Why State Governments Cannot Pay Salaries, By Olalekan Waheed Adigun

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In the past few months, about twenty of Nigeria’s thirty-six states have become struggling, financially unhealthy, and economically unviable states. From conservative estimates, they have not been able to pay their staff salaries for at least three months. While some managed to pay at Christmas, others were not so lucky.

There have been accusations and counter-accusations between the federal government and the states over the dwindling monthly federal allocations, which most of these states depend on to pay their workers’ salaries. The federal government has been categorical in citing the fall in the global oil prices as affecting the reduction in federal allocations; the states have not been so convinced. The two positions notwithstanding, workers are going home empty-handed at month ends.

Before we can fully understand why the states are facing their present financial challenges, we need to understand the balance upon which they exist or were created. All through the period of the National Conference, one of the most talked about issues was that of state creation. In my estimation, there are four categories of those agitating for state creation. The first are those want additional state(s) in their region in other to be at par with other regions (or geo-political zones) in the country. Their region has been marginalised, so they say. The second group are those who just want to maintain their ethnic hegemony or supremacy by having the highest number of states in the country. Coming after the first two, are those who have apparently fallen out of favour in the political balance in their present states. So they feel marginalised, hence the call for a state of their own. The fourth group have no identifiable positions, other than just wanting states. So, they either fit into the first three groups or just keep quiet hoping for luck to shine on them.

Common to all those agitating for more states is their silence on funding for the new states. This does not seem to matter to them because one thing they are sure of getting is a monthly federal allocation. It is on federal allocations that more than 20 of the present 36 states survive. Remove the monthly federal allocations, many states will either collapse or just struggle to survive, as the recent fall in allocations have shown. It is these allocations that are increasing the agitations for state creation. You don’t have to do anything to get it; it’s your right as far as you are a state!

At this point let us bring in Mr. Ben Bruce-Murray, the entertainment guru, Silverbird Group owner and a Senator-elect. He has been in the news recently for making some hard points. I admire this man a lot because he is trying to create a niche for himself in the next Senate session. He made a point to the effect that as a result of the governors’ inability to pay their workers, they themselves should not be paid, until their workers are paid. Fine point! He said all the allowances of the governors must be cut. Another fantastic point if you ask me. But he missed the point altogether when he said that state governments should not blame the federal government for their inability to pay their workers. He cited the fact that if he could not pay his staff at Silverbird it would be irresponsible of him to blame his father. This is where I part ways with the entertainer.

Mr. Ben Bruce perhaps forgot that at Silverbird, he runs, controls and, in fact, owns the resources the company boasts of. If his father ever had any input, it was purely on fatherly advice. He probably does not have, or will not want to have a father like the Nigerian federal government which only comes once in a while and collects all the revenue of the company, and in turn gives a stipend (say, 13 percent) on which he is to run the company for the month or year. This is the exact relationship between the federal and state governments under the present deficient federal structure today!

We have a federal government which collects all royalties and taxes. It is controller for all the natural resources that the states are supposed to own. Within this present arrangement, it is only logical for states to hold the federal government to account for their inability to meet their financial obligations.

If we are to adopt Ben’s business model, which is supposed to be the ideal situation, it means we have to amend the constitution to include resource control and abolish the primitive monthly federal allocation, which at best guarantees laziness, constipation, opportunism and corruption. This is where we need people like Ben Bruce to help. As Senator-elect, he owes us a duty to help sponsor a bill to amend the 1999 Constitution to include resource control when he gets into the Senate!

As long as we have economically and politically unviable states, we will we continue to have states that cannot pay their salaries without depending on federal allocation! When we have states that are economically viable with full resource control and only paying royalties to the federal government, then states that cannot survive will naturally merge with other states to become viable too. Having 36 weak states does not do, and cannot do, any nation much good when we may as well have 15 politically and economically efficient states.

Olalekan Waheed Adigun is an academic, dramatist, poet, psephologist, political strategist and researcher. He can be reached on olalekan@olalekanadigun.com, adgorwell@gmail.com, of Twitter: @adgorwell

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