By Laz Mom
Targema is fuming with anger. Ngodoo, his daughter, has been sent away from school owing to failure in payment of fees. His retiree landlord has sold the house he is occupying on rent and the new landlord has issued him a quit notice that expires in a week. His Mother-in law is dying due to an inability to raise the money for her operation. He heaves a sigh in frustration. He is not a lazy man. He works his butt off daily in the State Ministry of Health as a Senior cadre Civil Servant. Ordinarily, he should have been able to take care of his obligations but he is being owed over seven months in salaries by the State Government. There has been no tangible explanation as to why.
The Benue Civil Servants Salary quagmire is a burning issue that has elicited much talk and very little headway. Headways in any discussion are made where the discussants are open, truthful and sincere. The parties in this discussion are the Benue Civil Servants on one hand and the Benue State Government on the other. Lying between them is a ton of insincerity.
The Benue State government is brandishing a huge wage bill of 7-8 billion naira a month. This figure puts the State wage bill as the highest in the Country. Outrageous at best and downright unbelievable at worst. The State Civil Servants and Government Critics alike doubt the veracity of these claims and will have none of it. The State Government itself doubts the figures and has repeatedly carried out Staff audits to ascertain the accurate figure to no avail. The State Civil Service estimate the State’s wage bill to range between 2-3 billion only, monthly.
The budget estimates for 2017 puts the wage bill for the State at NGN44, 103,666,596 which translates to about NGN3, 675,305,549.66 monthly however these are merely estimates.
It is quite disappointing that there is no specific or reliable data in existence on Benue’s correct wage bill. The institutions of Government saddled with the responsibility of Workers Salary management have failed in their primary roles and responsibilities. The inability of these government institutions to clear the air on this logjam smacks more of conspiracy than inefficiency, though it could, of course, be both.
Governor Ortom has been telling anyone who will listen that a cabal within the State bureaucracy manipulates staff wages way above the expected range. According to the Governor, several attempts at auditing Benue’ workforce towards ascertaining the precise number and wage bill has been frustrated by the cabal. The cabal somehow succeeds in ensuring that the exact picture does not come out.
Despite the above position, perhaps answers to the following questions might prove useful. Who are the consultants commissioned by the Government to carry out Staff audit in the State? What is their pedigree? Government has to be transparent about this audit process if its intentions are to be judged as honorable. This is important not just to protect the government’s fast depleting goodwill amongst the people but also because, chances are that the consultants may have compromised their findings especially where they have no reputable name or brand to protect.
Top level bureaucrats and ministerial accounting officers also need to be held accountable. It is their primary responsibility to know the exact number of Staff in their institutions. The aggregate number of staff in each Ministry, Department and Agency as presented by their Accounting Officers should be able to point towards the real number of staff on the State payroll.
The salary inflating system has become a culture of sorts in Benue. It is firmly rooted at all levels to the detriment of genuine workers and our collective development as well.
Lawyers Alert agrees with the government’s findings that the much-touted “salary inflating Cabal” in the State is deeply lodged inside the bureaucracy. It is common knowledge in the State that there are people, typically referred to as ghost workers, who collect monies from Government institutions at all levels without a single hour of recorded work time. This can be found mostly in local governments and other out stations in the rural areas. For example, it was recently found out that a local Government had as many as 2,000 staff on its payroll. Of this figure, less than 600 were actual staff who report to work regularly. The remaining 1,400 were beneficiaries (whatever this means). This situation is however not limited to the LG level but has also permeated the State level.
This is a trying time for the Ortom administration no doubt. However, it is not yet a hopeless situation as some remedies, if instituted might prove useful.
For one thing, the government’s spin doctors need to adopt a more proactive approach to managing the people’s frustrations, currently directed at the government. We also encourage Government to accept some responsibility for the current situation and find ways of managing same using a people-based approach.
Going forward, we suggest the following:
That, all parties concerned in this imbroglio are Benue indigenes and therefore, truth, honesty, sincerity should come first before anything else.
That the State Government should channel energies and resources including the State Internally generated revenues into the payment of outstanding salaries as a matter of urgency.
That Government should appoint a reputable consulting firm(s) to carry out a thorough staff inventory in the State at all levels with a view towards ascertaining the actual figures
That the Government Media and Public Relations pundits should be more innovative in their approach than resorting to blame games and mudslinging.
The day draws to a close. The chickens are home to roost. Targema stares at them as they search for perching spots on the mango tree in the middle of the compound. They are metaphoric of his challenges. He sighs and decides to sell his old refrigerator. He is sure it can serve as a deposit for his Mother in law’ operation before the salaries come.
Laz Mom is a Program Director at Lawyers Alert