Southern governors forum
Southern governors during their meeting in Asaba, Delta State, Tuesday, May 11, 2021

OBINNA EZUGWU

When on Sunday, governors and other prominent leaders of the Progressive Congress (APC) in the Southwest geopolitical zone, including Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Chief Bisi Akande, among others, met at the Lagos House in Marina, it was basically to address rising agitations for Oduduwa Republic in the region. And while they expectedly repudiated the growing call for separation in the region, they had clear message for the country. Time has come for true federalism.

The leaders in a nine point communiqué read by the former Interim National Chairman of the party, Akande, argued that restructuring was the only way to move forward.

“We hold to the view that true federalism where more power and resources are allocated to the states will be an essential part in strengthening society and improving democratic governance so that we beat the present challenges but also engender durable peace and security,” the communique said.

“True federalism and the reallocation of resources and authority that comes with it will empower the states to solve localized issues before they spread and transform into national ones. In addition to mitigating political competition for control of the national government, greater federalism will empower grassroots economic development and political reforms that will stand as bulwarks against the terrorism and criminality now experienced in too many parts of the nation. A hallmark of this enhanced federalism will be the establishment of state police forces.”

The APC leaders’ meeting had come less than a week after a similar meeting by governors of Nigeria’s main opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), who on Monday, met in Ibadan, capital of Oyo State, and at the end of deliberations, made their points clear: The country has to restructure.

The meeting called on Mr. President as the Chief Executive Officer of Nigeria and Commander in Chief of Nigerian Armed Forces to immediately send an Executive Bill to the National Assembly to amend the Nigerian Constitution to devolve more powers to the states with respect to security arrangements culminating in some form of state policing and the general security architecture,” the governors said in a communique after the meeting.

In attendance were Aminu Waziri Tambuwal ( Sokoto State), Udom Emmanuel ( Akwa Ibom State), Douye Diri (Bayelsa State), Samuel Ortom (Benue State), and Ifeanyi Okowa Delta State, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu State; others were Nyesom Wike (Rivers State), Seyi Makinde (Oyo State), Ahmadu Fintiri (Adamawa State), Godwin Obaseki (Edo State) and Bala Mohammed (Bauchi State).

Deputy Governor of Zamfara, Mahdi Mohd represented the governor, Bello Matawalle.
Such consensus by governors from Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones on the restructuring could have been inconceivable few days ago. But a country now dancing on the brink, as insecurity and cash crunch take a toll, the voice against restructuring has grown thinner and thinner.

In the interim, Mr. President should summon an immediate meeting of the Nigerian Police Council, which comprises Mr. President and all state governors and other critical stakeholders to evolve and implement strategies to combat the present threats to our union, especially with respect to policing,” the governors continued.

The meeting agreed that the police force still remains the appropriate institution to secure our democracy and should not be subjected to personal attacks. The welfare, training, equipment, funding of all security agencies should be given priority.

The meeting supports the earlier position taken by the Nigeria Governors Forum, Northern Governors Forum and recently by the Southern Governors Forum to adopt ranching as the most viable solution to the herders/farmers clashes in Nigeria; the restructuring of the Nigerian federation to devolve more powers and functions to the States, and reform of various civil institutions to achieve efficiency and equity for all sections of Nigeria.”

The meeting was an offshoot of Southern governors’ meeting in Asaba on May 11, during which they demanded state police, devolution of powers, a pointer to the urgency of the country’s situation amid rising insecurity and agitations for secession.

As the meeting was ongoing, Kaduna State was boiling. Workers who had in the previous week declared warning strike over the decision of the state governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai to sack some workers, stormed the state for mass protest, led by President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Ayuba Wabba.

We are aware that in the Primary Health Care Development Agency, 1,700 workers were sacked. All these are happening in the face of exorbitant increment in tuition fees , high cost of living and other uncalled for actions in ministries and agencies in the state, Wabba lamented in his address during the protest.

We cannot accept the bitter pills; we are here in Kaduna today because the labour law in Nigeria says before you can declare redundancy, labour shall be consulted and we were never consulted. The governor said he has consulted the National Union of Local Government Employees, but the union is here with us; we want to tell the world that a lot of information from the government is false.

