FOR obvious reasons, every right-thinking Nigerian must be deeply concerned about the statement made recently by the Edo State governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, regarding the country’s finances.
According to the governor, it would be quite difficult for the Federal Government and states to pay workers’ salaries beyond June 2023 without resorting to massively printing money or removing fuel subsidy. Obaseki, who gave this damning verdict while delivering his address with the theme “Workers’ rights and socio-economic justice” during the 2023 May Day celebration held at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin City, urged workers in the country to be proactive in their approach to policy issues. His words: “It would be a miracle for the Federal Government and state governments to pay salaries beyond June this year without resorting to massively printing money or removing fuel subsidy. Either of these decisions will bring more hardship and pain to Nigerians, particularly workers. We must all make sure that the burden and pain of these measures, which must be taken, are not carried by workers alone.
Workers must now rise and ensure that they champion any discussion on subsidy removal. You must shift from the tradition of reacting when these policies have been made but insist that you take charge and ensure full transparency and disclosure.”
To be sure, this was not the first time Obaseki had raised this veritable issue of solvency. On April 7, 2021 during a meeting with transition committee members at the Government House in Benin City, the Edo State capital, Obaseki, while expressing concern over the country’s penchant for borrowing, he said the government was printing money to fund shortfalls in the allocations shared to states. His words: “Nigeria has changed. The economy is not the same again whether we like it or not. Since the civil war, we have been managing, saying money is not our problem as long as we are pumping crude oil everyday…In another year or so, where will we find this money that we go to Abuja to share every month? Last month, we got FAAC for March; the Federal Government printed an additional N50 to N60 billion for us to share. We say remove subsidy, they say no. You are just borrowing, borrowing and borrowing without any means or idea of how to pay back.”
Naturally, the government dismissed the governor’s claims. The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, while speaking with State House correspondents, said: “The issue that was raised by the Edo State governor for me is very, very sad, because it is not a fact.” This time around, it is the Labour Minister, Chris Ngige, who has taken on the Edo State governor, assuring workers that the Federal Government has the capacity to meet its proposed pay rise. Ngige stated that payment of salaries and the proposed increases had been budgeted for and that N350 billion had been captured in the 2023 appropriation budget.
Apparently, Governor Obaseki’s concern is the reality of inadequate revenue to meet government expenses given the sustenance of the subsidy regime till June 2023. His postulation technically means the government is becoming insolvent with dire consequences for the country which the printing of money to meet expenditure would not be able to address. This is not a case of the government printing money, as it were, to revive moribund sectors of the economy; it is a case of printing money that it does not have just to be able to meet financial obligations. Certainly, the government would have a hard job persuading Nigerians that the Edo State government was only being flippant. With the metaphorical road to Zimbabwe staring them in the face, Nigerians would be right to wonder just how the country came to this sorry pass when a basic issue such as the payment of workers’ salaries would be wrapped in mystique.
In this regard, it is surprising that Obaseki’s colleagues, not to talk about the incoming governors, have elected not to engage the issue that he has raised. They have been carrying on as if it does not concern them, whereas many of them have virtually run their states aground and would be utterly helpless without federal allocations. If they have not even broached the question of how to generate money beyond the increasingly reduced federal allocations and turn around the fortunes of their states and people, then it says a lot about who they really are, and about their ability to act as agents of change. Nigeria has the distinctive misfortune of being a country where there is so much drama and extravaganza by clueless leaders about transition processes in technically bankrupt, debt-ridden states and a centre that has long ceased to be associated with progressive ideas; a country where the entire edifice of governance looks more like a superstructure erected on the people’s pain and agony.
In any case, if Obaseki is right, as we suspect that he is, it only confirms the self-evident point that the so-called economic policies that the Muhammadu Buhari administration has enunciated time and again have not produced the expected results.
Workable economic policies could not have resulted in the current impasse. With the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited (NNPCL) not remitting anything into the Federation Account for months, the country is indeed in dire straits. Thus, for whatever it is worth, we expect the government to address the solvency question. This would mean introducing emergency measures that could arrest the drift and stop the descent into the abyss. The Buhari government still has the responsibility, even while packing its bags, to respond critically and carefully to the alarm by Governor Obaseki with a view to ensuring that economic normalcy is maintained. Pretending that all is well even in the face of a regime of damning verdicts by statistical agencies is not the way to go.
Credit: TRIBUNE EDITORIAL.