Consternation is already buzzing over the Federal Government’s hint of a slash in the salaries of civil servants. Zainab Ahmed, the Minister of Finance, had made the disclosure that the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission had been directed to identify steps that may involve a reduction in the salaries of workers and employees of several agencies.
At a policy dialogue on corruption and costs of governance organised by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) in Abuja, the minister called on Federal agencies to begin the process of cutting down costs of governance. She added that the current administration plans to remove certain items from the budget to reduce the cost of governance. In her words:
“We still see government expenditure increase to a terrain twice higher than our revenue. The nation’s budgets are filled every year with projects that are recycled over and over again and are also not necessary.
“Mr President has directed that the salaries committee that I chair work together with the head of service and other members of the committee to review the government payrolls in terms of cutting down on cost.”
Ahmed said she will work with relevant agencies of government to cut down on unnecessary expenditures so that limited resources can be used for important projects.
The move however met with public outcry, with the Nigerian Labour Congress at the forefront. While expressing its disavowal, the organised labour labelled the plan as a “mass suicide wish for Nigerian workers”. In a statement on 5 May 2021, the president of NLC, Ayuba Wabba said it received the statement credited to the office of the Ministry of Finance with deep apprehension:
”It is almost unthinkable that the government would be contemplating to unilaterally slash the salaries of Nigerian workers at this time.
“The question to ask is which salary is the government planning to slash? It certainly cannot be the meagre national minimum wage of N30, 000, which right now cannot even buy a bag of rice.
”Nigerian workers are only surviving by hair’s breadth. Indeed, Nigerian workers are miracles strutting on two legs.
”It is, therefore, extremely horrendous for a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to pronounce salary slash for Nigerian workers currently.
”This call for salary slash by Mrs Zainab Ahmed tantamounts to a “mass suicide” wish, for Nigerian workers.”
Mr. Wabba asked that the Minister of Finance immediately retract her statement and tender an apology to that effect.
While maintaining that workers generate surplus value and revenue for the government, the NLC President pointed out that “it is the humongous remuneration and allowances pocketed by political office holders in Nigeria, who do extraordinarily little but collect so much” that needed slashing.
According to him, “We do not constitute any unnecessary cost or burden to governance.”
He further noted that it would be completely out of place for the Federal Government to give a hearing to talks about salary slash when in other parts of the world, the salaries of their workforce were being increased.
Mr. Wabba therefore “urged the government as a social partner to quickly respond to the demands by Labour for an upward review of salaries of all Nigerian workers.”
Although most Nigerians have advocated for a reduction in the costs of governance, not many agree with this latest move. Echoing the statement from the NLC, many insist that asides the fact that this is coming at a difficult time, why start with the salaries of civil workers and not that of the National Assembly and other top government offices whose financial burden has run the country aground without any commensurate gains?
Meanwhile, the ICPC Chairman, Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye pointed out that such corrupt endemic as ghost workers, payroll padding, project duplication, among others, were some of the key areas it was focused on as they were largely responsible for the high costs of governance.
The ICPC Chairman’s remark is particularly important in view of the Acting Provost of ACAN, Prof. Tunde Babawale’s position that Nigeria will make headway if such practices as procurement fraud, duplication of functions of MDAs, kickbacks from contracts, and diversion of public funds can be expunged.
The Director-General, Budget Office of the Federation, Ben Akabueze had also opined that one of the ways to address the problem of high cost of governance is to restructure the federation into six regions as opposed to the thirty-six state structure that is currently obtainable. He added that reducing the federal ministries from 27 to 20 would make the needed statement.
In addition, Permanent Secretary, David Adejo, who represented the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha, averred that the Federal Government intends to achieve the reduction in cost of governance through what he said was the harmonisation of MDAs. The office of the SGF noted that IPPIS and other technological means of public-sector payment were part of measures adopted to ascertain that there is no foul play in the system as regards costs of governance.
This was echoed by Zainab Ahmed who had disclosed that a strategic revenue initiative had been designed which was aimed at solving the problem of revenue deficiency, and also reducing cost by alternating processes that give room for corruption.
Renowned researcher and university lecturer, Prof. Isaac N. Obasi equally proposed that the costs of running the system of government the country currently operates be reviewed, while ensuring that the quality of checks and balances, as well as proportional representation, is not obliterated. He also asked the Federal Government to introduce measures that would cut down on the multiplication of institutions.
Although the idea of a slash in civil worker’s salaries has met with widespread criticism, the disclosure by the minister of finance that a transparency portal had been launched to provide access to citizens to view transactions from agencies and monitor how the government was performing its transactions, was well received.