By Victor Ahiuma- Young
LEADERS of Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), met a few days ago in Lagos, to review the state of the nation. Under the umbrella of its National Executive Council (NEC), among others, leaders of ASCSN appraised the socio-economic and political situations in the country and concluded that the nation is retrogressing.
Addressing members and other guests, President of the association, Comrade Olakunle Olaitan, expressed concerns withÂ the economy, banking sector, electoral reforms, planned deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry, politics, education, infrastructure, security and among others, and declared that there is hardly anything to cheer and inspire hope in the citizens.
Beginning with welfare of workers, Comrade Olaitan, lamented that since early last year, the trade union side of the Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council demanded for upward review of Civil Servants salaries from grade levels 01-17, and that theÂ request was intended to restore the relativity hitherto existing before the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) hiked the emoluments of political office holders, judicial officers, and permanent secretaries with more than 800% without doing same for other civil servants.
According to him: â€œToday, while a permanent secretary takes home about N 1.5 million monthly, the next officer to that rank, the director, receives N150,000 per month, This form of disparity is capable of killing morale leading to frustration and low productivity in the civil service. Besides, it is common knowledge that civil servants are the least paid employees in the Public Sector of the economy.
It is high level of commitment and sense of responsibility that have continued to sustain the morale of our members who have continued to render selfless service as usual hoping that the government will soon play its own part by being fair to all concerned. We urge the government to realize that officers on grade levels 01-17 are also Nigerians who are entitled to decent living wage apart from the fact that they go to the same market with political office holders, judicial officers, and permanent secretaries.
We, therefore, demand the immediate commencement of negotiation based on the memorandum submitted to Gove
rnment by the Joint Council with a view to ensuring that the relativity existing before the last increment of permanent secretariesâ€™ remunerations by the RMAFC is restored in the interest of industrial peace, equity and justice.â€
â€œI wish to use this opportunity to alert you all on the impending mass sack of civil servants by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).Â Recently, the Chairman of the Commission, Professor Maurice Iwu, announced with fanfare to that he has decided to retrench workers of the Commission enmasse. I wish to state that if this mass purge is allowed to take place, it will bring untold hardship to thousands of employees who will be laid off as well as thousands of their dependants.
This plan by Iwu to send thousands of workers to the oversaturated labour market is really painful given the fact that it runs counter to prevailing government policy. You will recall that early this year, the Federal Government issued Circular Ref. No.SGF.8/VII/305 of 26th March 2009 pledging to maintain the present level of employment in the public service to ensure that no worker loses his or her job as a result of the global economic meltdown and urged the private sector to follow suit.
We are, therefore, baffled that INEC, a government agency can unilaterally decide to breach this policy with impunity. We call on President Umar Yarâ€™Adua to prevail on the INEC chairman to sheath his sword and refrain from any act that could trigger off another round of industrial crisis which the country cannot afford now. Let me also use this opportunity to assure our members at the Commission that the Union has the capacity to protect their jobs and ensure that they are not treated as slaves in their own country.
Economy no longer productive
Examining the economy, ASCCNâ€™s President, warned that the Nigerian economy is grinding to a halt as all indicators are pointing to the fact that the economy has ceased to be productive. According to him: â€œMost of the productive ventures and growing concerns are closing down in droves and relocating to other African countries. One clear bad example was the closure of Coca-Cola condensate plant at Ota, Ogun State.
It is instructive to note that Coca-Cola has two condensate plants in Africa – one in Nigeria and the other one in Swaziland. Whereas the one in Swaziland, a country with numerical strength less than that of Alimosho Local Government Area of Lagos State is still functioning. Dunlop, Michelin and many manufacturing concerns had earlier closed shop and relocated from Nigeria. There is need for the government to wake up as a matter of extreme urgency, stop paying lip service and media hype to issues of infrastructure and development.
The Government at all levels should galvanize the system through well-coordinated developmental and fiscal policies aimed at stimulating the economy through massive investments in road networks, water, airport, seaports and most importantly energy.
Economic growth and domestic production cannot be stimulated under a crippling environment of infrastructural deficit, high cost of production and sub-optimal level of capacity utilization.â€
â€œ Another vital artery of development that the nation has neglected for a long period is the rail system. The importance of a functioning rail system cannot be overemphasized. For a country to be classified among the best, this vital service has to be in place. With a working railway, passengers and goods can be moved easily at affordable prices across the nation. The dilapidated roads of Nigeria made worse by an avalanche of tankers and trailers will enjoy a much needed respite for proper rehabilitation.
Road accidents will reduce. Resuscitation of the rail service will equally offer wide range of employment to thousands of Nigerians – skilled and unskilled. We are using this medium to appeal to our government that it is high time for Nigeria, like in the past, to boast of a decent rail system. The present situation where the law vests the power to build railways only in the federal government is stale and should be reviewed to accommodate regional railways.
On equal note, the current drive to reposition our rail system should be propelled by some political will which is presently lacking. I wish to use this occasion to appeal to our lawmakers to urgently review all relevant laws that can move this country forward and for Mr. President, to find solutions to the nationâ€™s most intractable problems such as infrastructural decay, institutional corruption and culture of impunity.
Rot in education
On education, he declared: â€œFrom the Nursery and Primary School system, which is the foundation of modern education, to the tertiary institutions, the bedrock of scientific and technological advancement, the entire education sector is in a shamble. The rot in the sector is like a putrefying sore, open to all to see. In the latest Webometrics World University Ranking released in July 2009, other African Universities are clearly far ahead of Nigeria.
There is no Nigerian university among the best 6000 in the World nor among the first 60 in Africa. For quite a while now, it has been a season of strikes by the unions in the sector because of the complete neglect of that sphere of our national life. We all know that a country cannot rise above the quality of products turned out by its education system. The future of any country depends on education.
It is high time we transformed this country into a knowledge-based economy through massive fund injection, conscious promotion of efficient, sustainable and effective IT initiatives achievable only through measured and systematic development of industrial and academic resources. Allocation of mere 8% of the annual budget to education is grossly inadequate.â€