The Federal government’s proposed increase in the allowances of civil servants has continued to generate divergent reactions from members of the public.
Some described it as putting the cart before the horse, while others said it was a step in the right direction as wage incentives are very important in raising the morale of civil servants.
Some also dismissed the promise, describing it as empty, even as they noted that the promise made to police and teachers on salary increment did not see the light of the day, regretting that the latest one for the civil servants will also go the same way.
It could be recalled that the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Mr Chris Ngige announced that the FG would increase the allowances of civil servants with effect from January, 2023.
The increment according to him was aimed at cushioning the effects of high cost of living for workers.
However, the gesture has received a lot of backlash from citizens as some have said that considering the present harsh economic realities, increment in allowances only would be like putting a cup of water in the ocean as it would not make any significant impact on the economic lives of workers.
The hike in the price of fuel has worsened the situation, with the increase in the price of goods and services across the country.
In an interview with the chairman, Akwa Ibom State chapter of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade Sunny James, he said the organised labour in the State would go for increment in the basic salaries of workers and not allowances.
He said the basic salary of any worker is the basic for any increment because allowances can be withdrawn at any given time.
According to him, “When you are talking about salary increment, basic salary is always where there should be increment. Allowances are not basic, they can be withdrawn at any time, but the basic salary of any individual is the basis for any increment.
“However, if they (federal government) are looking in that direction only ,we have to meet at NLC, only one State will not take a final decision on that, but for us in Akwa Ibom, we will go for an increment in the basic salaries of workers.”
Similarly, the Chairman, Trade Union Congress, TUC, in the State, Comrade Dominic Abang thanked the federal government for thinking towards that direction but wished that it was salary that was increased rather than allowances, noting that the increment in salary would have effect on pension calculation and a cascading impact on the lives of civil servants.
Abang also expressed fear over the implementation of the promise, saying that it ”is always easy for the government to make a promise especially during election time but when it comes to implementation, it is a different game.”
His words, “Allowance is not as good as salary because it doesn’t have an incremental effect; if it were salary, it would have had impact on pension which would have been better as it will have impact on retirement.
“But, it is better than nothing. I appreciate the federal government for thinking towards this direction when things are very hard. But we would have preferred if that increment is on salary so that we will have a cascading effect in the lives of the workers.
“In terms of minimum wage now, the value is eroded because of high cost in transportation, food, electricity tariff etc. At the end of the month, the worker will be running a deficit.:
Provide enabling environment not allowance – Economic expert, Activists to FG
Meanwhile, a human rights activist in Akwa Ibom, Otuekong Franklyn Isong and a lecturer, Department of Economics, University of Uyo, Prof Emmanuel Onwiduokit in separate interviews said what Nigeria needed is an enabling environment for economic growth and not increment in allowances of civil servants which will worsen the high inflation rate Nigeria is already facing.
Isong, who is the State Director, Center For Human Rights and Accountability Network (CHRAN) Akwa Ibom Council noted that increasing the emolument of civil servants will not really have a positive impact on the economy.
He said what the government should do is to create an enabling environment for economic growth to thrive, while at the same time taking care of its workers.
He noted that going by the minimum wage of N30, 000, an average civil servant runs a deficit every month as the salary cannot take them home.
Buttressing his point, Isong said from a market survey he conducted in Uyo last week, the prices of foodstuffs have skyrocketed, saying, “fuel price is between N300-310; kerosene which is the lowest fossil fuel that village women can use and burn their firewood is now N1,100; average bundle of firewood is N500, 350grams of Miksi Milk is N1500 and they have reduced the quantity, Ovaltine is N1,400.”
Speaking further, he said “a custard of garri is N1,100 and three cups for N200. A custard pail of beans is N2,500, a custard pail of foreign rice is N4,500, a cup is N280. A custard pail of local rice with sand is N3,800 and a cup is N250. A custard of fresh tomato is N4,000 while the soft one is N2,000. Four pieces is N200, a custard of onions is N4,000, a custard pail of crayfish is N5,000, a phase of yam, (average size) N10,000 and (bigger sizes) N15,000, that is average Tuber of yam is N2,000. A bunch of plantain is between N3500 and N5,000.
