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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Despite spending nearly a trillion on salaries, refreshments, travels; governors reject N60k for workers

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Though 30 of its 36 members thought it necessary to spend a substantial portion of nearly a trillion Naira on refreshments, entertainment among some other inanities in three months, the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) has rejected the N60,000 minimum wage earlier proposed by the Federal Government.

The governors think the proposed wage is not realistic and unsustainable, arguing that if implemented, it would force some states in the country to be borrowing to pay workers’ salaries.

The Director Media and Public Affairs of the NGF, Hajiya Halimah Salihu Ahmed, disclosed this in a statement on Friday.

The Federal Government, Organised Private Sector have been at loggerheads with the Organised labour oover an appropriate minimum wage for workers. The government proposed N60,000 but Labour asked for N494,000 per month. The disagreement led to an indefinite strikè action on Monday.

But abour announced a relaxation of the strike action for one week to give room for further negotiations with the federal government, which promised to increase the wage from N60,000.

About the same time the strike was on, The Punch newspaper published a report on the profligacy of state governors in the first quarter of the year, showing how refreshments, among others, gulped a princely N986 billion of state government

The annoying statement of the NGF reads in part, “The Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) is in agreement that a new minimum wage is due. The Forum also sympathises with labour unions in their push for higher wages.

“However, the Forum urges all parties to consider the fact that the minimum wage negotiations also involve consequential adjustments across all cadres, including pensioners.

“The NGF cautions parties in this important discussion to look beyond just signing a document for the sake of it; any agreement to be signed should be sustainable and realistic.

“All things considered, the NGF holds that the N60,000 minimum wage proposal is not sustainable and can not fly. It will simply mean that many states will spend all their FAAC allocations on just paying salaries with nothing left for development purposes.

“In fact, a few states will end up borrowing to pay workers every month. We do not think this will be in the collective interest of the country, including workers.

“We appeal that all parties involved, especially the labour unions, consider all the socioeconomic variables and settle for an agreement that is sustainable, durable, and fair to all other segments of the society who have legitimate claim to public resources.”

But the governors neglected to note that one of their own, Mr. Godwin Obaseki of Edo State began paying N10,000 higher than the proposed figure last month, while the local councils in the same sate did the same.

Meanwhile, The Punch reports that no fewer than 30 state governments of the federation spent N986.64bn on recurrent expenditures, including refreshments, sitting allowances, travelling, utilities, etc., in the first three months of 2024.

The states’ budget implementation reports, which were obtained from Open Nigerian States, a website supported by BudgIT that acts as a repository for public budget data, were analysed.

For the first three quarters of the year, its correspondent examined budget implementation data from thirty states; data for six states were not available.

Benue, Imo, Niger, Rivers, Sokoto and Yobe States were the ones without Q 1, 2024 data.

A breakdown showed that the 30-state government spent N5.1bn on refreshments for guests, N4.67bn on sitting allowances to government officials, N34.63bn on local and foreign travel expenses, and N5.64bn on utility bills, amounting to N50.02bn in the first three months of 2024.

The general utilities include electricity, internet, telephone charges, water rates, and sewerage charges, among others.

The sub-nationals also paid N405.77bn as salaries to their workers.

Other recurrent spending items covered in the report included the amount spent on foreign and domestic travel, Internet access fees, entertainment, foodstuff, honorarium/sitting allowance, wardrobe allowances, telephone bills, electricity charges, stationery, anniversaries/special days, welfare, aircraft maintenance, and more.

In the first three months of 2024, Abia State spent N10.92bn on its recurrent expenditures, including N165.38m on refreshments and feeding, N39.26m on utilities, N214.57m on sitting allowances, N127.1m on local and foreign travels, among miscellaneous expenses.

During this period, Adamawa State expended N23.7bn on recurrent expenditures with N287.61m spent on refreshments and feeding, N109.62m on utilities, N79.57m on sitting allowances, N768.77m on local and foreign travels.

For Akwa Ibom State, recurrent expenditure gulped N46.85bn, which included N4.46m on refreshments and feeding, N223.32m on utilities, N6m on sitting allowances, N214.61m on local and foreign travel.

Anambra State disbursed N9.91bn for recurring expenses with N78.18m on refreshments and feeding, N32.52m on utilities, N42.09m on sitting allowances, N188.39m on local and foreign travel.

Also, recurrent expenditures cost Bauchi State Government N35.75bn with N397.58m going to utilities, N50.8m on refreshments, N287.11m on allowances, and N413.56m on trips.

Bayelsa State spent N35.1bn on recurrent expenditures, comprising N28.4m on utilities, N156.14m on refreshments and N279.99m on trips.

Adamawa plans N55.5bn supplementary budget
Similarly, Lagos State disbursed N189.62bn for recurrent expenditures, including N1.21m for refreshments, N383.12m for utilities, sitting allowances costing N52.79m and N633.37m on travels.

Borno spent N18.79bn, Cross Rivers (N17.44bn), Delta (N68.68bn), Ebonyi (N14.95bn), Edo (N32.32bn), Ekiti (N32.8bn), Enugu (N7.51bn) and Gombe with N20.89bn.

Within the same period, Jigawa State spent N15.52bn on the recurrent expenditures, Kaduna expended N34.69bn, Kano (N34.41bn), Katsina (N21.87bn), Kebbi (N11.67bn), Kogi (N37.4bn), Kwara (N24.34bn), Nasarawa (N18.61bn), Ogun (N47.12bn), Ondo (N31.12bn), Osun (N24.39bn), Oyo (N40.12bn), Plateau (N24.70bn), Zamfara (N13.46bn), and Taraba (N20.93bn).

Government spending has come under increased scrutiny in recent times, particularly in light of the country’s worsening economic challenges.

At different fora, financial experts have also raised concerns about states’ spending on recurrent expenditure, highlighting the need to embrace financial innovations.

A development economist, Aliyu Ilias, said many states had yet to fully develop themselves as industrialised and marketable to attract investors.

Ilias urged governors to develop an area of strength they could leverage to attract foreign investments.

He said, “Going forward, what they could do is identify one area of strength. For instance, Bayelsa has oil and should be able to attract investments. I think it is about policy. They should give the policy a chance that would allow people to come and invest. They should also create an attraction and develop an economic summit that will make sure they showcase and attract investors.”

An economist and former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Uyo, Prof. Akpan Ekpo, urged the states to increase their revenue by improving service delivery.

On his part, a Professor of Economics at Babcock University, Segun Ajibola, stated that the enduring problem of high governance expenses had persisted at the state level, with inadequate oversight and accountability resulting in minimal economic benefits for grassroots citizens.

The former president of the Chartered Institute of Bankers lamented that state assemblies had also abandoned their oversight duties, leaving the state governors to operate with no iota of transparency and accountability.

He said, “The first issue is the perennial complaint about the high cost of governance in Nigeria and at all levels. When you look at these issues, attention is often concentrated on the Federal Government, so the searchlight is always more on the central government. Most often, nobody cares about what is happening in the states and local government, and that is where the problem is.

“There are so many institutional frameworks in place to look at what is happening at the federal level but who cares about the states? The cost of governance in relative terms is even much higher in states than the federal and that is why you hardly feel the impact of governance in most states.

“Only a few states can boost a significant presence in the lives of their people in our states. The state assemblies are expected to conduct oversight functions on the activities of the executives in their respective states, but in reality, how many states are doing that, leaving the executives to be all in all in incurring high costs?”

● Additional report from The PUNCH.

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