Rising wage theft is agonizing



I am particularly disturbed about the incessant non-payment of workers’ salaries and pensions by several state governments in Nigeria. Regrettably, the federal government also owes retired civil servants N293 billion in arrears of salaries and pensions as reported recently. It is equally no news that 22 state governments cannot pay salaries and pensions of workers- serving and retired.


Despite “bail out” funds of N660 billion provided by the federal government to assist states in paying outstanding workers’ salaries, some state governments were unable to pay salaries of their employees. There are allegations that the “bailout” was squandered by those state governors who collected the funds. Non-payment of salaries to workers has turned most workers in Nigeria especially junior staff to beggars. There is no doubt that workers’ well-being and that of their respective families have been compromised.


One wonders why some governors who swore on oath to uphold the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, have failed to perform their statutory responsibility of ensuring security and welfare of citizens. It has now become a routine for federal and state governments not to pay salaries and pensions on a monthly basis. Some state governments now push the blame on low oil revenue, while others blame ghost workers.


Experts have predicted that the price of crude oil in the international market will not rise sharply in the nearest future. Unfortunately when the oil price was high, most states could not pay salaries and pensions. But what about the contributions of the workers to their respective pension schemes? Federal and state governments have not told anyone where their pension contributions and that of civil servants are kept. It is only “Lagos, Sokoto, Kano, Jigawa, Katsina, Ogun, and Cross River states that have been paying monthly pensions regularly and promptly to retirees.”


It is the non-payment of workers’ salaries for work done that is referred to as wage theft. In fact, it happens in most countries- developed and less developed. Wage theft is “the denial of wages or employee benefits that are rightfully owed to employees. Wage theft can be conducted through various means such as: failure to pay overtime, minimum wage violations, employee misclassifications, illegal deductions in pay, working off the clock, or not being paid at all.” These are all violations of the Nigerian labour law. Wage theft is very common nowadays, and has become a national tragedy and embarrassment in Nigeria. Some private organizations have equally joined the “league of wage thieves” in Nigeria. They either pay half salary or nothing at all. This inhumane act has made life unbearable for many workers and their close relatives.


The crux of the matter is that most of the state governors who cannot pay salaries of their workers have advised NLC that there are 2 options namely, retrenchment of civil servants or reduction in the number of workdays. Some state governors who claim to be “progressives” have advised civil servants further not to come for work on some days in order to farm so that they can pay less salaries and wages.


Gradually, Nigeria is nose-diving into a country of bureaucracy without bureaucrats, a nation where most states retain their commissioners but workers are advised to go farming. When civil servants who are known to be bureaucrats enter the farm, who will work with the commissioners to administer the state? In the first republic, it is on record that the defunct Western Region (from Lagos to Asaba in Delta state), had only 12 ministers. The old Western Region now comprises 8 states namely, Lagos Ogun, Oyo, and Osun states. Others are, Ondo, Ekiti, Edo and Delta states. Some of these states currently have about 25 commissioners. It means there are about 200? Commissioners in a region that was formerly having 12 ministers to administer it. One wonders what a state is doing with 25 commissioners, and numerous advisers, when salaries and pensions of civil servants cannot be paid.


Today, wage theft is endemic in Nigeria. No group of workers whether in civil or public organizations as well as private concerns is immune. It is almost becoming a culture for Nigerians to work without being paid full salary; to retire without being paid gratuity or pension for several months. While some workers are on zero salary, some are on half salary pending when the nation’s economy will improve.


If people work and are not paid, national security is compromised. National security is compromised because individual’s development is stalled. Ultimately, national development is retarded as Nigerian workers don’t have money to take care of their basic needs- food, cloth and shelter. Regrettably, in the last 17 years of democratic governance, one grim reality that confronts Nigerians is the problem of insecurity occasioned by political decay, desperate struggle over the control of scarce resources, rising poverty and unemployment levels amongst other societal ills too numerous to discuss.


The question of where responsibility for the welfare of Nigerian citizens primarily resides is not in doubt. The welfare of Nigerian does not reside with individuals or the private sector. The 1999 Constitution, Section 14, Sub-section 2(b), expressly states that welfare of Nigerians is the primary purpose of government. A nation where three-quarters of the states owe workers salary arrears cannot be regarded as a welfare country.


The cost of governance is high and the nation hasn’t much to show for it. I align myself with critics who have suggested that state governors should reduce wasteful spending. I wonder why state governments can’t run a lean government by reducing the number of ministries, departments and agencies, while ensuring that there is transparency and accountability in governance. Whether now or later, the nation will have to restructure politically and economically within existing geographical boundaries for effective governance.


MA Johnson


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