“A bag of rice is N40,000, mature broilers between N10,000 to N15,000,
A crate of egg N2,500, local turkey between N25,000 to N30, 000, one bottle of palm oil is N1,000, one litre of groundnut oil is N1,500,
A bag of sachet water is 250, a carton of noodles is N6,800, a packet of seasoning between N700 to N1,500, four pieces of okro and pepper N100 each.”
He added that, from the survey, “to prepare a custard pail of soup or stew will cost at least N6,000, that is to say that a civil servant with a family of four can only cook five times in a month without taking transportation fare, medical bills and other sundry and utility bills into consideration.
“The cost of building materials is alarming and before one can build a security post or self contain, he must spend close to N5 Million, so government that is paying a minimum wage of N30, 000 to its workers and a bag of rice is close to N50,000 that means a civil servant with his family will collect a bag of rice with his salary and still owe and tie it to the next month.”
“All we are asking for is better living conditions, not minimum wage or allowance increase,” he said.
On his part, the UniUyo lecturer, Prof Onwiduokit was not optimistic that the FG would fulfil its promise to the civil servants.
“This government should not be taken seriously. They promised to give police enhanced pay since 2020 when police threatened to go on strike. That promise has not been kept; this government promised that teachers will have an enhanced salary scale, they even brought out figures, but as we speak now, that promise has not been fulfilled. So if the government that had eight full years to deliver on their promise could not deliver, is it these few months that are remaining that they can fulfil their promise?” He queried.
The economic expert noted that increment in allowance is not a panacea to the problem civil servants face, rather it will worsen the inflation rate in the country.
“If they increase their salary, they still need to borrow; our debt repayment to revenue ratio is over 100%. If they want to increase any money now without cutting back on expenditure or increasing revenue they will have to borrow money to pay the workers, they will be like Greece that borrowed money until the economy crashed.
“Our economy is organically linked, printing money as high as 22 trillion and putting it into the system without any backup is outrageous
and that is driving inflation. If they keep doing deficit financing, deficit spending, inflation will keep going high.
“Our managers are borrowing from everywhere and one of the worst sources of borrowing is the central bank financing. We have a law in Nigeria that says the central bank should not grant ways and means, that is loan money to government more than 10% of previous ones without paying back. But this time around, they have been borrowing without paying back; they have exceeded that limit thereby breaking the law,” he said.
Meanwhile, from the recent report by the National Bureau of statistics, NBS, Nigeria’s inflation rate has risen for the 10th consecutive month in November to 21.47 per cent from 21.09 per cent recorded in October, above a market estimate of 21.15%.
According to the Bureau, it was the highest reading since September of 2005 which should be attributed to food supply disruptions, import cost hikes (due to currency depreciation), high cost of energy and a rise in production costs.
It added that the main upward pressure continued to come from prices of food and non-alcoholic beverages (24.13% vs 23.72% in October), by far the most relevant component in the Consumer Price Index basket.
On how to wriggle out of the menace, the University Don said the government should ensure the reduction in cost of governance, remove fuel subsidy and invest more in local production of goods.
He said, “They should look for a way to enhance revenue and reduce cost of governance and recurrent expenditure because deficit will come when your expenditure is higher than your revenue. They should actually remove fuel subsidy. The problem we have now is the federal government is paying importers the difference in the market price, which is 179 per litre but now we are paying 300 per litre, so the importers are collecting money from the people and from the government too.
“Also, the money they appropriated for the subsidy is ridiculous. The normal metre they said we are consuming everyday is not possible, we can’t consume up to 68 million litres per day, in fact the whole of west Africa can’t consume that in a day, yet that is the quantity and figure they use in taking subsidy, so we are losing both ways. Subsidy should be removed.”
The CHRN Chairman, Isong on his part said the government should make effort to refine the crude by reviving the Port Harcourt, Warri and the Kaduna refineries rather than rely on importation, even as he maintained that fuel subsidy should be removed, describing it as a scam.