Image: Governor Obiano of Anambra State
It was the late novelist, academic and activist, Festus Iyayi who once said that ‘Nigeria is stranger than fiction.’ As incongruous as it sounds, this season of presidential confirmation that Nigeria is broke, is turning out to be the period of fierce labour agitation for higher wages in the states.
And when the federal government, the single entity that carts away 52% of the national revenue is constrained to admit that ends can no longer meet, the plight of Nigeria’s 36 states which share the remainder of the commonwealth with 774 local governments after deduction to special funds can be compared to walking a tight rope. If only matters ended on this single disadvantage!
In the running of Nigeria’s odd federal system, the same states shortchanged with an atavistic revenue sharing formula, are compelled by the logic of self – survival to undertake the funding of federal establishments and projects domiciled in the respective states, even when many state institutions are yawning for bailout.
With this strange system, it is taken for granted that state governments should routinely assist the army, police, navy, air force, DSS, customs, immigration, civil defence and prison formations in each state with funds, vehicles, communication equipment and other logistics. Add the INEC if you wish to the list. A state governor must choose between reconstructing strategic federal roads that traverse his state at the risk of non-reimbursement or face the wrath of citizens who cannot be bothered with the distinction of federal and state roads.
Awash with funds from its lion share of the federation account and reduced responsibilities, the federal government launches into indulgences in which the federating units are soon roped in by the unitarist – oriented framework of national laws. If there is one institution that provoked a surge in government consumerist spending, it is easily the Revenue Mobilization and Fiscal Allocation Commission with its remuneration template for political office holders.
Acting on enlightened self-interest the Commission had since 1999 sustained the palace mentality in public service with outrageous provisions for elected and other political office holders. The Academic Staff Union of Universities had only to take a look at the orgy of allowances being drawn by members of the national assembly such as wardrobe; hardship, entertainment; and frivolous travel expenses among others, to insist on the jerking up of the pay packet for university lecturers.
And once the precedent – guilty federal government was compelled to grant the salacious pay to federal universities, state university teachers rose in arms for implementation of the package in state universities, conveniently blind to the income disparity between the federal and state governments. The NLC and other strong trade unions have been imitating ASUU to the disadvantage of state governments. The latest bus stop is the judicial workers special salary scale.
Not a few states are presently walking the tight rope of agitation by the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria [JUSUN] for automatic application of the Consolidated Judiciary Staff Salary Structure [CONJUSS] promptly granted judiciary workers at the centre by the financially over – weight federal government. In at least three states, Imo, Edo and Anambra, clamour for commencement of the special salary scheme had since erupted in industrial action by the union branches.
Although courts in the said states have remained shut in the past couple of weeks, recent pronouncements by the state governments indicate the difficulty of achieving a breakthrough. For Imo State Governor Rochas Okorocha, the CONJUSS is not feasible now; indeed the state’s financial situation is so dire that even magistrates and lawyers’ salaries have to be reduced.
Governor Adams Oshiomhole stated clearly early in November  that the next line of action on the industrial impasse would likely be enforcement of the no work, no pay policy. Hopes that the courts will reopen for business in Anambra State after weeks of industrial action by the state judicial workers since October 2015 were somewhat dimmed by the dismissive response of the union’s leadership to the state government’s proposal for ending the strike.
In the case of Anambra however, the scenario is slightly different as the preceding regime had already begun a partial implementation of the exclusive salary structure; a practice sustained by the present administration. The contentious point has emerged in the interpretation of the interim agreement signed in 2011 on the condition for full implementation.
This was based on the ‘improvement of government’s revenue.’ The union leadership having taken the position that the increase from N500 million in 2011 to N1.5 billion in 2015 of the state’s local revenue is significant improvement, insists on the logical conclusion of the CONJUSS.
Contrastingly, the state government paints a picture of downward trend of federal allocation to the state which the union has lost sight of. For instance in August 2011, the state received N4.3 billion while in August 2015, it received N3.5 billion. The figures of N4.2 billion for September 2011 contrasts with the N2.8 billion for September 2015.
Based on this pattern a cumulative calculation indicates lower earning by the state in recent times, the internal income factor notwithstanding. This constraint is aside from the recent hundred percent raise in staff strength and wage bill in the judiciary sector which the striking workers equally seem to have glossed over.
It was against this background that after studying the implications of the new salary chart, the Anambra State Government projected a 2016 implementation date. The government’s operational time frame was hinged on the prediction that oil – based federation account receipts would remain volatile in the foreseeable future. It needed time to further shore up its internally generated revenue in order to accommodate increasing responsibilities.
Workers have a right to negotiate for better conditions of employment. Government too has the right to manage the resources of the state in such a way that it is fair to all segments of the society. It is the government’s sacred duty to ensure that the overriding public interest is never endangered.
In the light of the prevailing circumstances, the leadership of JUSUN should accede to the government’s reasonable proposal. There can be no over–emphasizing the imperative of systemic functioning of machinery of governance. Given the likely ripple effect of a special salary scheme in the public service, Government should be expected to take a well – considered view of what it is going into.
And for as long as labour remains on the exclusive legislative list and states are obliged to obey wage laws enacted by the national assembly, it is in the interest of labour unions to push for the introduction of a revenue sharing formula favourable to the states – the largest employers of labour in Nigeria.
By Ifeanyi Afuba