The Kaduna governor soon reacted, vowing not to back down from sacking workers in the state. Kaduna State Government affirms that the conditions that compel it to right-size are not altered by the NLCs campaign of economic and social sabotage,” the governor insisted.

He soon declared Wabba wanted for economic sabotage, and proceeded to sack all nurses below grade level 14 and lecturers of the state’s institutions for participating in the strike, even as things got more heated and thugs disrupted the protests.

In the end, the federal government intervened and labour called off the strike and ended protests. But the issues remain. States reeling under heavy financial pressure, and Abuja, which now spends as much as 98 percent of revenue on debt servicing is not much better off. It is still borrowing.

In the 2021 budget of N13.588 trillion signed into law earlier in the year, a whooping N3.324 trillion is for debt service. Recurrent expenditure (N5.64 trillion) will take 41.5 percent of the total budgeted amount while the N4.125 trillion budgeted for capital expenditure represents 30.4 percent comes from borrowing.

Oil revenue for the year is projected at N2.01 trillion, while Non-oil revenue is estimated at N1.49 trillion, both of which adds up to N3.5 billion, a large part of the rest is to be borrowed.

But the reality is already proving different. Though there has been slight increase in price of crude, at over $60 per barrel, otherwise good news, but the country which imports virtually all petroleum products for domestic consumption, has been worse for it, having to spend what it makes on crude to subsidize petrol.
In April, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) disclosed in a letter to the Accountant-General of the Federation that it will remit nothing into the federation account in the month of May due to costs incurred from subsidy payments on petrol.

The corporation said it recorded a value shortfall of N111bn in February 2021, which will affect its contributions to federal allocations to states for April and May.
The Accountant General of the Federation is kindly invited to note that the average landing cost of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) for the month of March 2021 was N184 per litre as against the subsisting ex-coastal price of N128 per litre, which has remained constant notwithstanding the changes in the macroeconomics variables affecting petroleum products pricing, the NNPC said.

As the discussions between Government and the Labour are yet to be concluded, NNPC recorded a value short fall of N111,966,456,903.74 in February 2021 as a result of the difference highlighted above. Accordingly, a projection of remittance to the Federation for the next three months is presented in the attached schedule.
Accordingly, the AGF is invited to note that the sum of N111,966,456,903.74 will be deducted from April 2021 Oil and Gas Proceeds due to the Federation in May 2021, which will translate to zero remittance to the Federation Account from NNPC in the month of May 2021.

To plug the shortfall, the federal government has since reported to ways and means, a further threat to an already filtering local currency. Last month, Edo State governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, said the federal government printed N60 billion to support allocation to other tiers of government.

Last week, Nigerias three tiers of government shared a total of N616.886 billion received from the federation accounts allocation committee (FAAC) being revenue from April as allocation for May, a decline of N63.45 billion when compared to FAAC disbursements for revenue accrued in March.

Things are going downhill, even as unemployment is rising, currently at 33.3 percent second highest globally. Inflation is at 18.12 percent, and food inflation is much worse at 22.72 percent.

The combination in any country is a recipe for trouble. That trouble is brewing and the call for the restructuring of the polity, to open up the space for the economy to grow, is now more desperate.

“The fundamental issue is that we have to restructure our economy. We cannot continue to pretend that we can run an economy that is not productive,” said Ekiti State governor, Kayode Fayemi. “Fossil fuel is going out of fashion; we have to open up the economy so that states can develop. We can’t continue with the system where states go cap in hand to Abuja to begin for money.

“No state is unviable in the country. We have to have a system that will allow states to explore their resources.” The NGF recommended a fuel pump price of N318 per litre.

Like Fayemi, many state governments have continued to press for power devolution. Sociopolitical groups such as Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Pan Niger Delta Forum and Middle Belt Forum, have since insisted on restructuring as the only way forward. The agitation is gradually shifting to outright separation, as exemplified by growing quest for Oduduwa nation in the Southwest.

