month in office. If fulfilled, it will not only help to reduce impunity and mind-boggling corruption but also enhance the liquidity position of the states/councils. Another very profound statement made by the president last week was when he asked governors, especially those whose states are contiguous, to cooperate and complement one another across party lines. He said something like “a respectable distance should be put between politics and development issues.” I like that really much; politicising everything hasCOST us dearly in this country, especially so in the South-west.
Truth be told, the first blame for current economic down-turn is the Federal Government’s. If all monies were paid into the Federation Account, states/councils would have received twice or thrice what they take at the moment. Much of the money made by the cash-cows is spent/embezzled at source and only the remnant is remitted. Why successive civilian governments continued with the odious system is that it allows the FG unrestrained access to funds at source before theyGET captured in the Federation Account. States/councils suffer immeasurably from this. Once this very important leakage is blocked, the finances of states/councils will improve dramatically. I enjoin Buhari to clinically clean up the Aegean’s stable as his Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, promised he is trying to do, before he appoints Ministers; otherwise, many ministers will prefer the existing obnoxious system because it allows them to preside over the sleaze at MDA level. That is why some ministries are called “Grade A”; it is because of the quantum of funds generated by the MDAs concerned and which the concerned Ministers can play monkey games with before remitting the balance to the Federation Account.
The second, third, and fourth blames for the parlous state of the economy will be shared by theTHREE tiers of government. Let us use this analogy: If a worker/government earns N50, 000 per month but spends N55,000 during the same period, it means he runs a deficit budget of N5000 plus the interest rate charged on the excess N5000 that he must source from outside. Often, the interest rate is crippling, especially if the source is a commercial bank. If this system of spending more than accruable income (deficit budgeting) continues month-in, month-out, the actual income available to the worker/government every month declines progressively because the lending authorities often put in place a mechanism that allows them to recoup the amount lent plus the crippling interest accruable on it at source. So, for a worker/government that had N50,000 to spend in the first month but spent N55,000 instead, it is going to have less than N45,000 available to it in the second month. Progressively, this was how borrowing (deficit budgeting) came to cripple theTHREE tiers of government.
On paper, it sounds reasonable to borrow to finance projects; a lot of theories and calculations of debt ratio to GDP are propounded to support this; but in reality, it is the expressway to economic doom, more so in our own setting where money is borrowed at crippling interest rates to pay salaries, settle political debts, provide for the comforts of our leaders etc. rather than be invested in activities that can yield enough returns to pay back the principal as well as the interest on it. From reports gleaned in the media, Osun appeared to have joined other governments in falling into this debt trap. But the Executive alone seldom take the decision to borrow; under our laws, the Legislature has to give legal backing. So the blame for the crippling debt burden whacking theTHREE tiers of government in Nigeria today, said to be well over N12 trillion, must also be shared by rubber-stamp legislatures. Lesson: Avoid borrowing. Remember the saying: He who goes a borrowing also goes a sorrowing.
A worker/government that earns N50,000 and spends everything, even if he stays within his income and does not borrow, treads on slippery ground. He has noSAVINGS; meaning that he has not made any provisions for the rainy day. He will have little or no problem for as long as his regular income of N50,000 comes in at regular intervals and he keeps his needs at the same level. But if, for reasons not of his own making, his monthly income drops from N50,000 to N20,000, he is certain to run into problems. This is the situation with the three tiers of government brought about by, one, the sharp drop inCRUDE OIL PRICE as a result of glut of the product in the international crude oil market; and, two, monumental corruption in the system. As stated above, the FG has a way of escape from the precarious situation more than the states/councils because it has endless ways and means of manipulating the porous system that it deliberately keeps so as to corner resources from source. So, the grandstanding by former Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, that the states did not heed advice to prioritize salaries/pensions not only beggars the point but is also of dubious origin. The trapped states\councils were simply at the mercy of the FG. Only a surgical operation on the odious system that criminally short-changes the states/councils, and which the Buhari administration is trying to carry out now, will save the situation. Having said that, however, all tiers of government must now imbibe the savings culture; the way governors always ran to the Excess Crude Account to rapidly deplete it made a mockery of their savings mentality. The allegation that the FG alone took money from the account without recourse to the states/councils who also are contributors should not only be thoroughly investigated but also arrested. Henceforth, a new mandate should have the concurrent signature of the three tiers of government. Apart from the Excess Crude Account, I also recommend that each state/council should have its own separate savings account into which some money must be dropped on a monthly basis. As the Yoruba would say, states/councils should stop eating with 10 fingers.
The various governments also ignored the warning signals of the bad times ahead even when the red light was flashing for all to see. None of them tightened their belts. The Jonathan administration set up the Osayande committee to recommend the streamlining of the MDAs but left its recommendations on the shelves to gather dust. In the states/councils, the same wishful thinking that the wind of adverse economic adversity would soon blow over pervaded. Speaking of Osun, I am not aware that Aregbesola did away with any of his O-Yes this, O-Yes that structures; he should have done that. He must reduce the cost of governance. It cannot continue to be business as usual. Other areas where the three tiers of government must share the blame are the appropriateness of policies and projects executed. I dare to say that this is not a problem area that can be easily surmounted because a lot of politicking is involved; so also are individual preferences. There is no new government that does not condemn what the former had done; everyone comes into office with his own brain wave and the usual practiceHERE is to abandon on-going projects and begin new ones. This is wasteful and must stop. Government, as they say, is a continuum. And projects should be properly thought through and not rushed. We must enthrone a system that will subject every important government project to something like an independent environmental impact assessment to thoroughly trash out the details before execution. If Osun had done that with its projects (Opon Imo, airport, mega schools/feeding of school children, helicopters/armoured tanks, for instance), it could have saved itself a lot of hassles and, possibly, losses.
Having said all of this, is the impeachment of Aregbesola or any of the other debtor-governor the solution, as was recently canvassed by a judge of the Osun State High Court, Justice Folahanmi Oloyede?NEXT week, God willing!
Credit: TRIBUNE ONLINE