By Austine Uche-Ejeke
From the last check, virtually all the sectors of the country owe their workers living wages and salaries for several months.
This ugly trend became more alarming when the federal government joined the foray of institutions that owe salaries to their workers. No single ministry can vouch not to owe at least two months outstanding salaries and this did not just start today. It has been running for about two years now. If federal government with all its mightiness can owe salary, what happens to lesser mortals like the states and local governments!
Available statistics have it that some states are owing up to twelve months of outstanding salaries with that of Osun, Imo, Abia and Rivers topping the list due to the peculiarity of the states and the dispositions of their chief executives; the governors.
Owing may not be a criminal offence, after all it is a general refrain that when somebody owes you and disturbs you a lot, you may just quip in that you are not the only person owing that even Nigeria as a country is owing! But when owing salaries gradually becomes a way of life, culture, norm and tradition, then it send a very dangerous signal to the well-being of the country.
Thus the implication of non-payment of salaries to workers is multi-faceted as even the Holy Writ admonishes us that a worker is entitled to his wage! What the government or those at the helms of affairs don’t know is that once you start owing your workers salaries, you automatically start to lose respect and control of the worker. And once that sets in productivity will be on a steady decline. The desire for the worker to give his best will be at the lowest ebb because he may not be sure if he will be paid at the end of the month.
In a country where the minimum wage of average Nigeria worker hardly takes him to the first week of next month, one wonders if Nigerian workers are not magicians to survive the month with their collectible salary. But when you add that to not paying the worker the meager salary at the end of the month, then the output of such worker will be better imagined than spelt out! This is made worse where some workers are living witnesses of the jumbo salary and allowances of legislators, executives and indeed other genre of political office holders. Also this is compounded more when most state governments and even federal government still bask in the life of profligacy as some states owing many months of salaries own; maintain several private and state jets and helicopters! This same government involve in several acts of financial recklessness, exuberance and in extreme cases squandermania!
Of course if you don’t pay the workers’ salaries at the end of the month, truancy will set in as the workers will not be coming to work every day. The logical deduction and explanation will be inability to muster up transport fare to and fro their work place. While this non-payment saga is going on some of the workers may even be engaged in other lucrative side jobs to keep body and soul together!
Again when government doesn’t pay workers their salaries, they become objects of ridicule instead of respect and decorum. The workers subject themselves to borrowing and as such enter into huge debts. Some of them borrow to survive and then use any paid salary to offset the debt of previous months!
The harrowing aspect of all these is that as a result of non-payment of salaries to workers by government many workers have met their untimely deaths as they are not able to survive the horrendous vagaries of hard life that denial of their salaries had subjected them to. They suffer both physiological and psychological ill health that in some cases send them to their early graves. Those that cannot stomach the various harassment of their landlords due to inability to pay house rent, settle children/ward school fees, take care of their medical bills, feed and perform sundry financial functions expected of a working class citizen may decide to just die off than wallow in such deprivation and humiliation!
The irony of all these is that at the end of the day, the accumulated salaries will be paid to workers by the government after much damage has been done. So who gains and who loses at the end of the day. There are several implications on this as both the government and the workers lose at the same time. But it seems the government will lose more in the light that at the end of the day they still pay the workers for work mostly not done as those periods of non-payment of salaries productivity was at the lowest ebb and enforcement of discipline was at zero point! The workers also lose their self dignity as a result of not meeting up with their financial obligations. The same is applicable to workers as earlier pointed where some pay the supreme price of losing their lives in a most frustrating way!
The comical aspect of it is that on payment of the accumulated salaries, some workers will engage in frivolous ventures like marrying additional wives, starting off other amorous relationships and involvement in other mundane things as a result of too much money! But the sacrosanct ones will invest very well; buy landed properties, shares and stocks to better their lives after paying off their accumulated debts.
One other salient implication of non-payment of salaries is that this very act is one of the reasons behind corruption in public service. A situation where a worker is not sure of his wages/salary at the end of the month will make such a worker to involve himself in other criminal activities to make both ends meet. The worker will inflate cost of running the office or doing government business, the worker will also insist and in fact demand gratification, bribery, extortion from people before he can carry out his assigned duty that he will be normally be paid at the end of the month. The same crop of workers without conscience will also pilfer, steal and sell off government properties at will to survive the hurricane of non-payment of salaries! No wonder people are astonished that in a country where workers are owed several months of salaries, you still see some workers riding posh cars, owning several mansions all over the country and abroad, maintaining huge balance in their domestic and foreign accounts, sponsoring their children/wards in the choicest institutions outside the shores of the country!
In the face of these of non-payment of salaries, the question that keep propping up all the time is whether the president, Governors, Senators, Members of House of Representatives, Ministers and other key political office holders and government functionaries are also owed several months of unpaid salaries. How come we don’t hear of the President or governor crying out like other Nigerian worker that they too are not paid salaries. But that may not be the case as we have not heard anything like that from such quarters!
With this national malady staring the country in the face the next logical poser is what is the way out of this quagmire of non-payment of workers’ salaries. It is pertinent to point out here that it does not make much meaning to hear the President, Governors, Senate president announcing various percent cuts in their emoluments. Goo d and pedestrian this may sound, it may at the end of the day not solve the problem. For sure nobody knows the coffers the said cut is being paid into and of what use is the money applied at the end of the day.
What all levels of governments should do is to be more prudent in the financial management of their various resources. The federal government should set the pace rolling by leading by example. All forms of financial exuberance and recklessness should be thrown to the dustbin. It may not be out of the way to declare a state of austerity measures and belt tightening for all and I mean for everybody and not situations where government live in abundance and expect the workers or other citizens to live in tattered penury in the name of austerity measures. All avenues of leakages in the revenue drive, generation and application should be sealed up for optimum result.
The state governments in particular should devise other means of beefing up their internally generated revenues. They should not cross their legs and wait for month end, only for them to carry their plates in hand to Abuja to await a dish out of the monthly revenue allocation. In situations where we have shortfall as we have been experiencing in the past months the Governors will be frustrated and will not have anything to pay common salary. If salaries of workers are not paid how will other developmental projects be carried out? They should work out their individual formulas to ensure that workers salaries are paid on or before 25th of every month! This is possible and can be achieved! And if salaries are paid as and when due, then the government will have the moral attitude to demand the best from the workers, after all demand for minimum wage should be accentuated by demand for maximum productivity!
Both federal and state governments should look into the size of their workers. There is no need to carry an over bloated workforce. What use is it in having a huge and bloated workforce that suffers unpaid salaries at the end of the month with attendant monster debt enslavement on the government? Good a thing some state Governors have started cutting down their ministries, notably Kaduna and Oyo states. The same gesture should be replicated at the federal level where I advocate the pruning down of the ministries and ministers to a manageable size of eighteen! This of course, will save cost and make for prompt payment of salaries of the workers.
In essence it should be noted that no enterprise, be it government, private organizations or even individual employers of domestic workers will get the best from their workers if they owe them several months of salaries. Once the monster of non-payment of salary sets, in productivity will decline and the very strong fabric holding such organization will eventually collapse.
Austine Uche-Ejeke, A public Affairs Analyst wrote vide; firstname.lastname@example.org
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