By Theo Adebowale
The Nigerian state is ever grappling with conflict and crisis that one wonders how public officers, especially the Chief Executives ever cope. Some obstinate fellow appears unperturbed only to give in after more pressure. This is particularly true of the President, Governors and Vice Chancellors. One wonders how they cope with incessant labour agitation. While authority to fix minimum salary, and review salaries resides in the Federal Government, implementation is a different ball game. Governing Boards of institutions are a go-between to workers and state governments. The Local Government Service Commission absorbs more of the heat relieving local council chairmen of the agitation towards implementation.
Whereas, much time is needed and a lot of resources committed to negotiating a review, because the implementing authorities are not equally endowed, arriving at a national minimum wage merely indicates the beginning of muscle flexing towards adoption and execution. But in a truly federal arrangement, Lagos, Rivers, Kano and Edo States may comfortably pay higher salaries unlike Ekiti, Kogi and Cross River States which may not be able to key into the increase. Given this scenario, some other states may be hiding under the conflict to claim not to have capability to pay higher, while others would refuse to look inward, and refuse to be creative. The beneficiaries of the lingering crisis are public officers with itchy palms, the private sector with their foreign collaborators who make huge profits which are repatriated to their home countries. Money laundering festers largely in the economy where no week passes without labour agitation, threat to close shop, and actual close down. How would the patience of the Chief Executive not be exhausted? How would he maintain his sanity? Whereas, it is possible for leadership of a tertiary institution to come up with an initiative that generates a lot of revenue making it buoyant enough to pay higher emoluments. Such a positive experiment had better not be contemplated in the present circumstance, otherwise it would trigger off agitations with unprecedented and unimaginable consequences, that Chief Executive would risk being charged for sabotage.’
Under the present arrangement that institutions are hard pressed for more pay by the workforce, it is State Governors that are at liberty to devise new means of revenue generation which they do by legislation. Because such ingenuity is not backed by commensurate improvement in infrastructure, or visible direct increase in pay packet, citizens are estranged by every effort to make them pay more. Tenement rates are in default because accompanying benefits are either dilapidated or nonexistent. Increase in fees paid in educational institutions become subject of political debate and blackmail because of subsisting economic hardship. Both citizens and their government are stalemated because unless there is efficient provision of electric power, security and information, with improved roads, drainages among other infrastructure, economic productivity would be hindered. On the contrary, where social facilities are expanded and infrastructure is in good shape, workers would happily go about their services, economic productivity would rise, and they would gladly fulfill their obligations. We may have to digress and commend the efforts of the Federal Government in constructing, reconstructing transport facilities like Lagos-Ibadan Expressway; rail roads through Ajaokuta to Itakpe to Warri, and Lagos Ibadan. Such efforts would be more successful and durable when the economy receives proper, adequate, timely attention. Officials residing within the state and local council areas are likely to have more time to appreciate first hand, challenges of transportation, education even policing and be more careful in sorting them out than when officials come periodically from the centre for assessment and implementation of contracts.
Already, there are reports of sabotage by local brigands and rural miscreants who are a ready tool in the hand of misguided politicians who entreat them with stomach infrastructure.
Concentrating state power in the centre would merely serve self aggrandisement of public officials while, in actual fact, it is detrimental to economic progress and political stability of the system. If the laws were carefully crafted to allow institutions of the state and tiers of government to exercise sufficient authority in exploiting resources within their jurisdiction and apply proceeds of provision of goods, services and infrastructure within their territories, leakages would be curbed, sabotage reduced and efficiency maximized. The fact is best illustrated in first shipping crude abroad to refine, and get the products imported back for consumption at home. This has allowed waste naturally, deliberate sabotage in bunkering, money laundering and black marketeering
Until Nigeria is able to site her factories close to sources of raw materials, she may not do better than remaining a consumption system. This has been accommodated by public officials watching foreign contractors moving all manners of workers including drivers, vulcanizers, from their own countries to execute projects here while unemployment ratio remains high. The consequence is that Nigerian citizens who would have acquired new skills are denied that opportunity. Similarly, retired generals and their cronies all come from outside the host communities to possess oil blocs. They have no part in the prosperity or misfortune of the community. They are ignorant of the nature or the hardship resulting from oil spill, water pollution and environmental degradation beyond what they learn from the press. They are viewed as usurpers by the locals to the extent that even when palliatives are allocated to such localities, community chieftains and bad boys corner them just like public officials corner the lion share of annual budgets as salaries, allowances and constituency funds to constituencies. Fiscal federalism would take the burden off the neck of leadership at the centre when the constitution may have restructured the economy. It would encourage fiscal responsibility and minimize buck passing.