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This stifling federalism

By Josef Omorotionmwan
THE science of Bioethics attempts to address itself to seeking solutions to new problems that emanate from solutions of existing ones. It is taking the new minimum wage law to realize afresh that at best, all we have is pseudo and lopsided federalism.

We do not intend to go back to constructing a rationale for the new minimum wage. We believe the government worker deserves a pay rise because the purchasing power of the Naira, whether earned in commerce and industry, or in government; and for that matter, whether earned in the Federal, state or local government service, is subject to the same economic conditions. It would be unfair to expect the public official to continue to ignore the fact that the purchasing power of his salary is diminishing.

Even in the heat of the electioneering campaigns, our lawmakers were still able to push the minimum wage bill out of its complex maze. Again, their lives depended on that bill because organised labour had threatened to boycott the elections if the bill was not passed into law before the elections.

For whatever reason, after series of denials and counter-denials from the President as to whether he had accented to the bill, he finally signed it into law on Tuesday, March 29.

In an attempt to get the hand of the animal, perhaps, organised labour was originally pushing for the leg. Although N18,000 is a far cry from their original demand of N52,000, they still deserve to be congratulated. Now that we have a new minimum wage law, what are we going to do with it? We cannot pretend that all is well. Many states have signaled that they cannot pay the new minimum.

After all, they have not been able to implement the existing minimum of N7,500. Labour has issued a tall order that must be obeyed: There is no running away from implementation. Even on the debit side, this minimum wage has been implemented three times over: When the Alfa Belgore Committee recommendation was first issued; when the National Assembly worked on the bill; and when the bill finally received presidential accent, the landlords and market women rolled over their prices. What is left now is for everybody to help the states to find the money.

This friend of ours, a Reverend Gentleman, keeps reminding us in the Benin colloquial expression, “Esagien okhokho igba nguonguo”, which translates approximately to the fact that the blood of a chicken cannot be sufficient for pepper soup. If you slaughtered one cow, you would have enough blood for pepper soup for an entire community; but if you drained the blood of all be birds in an entire poultry, the blood so collected would be insufficient for your pepper soup.

This analogy aptly explains the fiscal relationship between the Federal Government on the one hand and the 36 states and 774 local governments, on the other.

Our stifling federalism is such that the Federal Government has enough to eat, to steal, to waste and to throw around; while the two other federating units that really need the money are starving to death. This explains in large part, the cut-throat competition for the top offices at the Federal level.

A situation in which Big Brother alone takes 52 percent of the distributable revenue, while the 36 states and 774 localities are left with crumbs is most undesirable. Even after this, the Federal Government must also confiscate another two percent of the distributable income for ecological funds, which it insists it must manage on behalf of the states and localities.

A good legislature would have insisted that the review of the revenue allocation formula must go hand in hand with the minimum wage debates. In the months ahead, we see a number of states being enveloped in strikes; and we see a number of states dispatching many of their workers to the unemployment line. The Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission must wake up immediately to its constitutionally assigned responsibilities and set in motion, the process of reengineering a viable revenue allocation formula.

For too long, the Federal Government has been resident in the North, with only occasional visits to its Southern colonies.

How else does anyone explain the billions of Naira gulped by irrigation projects up North while the Federal Government swims in the national disgrace of being unwilling to fix the deplorable Benin-Ore, Ibadan-Ilorin and Benin-Ibadan death traps? Is it by accident that year after year, the Sokoto-Rima Basin Development Authority gets more than the allocation to all the River Basin Development Authorities in the South put together? By the way, when will the Ministry of Niger Delta take off?

Again, the states must realise that there is no free lunch anymore. People must look inwards and quickly intensify their Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) efforts. Undoubtedly, Governor Oshiomhole will not hesitate to grant them free tutorials in his school where he is already so proactive that if oil dries up tomorrow, government will not fold up.

When will the states rise up and tell Big Brother to stop playing pimp over them? For how long will the Federal Government remain the sole executor of the Federation Account in which it is supposed to be just one of the beneficiaries? The nation needs two Accountants-General – an Accountant-General of the Federation as distinct from the Federal Government’s Accountant-General.

Big Brother may be doing monkey business with your common wealth. These are just a few considerations that a viable revenue allocation debate must throw up and our answers will determine whether the states will swim or sink!

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