The fact of shrinking fortunes, which has confronted governments, as well as private ventures, is no news again, a situation consequent upon a multiplicity of factors, most of which simply defy solutions, even at global levels. The contribution of the raging global pandemic to the problem should not be overlooked, however.
Particularly in Nigeria, states are going out of their ways to cope, by cutting down traditional commitments on routine spendings, even while reducing capital projects. This is the picture in Niger state, very similar to what goes on across other states of the country.
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While it is true that Niger state has now decided to make temporary 30% reduction in salaries of workers across the board, a move which has affected both career and political officers – including the governor himself(!), the issues which caused the 30% cut should be factored into conditioning an appreciation, rather than condemnation, of Governor Abubakar Sani Bello-led administration.
Today, the truth is that even states that receive a larger share from the federation account monthly and even records higher returns from their Internally Generated Revenue have been constrained into reducing salaries of their workers, even long before now.
Everyone who has been following events
in Niger state will tell that the Governor is never known for delaying salaries, and that, even before minimum wage, he has chosen to implement a 25% increase in monthly earnings of civil servants on grade levels. The staff in our fire services department have not been excluded in the list of cadres that have enjoyed enhanced salary schemes under this government.
Governor Abubakar has equally perfected the tradition of paying salaries by 25th of every month, revealing his love and a soft spot for the workers. If there is any delay in paying workers lately, such a delay should be viewed against such a litany of unfavourable factors, a situation which the governor himself has found quite disturbing, but which remains inevitable.
Since his first term, again, Governor Abubakar has implemented unadulterated, full-scale implementation of CONMESS – Consolidated Medical Salary Structure – and CONHESS – Consolidated Health Salary Structure – for health workers, including medical doctors, pharmacists, nurses, laboratory scientists, and various other categories of health staff in state-owned health establishments. By the move, Niger state remains one of the five states in the country that has so far made the move, ranking the state’s medical staff alongside those in the federal service.
While Labour is not wrong to agitate for the welfare of its members, the facts of issues must equally be disclosed and clarified all the time so that the Union would not be pursuing a wrong course and fighting a needless war! Labour should be informed that the 30% reduction in salaries would not be terminally forfeited by workers, but would be repaid soon as the situation improves.
The government had made a similar reduction of 20% in the salaries of workers earnings before, and they were all repaid when the situation enabled it. Local governments got into the same problem a few months ago, paying 80% of salaries of its workforce and settling the balance later.
The reduction in monthly earnings does not, however, affect pensioners who have to continue to receive 100% of their pensions, underscoring Governor Lolo’s soft spot for retired civil servants.
The austerities that have befallen Nigeria is a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has not spared any country on the globe. Today, no state, even those with large IGRs are not finding it funny, regarding incomes to settle monthly bills, salaries/wages inclusive! But all Niger state is saying is that workers – civil/public servants and political appointees – should manage with what is available now just until the situation improves. The deduction is temporary, and repayments shall be made soon as incomes improve. States that are doing better than Niger state in terms resources have cut salaries too, even long before now.
The truth is that Niger state has been feeling the cash crunch since March, but had thought the situation could be managed without shifting any burden upon the workers. Such is apparently no longer possible. We all have to accept this as reality, even as government shall explore all means to ensure that the situation is resolved in a few months to come.