Nigeria: Editorial – Incongruity of Public Officers’ Pay Hike Amidst a Fiscal Crisis

A pay rise for public officers is an incongruity that should not be contemplated at all at this point in time, except for court judges.

Notice has been served of the imminent upward review of salaries of public office holders in Nigeria by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC). The Chairman of the Commission, Mohammed Bello Shehu mentioned this when he visited the Chairman, Nigerian Governors Forum, Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State recently. He bemoaned the situation where the salaries of some government’s agencies by far outweigh what the president and other public officers receive. However, a wage hike for this class of officers, with their humongous allowances and other pecks, amidst a fiscal crunch is patently an absurdity. It is simply a wrong message to send at a time Nigerians are in distress due to the cost of living crisis.

Public officers covered by the pay increase include, the president, vice-president, governors and their deputies; members of the National Assembly, state assembly legislators, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Head of Service, ministers, special advisers, chairmen and members of constitutional bodies and chairmen of local government councils, among others. That is to say, Nigeria’s governing class.

Revenue generating agencies with envious salary structures referenced by the RMAFC boss are, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Nigeria National Petroleum Company Ltd (NNPC), Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Nigerian Maritime Administration Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) and Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), etc. Shehu argued that it was wrong for any public sector worker to earn more than the President, whose salary is put at N14, 058,820 per annum.

What the RMAFC did not point out is that these political officials are already well catered for. President Muhammadu Buhari, for example, is provided with food, cars, a large fleet of presidential jets and healthcare for free by the Nigerian State and he also earns estacodes for his many overseas trips. According to Shehu, a former Deputy Governor of CBN collected N500 million as gratuity, whereas public office holders receive pittance as severance package at disengagement. The RMAFC boss thinks, therefore, that this is anomalous and unacceptable.

But disparate salary structures within Nigeria’s public sector are creations of government itself, which gives the approval each time heads of some of the agencies make these remuneration requests. That it is now an issue of concern, as expressed by RMAFC, which watched this dissonance in reward system ingrained in the public service without raising an eyebrow until now, is emblematic of systemic dysfunction in governance.

A pay rise for public officers is an incongruity that should not be contemplated at all at this point in time, except for court judges. The disturbing national reality does not support upward reviews in the earnings of public officials. Instructively, after three years that the N30,000 minimum wage was adopted, many states are yet to enforce it due to their impecunious circumstances. As of July, this year, a survey by the civil society organisation, BudgIT, revealed that about 12 states owned their workers six-month salary arrears. Abia State did not allegedly pay workers for 22 months, while pensioners in Ebonyi State were owed for six months. What is more, 80 million Nigerians live below the poverty line, according to the global poverty index, just as in September, Nigeria’s out-of-school children reached 20 million, making the country second to India in this regard, according to UNESCO.

Therefore, it offends the sensibilities of Nigerians for anybody to propose a salary hike for public sector officials, especially lawmakers, presently. They are notoriously negligent of their responsibilities; those at the state level are, at best, rubber stamps of governors in the states, a development that destroys the checks and balances enshrined in the 1999 Constitution, as amended. The President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan had in 2021 disclosed that the monthly salary of a senator is N1.5 million and that of a member of the House of Representatives is N1.3 million. The reality, however, is that the total emoluments of lawmakers are still ensconced in secrecy. A former senator and member of the Eighth Senate, Shehu Sani, burst the bubble in 2018 when he revealed that each member then received N13.5 million as monthly “running cost”, in addition to the N700,000 consolidated monthly salary and allowances.

Each time their financial package attracts national attention, legislators usually flaunt only the pay slip with the legitimate income and allowances, as prescribed by RMAFC. But the devil is always in the detail of allowances they award to themselves, claiming these as running costs. This is in addition to the “gifts” they are widely alleged to extract from the public agencies that they carry out oversight on, alongside the criminal racketeering many of them are said to engage in through budget padding and similar activities. This had come to light through the whistleblowing in the House of Representatives in 2018, when the Chairman of the Appropriation Committee of the green chamber, Abdulmumin Jibrin, fell out with the leadership of the House over the disproportionate sharing of N60 billion inserted into the budget for constituency projects, N40 billion of which, according to him, was for the principal officers of the chamber. “There is a limit to Appropriation,” Jibrin had screamed then. For going public with this information, he was suspended for 180 legislative days. In most cases, the contracts for these constituency projects were pointed out as being awarded to the companies of the Assembly members or those of their cronies, and these were barely executed, if carried out at all.

Under the monetisation programme to reduce the cost of governance, car, housing and furniture allowances were introduced by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration. But the National Assembly legislators did not allow this to work. Till date, exotic cars are still procured at huge costs for each lawmaker in standing committees, under the guise that it will enable the discharge of oversight functions effectively. Ironically, it is a remit they have failed woefully in performing, as evident in the various leakages in the ministries, departments and agencies of government. Today, looting of the treasury has seemingly become the essence of public service in the country.

As an important agency saddled with mobilising public resources, the RMAFC ought to be conscious of the most critical factor in wage review – the ability to pay, which Nigeria does not presently have. Just last week, official figures showed the progressive nose-diving of public revenues, with Federal Government’s six-month expenditure exceeding revenue by N6.23 trillion. The country recorded N3.2 trillion and N2.74 trillion fiscal deficits in the first and second quarters respectively. This is why the 2023 budget involves a deficit of over N11 trillion, which could become more in the emerging fiscal situation.

This scenario leaves the country with the option of borrowing more from international creditors that it is already chokingly indebted to in order to pay public sector officials. Unfortunately, many of them, with their incompetence, negligence of duty and downright complicity, have played key roles in the waste of national resources and mindless looting of the treasury. The country’s present crude oil output is less than one million barrels per day. This is by far below its OPEC quota of 1,830 million bpd, due to massive oil theft that has gone unhindered, thus dispatching the country to a fiscal cliff.

It bears repeating that a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) awarded a grass-cutting contract of N500 million to himself. Another top female bureaucrat was enmeshed in a N3 billion contract scandal, out of which N600 million was found in the bank account of one of her aides; just as another official who keeps watch over the treasury was removed from office over N90 billion that he is claimed to have stolen.

No rational nation borrows for consumption or payment of wages, the way it is being done in Nigeria today. The aberration has made Nigeria’s sovereign debt jump from N12 trillion to N42.8 trillion in the last seven years on Buhari’s watch. The country must begin to cut its coat according to its cloth, enforce its writ on Fiscal Responsibility and recover its well documented stolen or undeclared crude oil revenues, whose value is in excess of $100 billion, to improve its decadent infrastructure and social service delivery.

Improving the pay of a class of people, some of whom cannot explain the sources of wealth they have stashed abroad, and who own properties in Abuja and other major cities, is the least of our national priorities at this time of a scary fiscal crisis.

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