Wednesday, March 9, 2016 11:15 am
By Sadiq Aralepo
The strike by Ogun state workers can be likened to a wife abandoning her caring husband because of difficult times…
I woke up on Monday morning to the news that Ogun state civil servants had begun an indefinite strike. About an hour later, I heard that the resident doctors had equally begun a one-week warning strike!
Nigeria appears to be the most strike-infested country in the world. What offends one’s sensibilities is the fact that unlike in other climes, our own strikes don’t last for one or two hours, one or two days, but weeks and months, irrespective of the economic cost to the nation.
The attraction or motivation for industrial action is always there for Nigerian workers. At the end of the several months of no work, workers still insist on collecting salaries for the duration of the strike and they get paid anyway. So heads or tails, it is the masses in the informal sector that are short-changed.
Notwithstanding the above, the last place one expected a strike was Ogun state. From what we read in the media from time to time, which nobody has contradicted, Ogun state governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, pays workers the highest salaries in Nigeria. His government – again unrefuted – is said to have implemented the Minimum Wage across board whereas most other states only effected the Wage at the lowest cadre of the Civil Service. Thus while workers embarked on strikes from one state to the other in order to force the implementation of the Wage, Ogun workers smiled to the banks month after month.
Well, on the face value, there is nothing wrong in paying your workers above the recommended threshold if your economy can sustain it. But what happens during an economic recession that is not even your own making?
Until recently when a new generation emerged, what we knew in marriage was “for better for worse”, meaning that couples were expected to take triumphs and trials with equanimity; for it is said that “Though times don’t last but tough people do!”
Therefore, the action of Ogun workers in embarking on strike can be likened to the fair-weather wife who abandoned her caring husband during difficult times.
If Ogun employees enjoyed when the times were good, it is naturally expected that in this time of economic crisis, they will bear with the government because tough time won’t last.
It is preposterous for some to argue that the very little amount that comes into government’s purse every month should be diverted completely to pay salaries of workers that are below 50,000 in number, in a state of 7 million people. What then should the 7 million citizens of the state benefit from government?
It was even a bit shocking to discover that the reason for the strike was not salary per se but deductions. If it is true that government has paid salaries up to February 2016, as reported in the papers, but only defaulted in remittance of some deductions, I think the solution to the problem is not far-fetched.
Now, how will a state whose monthly wage bill, according to media reports, is about N9 billion but now collects N2 or N3 billion from the Federation Account be able to pay salaries? Amosun might have done the impossible for workers because he grew the state’s IGR from N700m monthly to about 4 or 5 billion naira monthly before the nation’s economic crisis began in mid-2013, which worsened by the middle of 2014. But now that the financial crisis has hit everyone such that the state can no longer generate much, how will Ogun be able to pay the enhanced salaries to its workforce or offset deductions?
Those of us who expressed reservations when Amosun decided to pay above the Minimum Wage and when he reflected the percentage increment across board (he even did the same in the local councils) should also be in a position to offer the way out.
My reservations then stemmed from the fact that the members of the organised labour constitute less than 5 per cent of the population of Ogun state. Why should such a tiny segment consume over 70 per cent of the state’s income? When the Amosun government declared free education, that benefits every home in the state; when he built roads, bridges, schools, etc., it is for the benefit of all. But when less than 5 percent of the workforce sits on 70 per cent of the resources of the state, then some injustice becomes evident.
Now, there are many ongoing projects that will benefit both workers in the formal and informal sector of Ogun state. We cannot ask Amosun to stop free education that benefits close to 100 per cent of the entire citizens of Ogun in order to pay workers who are less than 5 per cent. Neither can we ask him to stop road and school projects that will benefit every resident of the state just because he has to pay workers. Should we ask him to freeze investment in the health or agriculture sector in order to satisfy less than 5 per cent of the population of the state?
I think Mr Amosun has some power of clairvoyance. He had cut the salaries and allowances of his political aides, drastically, long before the financial crisis across the country degenerated. He has blocked all leakages identified in the system through streamlining the accounts of the government, what is called Treasury Single Account and electronic payment. (From personal experience, I know some workers in the revenue-generating sections of the government still find a way to short-change the system.)
We know that the terms rationalisation, downsizing, rightsizing, salary-adjustment, early retirement of top echelons, etc. are anathema to the organised labour. Before you say Jack they tell you government must cut cost, stop corruption, even though no political office holder can steal a kobo without the connivance of civil servants. Well, Amosun has cut cost even beyond expectation; he has fought corruption to a standstill. Yes, the governor has engaged in diversification of the economy of the state by investing massively in agriculture. So what should he do again?
The majority of the people that voted for him want him to complete all the ongoing projects and even do more. Over 90 per cent of us in Ota voted for Amosun because of his revolution in the Ota township roads. We want him to complete all the road projects. Some voters even expect him to open new projects. He is a politician. And a politician worth his salt must deliver on his campaign promises. He must meet the aspirations of those who voted him into power. Amosun secured over 300,000 votes at the last governorship poll. Even if the entire workforce delivered it’s maximum 50.000 votes to APC, what becomes of the 250,000 voters who are not public servants? At any rate, the governor was elected to cater for the entire 7 million people of the state, not 50,000 government workers only.
You only borrow money for development projects. It makes no economic sense to borrow money for recurrent expenditure. It is a known fact that many states are owing several months of unpaid salaries, but the Amosun government has been able to pay salaries up to date despite the harsh economic climate in Nigeria. I think the administration of Amosun deserves commendation rather than strike. The governor, a chartered accountant, is indeed an expert in prudent husbandry of resources. We should give him thumps up!
Nevertheless, the state government must commit itself irrevocably to offsetting the outstanding deductions once the economic situation improves and the state returns to an even keel financially. It is therefore in the interest of all for the government employees to resume work.
Dr Sadiq Aralepo, an economist, writes from Iyana-yesi, Ota, Ogun state.