(Vanguard of Sunday, March 17, 2002)
Gone seem to be days when we were told to cut our coat according to the cloth. All the evidence points to the fact that we are insisting on coating the coat according to the size. But whose cloth and whose size? Ours of course. Are we are not the one country, the one people, the one destiny, when it suits us to go poetic and patriotic? So why should we not wear one coat of the same material, texture and colour?
If it is Damask in Argungu, it should be damask in Yenagoa. If it is Oganza in Ososa, it must be oganza in Ibie and oganza in Kuma Villages. That Lagos stretches from Epe through Victoria Island to Yaba and Ikeja and Iju, and so would demand special attention, would not matter. Is Lagos not a place, just as Ubiaja is a place? Why discuss whether it costs N200 to move from one end of Lagos to the other, and N20 from an okada rider to take you round Ubiaja! Both have workers employed by the Federal Civil Service Commission and should be on the same scale! Even the state workers must enjoy the minimum wage which the President announced without consultation with anyone two years ago. That the federal Government or state governments can pay or not pay is not the question. The country is one, the people are one; the workers should be one, and must therefore fight the battles as a united group in search of freedom from exploitation of the bourgeoisie.
And so, the arguments to sustain an unrealistic position continues. And so we continue our dangerous investment that can only lead to disaster.
The cases of three governors caught my attention. Lucky Igbinedion is my own governor. I am Edo and he is governor of Edo State. I should be one of those concerned when his state is in trouble. Segun Osoba is my own governor. He is a personal friend and colleague and has been since the 60s. We belong in the Daily Times family. Anything that will bring him down in Ogun State will affect me directly. Ahmed Tinubu is my governor. He is a family friend. I live in Lagos and have been part of patting him gingerly on the back for the effort he has put into making this overcrowded and lawless edifice work. If he must fall, it would be unfair for him to fall because of a matter that he can never have an answer to.
And what have these three men whose predicaments make me bleed from the heart have in common? It is the debt burden. And they are not the only ones in debt. All the 36 governors, and the Federal Government, are debtors. They are debtors to those who have served this country and are now awaiting every month the little they expect to keep soul and body together. And if they are not yet debtors to the army of workers in their employment, they will sooner than later be debtors to them because very very soon, they will be unable to meet the salary bill and the pensions bill.
It is not the little which my friend SK, a retired colonel, gets every month that counts. It is the fact that SK’s little is multiplied by a hundred, for others, or a thousand or even a million. And what effect will it have on the future where the resources are dwindling to meet this commitment and where many more SKs are leaving service because they have paid their dues?
Look at the facts as graphically give by Tell last week in its lead story entitled: The Salary Bomb. I will restrict myself to my three governors and the Federal government. Lucky Igbinedion had the House of Assembly pass a loan request for N2 billion to meet the demands of pensioners who are being owed N7 billion. Even side of this indebtedness is the fact that the lean resoureces of the state are not adequate to meet the monthly bill of salary payments in a state where the only viable industry is the civil service. This problem is not of Igbinedion’s making and anyone who wants to ride on it to power will meet it waiting for him right there in Government House.
Segun Osoba is confronted with a bill of N180 million every month for pensions where, before the review, he had to pay N35 million. The wage bill at inception of the new dispensation was N180 million. Now, Segun must pay N550 million a month on salaries. Which means that every month the state must pay some N700 million on salaries and pensions. If in February the sate got N474 million from the Federation account and had to beg banks to provide about N200 million, it is clear that the basic infrastructures must suffer.
In Lagos, Tinubu still meets his commitments to the workers but how long for? From about N400 million, his monthly personnel bill has climbed to N1.6 billion, and with dwindling oil receipts, the states are collecting less than they were when the salary review was made two years ago. If Tinubu wants to fleece house-owners to meet his commitments to provide Lagos with some comfort, you now know why. The Federal Government itself is not any better off. Its indebtedness on pensions alone runs into billions of naira. With the police going on strike and the NLC giving May as deadline for increase of salaries across the board, we must be awaiting sleepless nights in the next few months.
But must we lose any sleep when the answer to the problem is so simple, even too simple to overlook? Can’t we just cut the coat according to the cloth? Let us start with a meeting of the Council of State. The President must tell the Council what the problem is. The problem is that we are eating the future and the present in the present. We are eating up today what we should invest for harvest tomorrow. Where a country eats the food meant for its offspring, it dies. There is no case in history where anything but death visited a country that would not look its problem in the face and proffer solutions that would save it from certain death.
It is short-sightedness that makes people look out for change. The party in power may lose elections and bring in some other parties. Or there may be so much unrest that the military come in. But whoever is there will meet the problem right there on the table. So let us put the problem before the Council of State and tell them that this country is not working and cannot work as it is.
I have some thoughts on this and should be making practical suggestions for us in the media. Those who want to hear should listen and take action before it is too late. I am not a prophet of doom or even a prophet in any contemporary definition of the word. But anyone who anchors all he sees and narrates on the law of sowing and reaping needs no prophet to pronounce on the consequences of neglect to do that which must bear good fruit.
I believe that when these problems are tabled before the Council of State the decisions will be presented to the National Assembly and State Assemblies which will pass the relevant resolutions. We will take the matter to the people of Nigeria and they will vote, and we will start a new journey, more democratic, into a future that will be bright and beautiful.
If salaries need to be reduced, Adams Oshiomole and his NLC team will be patriotic enough to preach the sermon of sacrifice and self denial. We will then discover that we can afford to pay more to those who have spent all their lives working to get this country going. The matter is too serious to gloss over.
(Published in Vol. 1 of Democracy Watch, A Monitor’s Diary by Tony Momoh, pages 359 – 362; Lagos, 2003).