- Niger State cannot pay its over 1,000 political appointees
Niger State is the largest state in Nigeria. Formed in 1976, the state is home to Kainji Dam and the Shiroro Dam, two of Nigeria’s major hydroelectric power stations. The famous Gurara Falls is in the state, as well as Kainji National Park, the largest National Park in Nigeria. But in terms of economic power, Niger does not wield much, as it is mainly an agrarian state, with about 80 percent of the population actively involved in agriculture. As a matter of fact, the state’s budget for the current year tagged “People’s Budget” is N128 billion, about the seventh to the least of the 36 states in the country.
This backdrop is necessary, against the report of the huge number of political appointees that the state government pays from its meager income, and which now seemed to be a burden on its finances. The state government has not been able to pay its over 1,000 political appointees for last month, even though civil servants and other categories of workers in the state have collected their salaries. This is instructive, especially in a state where salaries are paid at about the 25th of every month. But if the sheer number of political appointees is scandalous, equally outrageous is the disclosure of large-scale irregularities in the state government’s payroll.
Governor Abubakar Sani Bello is said to be worried that despite civil servants retiring and some deaths, the wage bill keeps increasing even as there had been no major recruitment. He is asking questions as to why salaries are rising. But when told that it was the increasing number of political appointees that is to blame for the development, the state executive council in June ordered a fresh audit of political appointees to ascertain their actual number.
Both incidents – huge number of political appointees and salary delay – symbolise the sickening underbellies of political administration in the country. In many states of the federation, salaries gulp the chunk of their revenue. Even at the centre, the story is not different. This explains why not much is happening by way of infrastructural development all over the country.
The Niger State salary crisis has also thrown up another challenge, following the government’s order that all the personnel of the salary section of the ministry of finance, except its director, be swapped and sent to the inspectorate section of the ministry while new set of people were brought into the salary office. Expectedly, the aggrieved ministry of finance personnel who understand the rudiment of payroll have refused to cooperate with those used to replace them who appear to know next-to-nothing about the technicalities of salary payment, thus compounding the problem. They are angry that the government has collectively tarnished their image instead of singling out those involved in fraudulent practices, if any, for punishment.
It would appear that the state did not even know exactly how many of the political appointees it was carrying until the salary crisis started. Therefore the way forward is for it to first have an audit of such personnel with a view to shedding some of the excess baggage. The sheer number is ridiculous as there is no doubt that they will have overlapping responsibilities.
It is doubtful if any of the buoyant state governments can sustain such a huge number of political appointees. Then, if it has not done it before, the Niger State government should take advantage of information technology to carry out a general staff audit of its civil servants with a view to fishing out ghost workers from the system. The state is one of the states yearning for development; it therefore cannot afford to fritter the little resources at its disposal on unproductive personnel.