Governor Nasir El-Rufai is fighting a new war that both the Federal and other 35 States and the FCT are shying away to confront, choosing instead to cower in fear of the blackmail of labour.
How much of state resources should be spent on governance, in paying salaries, pensions and other emoluments of civil servants and political appointees? 40%, 60%, 80%, 90% or even all?
Aregbesola confronted this question as governor of Osun, leading to his innovative formula of paying a percentage of workers emoluments as he allocated resources into building roads, schools and other infrastructure. His government was badly cash strapped and he could not even do anything for the people of Ilesha, his hometown, who rewarded him by snubbing his party in the 2018 governorship election.
Despite the efforts by President Buhari to spread state debts over 30 years, giving them a huge financial relief, the states are back with the same problem, unable to pay salaries.
Kwara has refused to pay the minimum wage of N30,000. Gombe also announced a default. Kano recently announced wage cuts. Many states are groaning as the workers demand full payment for their services.
My state of Ogun has a huge bill of N50 billion in pension arrears. I laughed when Gov. Abiodun said he would reduce the bill by N2billion every year, which means in eight years, he would have paid just N16billion, with the bill growing bigger and bigger every year.
No one begrudges workers for demanding full payment for working for government, some spending 35 years in service. They retire, awaiting retirement benefits or the contributory pension, many states are not paying. Their plight is pitiable and we have seen pathetic scenes of retirees dying on the queue, while waiting for payment.
Government must think out a solution. El-Rufai has taken a route that Federal and States avoid, by deciding to rightsize the civil service. The pandemic has been an eye-opener, when workers were ordered to stay at home. It became clear that government does not need the thousands of people on its payroll.
If everyone had taken a rational decision by asking the redundant workers to go, this would have freed money to enable govt provide roads, hospitals, schools and others.
Resources are shrinking for these hugely critical capital heads, a reason, our roads and schools are failing and hospitals have become worse than consulting centres.
The way out is what El-Rufai is saying in Kaduna to striking workers.
“KDSG will not submit its treasury to the entitled minority. We will reform and rightsize our public service to meet the needs and resources of the Kaduna State even if the NLC strikes ad infinitum.
“The government remains committed to using all the resources it can generate to serve the interests of the majority of its citizens, providing social services beyond paying salaries, always putting the interests of the many ahead of the few’.
El-Rufai should not be left to confront this issue alone. Federal, states need an urgent summit on how to strike a balance between paying civil servants and allocating resources to the needs of the majority.
Back to my question: how much percentage of a state resources should go into salaries?
I will say that anything above 30 percent should send the alarms ringing, as it will cause the acute social and economic problems we have today, when government has become a total failure in catering for the masses.
For now, Governor El-Rufai wins my trophy for courage.