But the President Muhammadu Buhari led federal government remains adamant.
Last week, the Attorney General of the federation, Abubakar Malami, insisted that Buhari would not listen to such calls. Such refusal to do what is necessary to save Africa’s most populous country from danger could mean that tension will continue to mount.

The country’s Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) and Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN) have been on strike over their demands for financial autonomy, part of overall quest for power devolution. Governors have insisted the autonomy has been granted, but modalities remain the thorny issue.
But there is yet a bigger challenge: Minimum wage.

When in April 2019, President Buhari finally signed National Minimum Wage Bill into law, jacking up the countrys minimum wage from N18,000 to N30,000 and supposedly bringing an end to what had been months and years of agitations by Labour for improved wages, it triggered jubilation in many states secretariats, as workers celebrated what was to be a great new beginning.

But it was obvious that the signing of the bill by the president could not resolve the protestations of several state governments, which had insisted that states should be allowed to determine their own wages according to their individual financial capabilities, even as the modalities for implementation soon became subject of intense disagreement between labour and the federal government.

While labour insisted on a 29 percent salary increase for officers on salary level 07 to 14, and 24 percent adjustment for officers on salary grade level 15 to 17, the federal government offered 11 percent increase for officers on grade level 07 to14, and 6.5 per cent adjustment for workers on grade level 15 to 17, arguing that labours demand would push its wage bill too high, such that it would not be able to cope.

Both parties would, after months of negotiations, eventually agreed on 23 percent increase for workers on grade level 7; 20 per cent for grade level 8; 19 per cent for grade level 9; 16 percent for grade level 10 to 14, and 14 percent for grade level 15 to 17.

Soon, however, the fight shifted to state governments, as many governors held back on implementation of the new law. And two years down the road, the issues continue to linger and the celebration of workers in many states capitals have proved to be premature.

As at the last count, 18 states are yet to implement fully the new minimum wage, and for some of those who have, its a delicate balance. In January, Kano State Government said it was stopping the new minimum wage and had decided to pay its workers with the N18,000 old wage due to the recession occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Irked by the foot dragging by the governors, labour last month, directed workers in all the states where the minimum wage of N30, 000 was yet to be implemented to immediately proceed on strike.

The governors staged a fight back of their own. There is now a bill currently before the federal house representatives seeking to render the national minimum wage law basically irrelevant; what many see as the hand of Esau but the voice of Jacob.
The new bill, which was sponsored by Garba Datti, a Kaduna lawmaker, has passed first and second reading in the House of Reps, and seeks to decentralise the payment of minimum wage to workers in the country by moving the national minimum wage from the exclusive legislative list to the concurrent list, and thus allowing states to pay according to their financial capabilities.

It has naturally caused consternation in the NLC, with the unions embarking on a nationwide protest, and opened up a new round of arguments between state chief executives and the labour unions.

Its between the rock and a hard place. The economic realities of the country considered, the original N18,000 a month minimum wage, which amounts to about $38 at the prevailing market exchange rate, is a none starter in a country where a bag of rice, the popular staple food costs nearly N30,000 sometimes even more and indeed the N30,000 minimum wage, which is the issue at stake, amounting to just about $63 a month, many say, is also grossly inadequate.

Yet, the obvious reality is that the finances of most states and indeed the debt hobbled federal government, are in the red. Many states still owe months of salary areas even before the new minimum wage became law, and the financial implication may have informed their decision to not implement fully the new law.

Flash points of insecurity are rising. As the economy struggles, and unemployment is rising with many young people out of jobs and without hope, observers say, without restructuring, the future is bleak.

“We urge Buhari to bury the idea of holding an election before returning to federalism by restructuring the country,” Afenifere leader, Pa Ayo Adebanjo said during the organisation’s meeting held at his Ogbo residence in Odogbolu Local Government Area of Ogun State fortnight ago.

There must be a country before elections are held; it would be patriotic of him to heed this advice. If Gen. Buhari is sincere about keeping the country together, he must restructure the country now this is the only answer to halt the disintegration of the country. To save Nigeria, restructure the country now.”