IN a smell test, it won’t definitely smell like rose to an average sensitivity person. I’m talking about the N1.8 billion request by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, former Benue governor, George Akume, to discuss the national minimum wage discourse. The President eventually approved N500 million, leaving a opening for more, to fund the roundtable, considering that Akume only shaved N800 million, from his original intent. The leaked communication between the President and his most senior cabinet member is all over the internet. Nothing to burnish, nothing to tarnish.
Akume in the memo to his boss said all relevant documents were attached, which the leakers didn’t make available. This gap, should give the SGF a breather from the public pounding he has been receiving since what should be a confidential communication, found its way online. Without the details of the “tripartite” committee’s brief, scope and duration of its assignment, particularly the breakdown of the spending, it would be unjust labeling Akume and his team, crooks, simply because their funding request, appears to justify such a label.
Beyond the figures and whatever deducible intents, the leak, should be a major worry for the administration of President Bola Tinubu, beyond the embarrassment of having what should be a highly-confidential communication flying like a celebrity sex tape, all over the social media.
The first danger signal is that leakers are dwelling in the secret place of this administration and they appear ready for a marathon duel with the government of the day. They also appear ready for consequences, if they (I use plural reference because from interactions with government officials, this dare, doesn’t appear a solo show) could just toss the President’s approved copy, straight into public domain, when the act, could be an easy whodunnit, by just tracing the trail from the presidential villa to the SGF’s office, which is less than 10-minute drive apart.
When you have a damn-the-consequence situation like this, what is appearing on the surface is a mere symptom. Firing one or two officials, won’t make it go away. In fact, it would make the rest, still within, more resolute. Just like when Boko Haram patrons infiltrated Goodluck Jonathan’s government. Are we back to that era now?
Whistleblowing is legal in almost all functional democracies, including Nigeria’s. It is at the heart of good governance, though partisanship, sour-grape and being left out and behind in the scheme of things within systems, can’t be divorced from it. But its greater good is overwhelming and the more defiant and daring the blowers are, the better for the Nigerian society, where corruption is commonplace.
There is nobody, who isn’t part of the controversial budgeting that won’t be alarmed by the proposal to discuss how to increase N30,000 minimum wage, with N1.8 billion, in a system, supposedly driven by a semblance of technology. Even the half a billion approved by the President, with a glaring window, to demand for more (start with N500 million 1st, the President wrote before his signature dated January 22, 2024), would still trouble even those who might want to be very objective and give the whole arrangement the benefit of the doubt.
The Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BPSR) says there are 720,000 federal public servants in Nigeria. If by executive fiat, the N1 billion being requested for just jaw-jaw by Akume is shared at N10,000 each to the entire federal workforce, change go remain for government, talking of the excess in pidgin. Even at N15,000, all cadres minus the director level, would still be captured. Even if it is a one-off thing before the standardized increment, an extra N15,000 for junior and intermediate workers at a time like this, would crease a lot of faces with genuine smile.
While it is good to sit and plan as appropriate, public funds can’t be seen, being inappropriately applied, not at anytime and definitely not now that the country is searing in rage over hardship caused by the same government using N500 million to talk about how to make better, the living conditions of the citizenry.
A spoiler alert. As long as those in power communicate insensitivity, everyday people working around them, but not participating in the easy life the men of power procure with our common purse, will keep exposing them. You can’t keep a dog hungry and expect it not to bark in your direction.
How can one give the SGF’s request and Tinubu’s approval a pass when there is a Ministry of Communication, Innovation and Digital Economy, that is deemed functional? Or of what relevance is Bosun Tijjani’s applauded tech wizardry if inter-ministerial conversations can’t be had, real time in Nigeria, using technology at this age and time? Only elementary technology is still even needed if experts in labour issues are participating from abroad. Conducting the SGF’s “tripartite” meeting using technology won’t even affect honorarium, only that a callous budget, like what Akume proposed, won’t be needed and the discussion would still hold.
In the memo to the President, Akume noted that the new minimum wage “is expected to be ready by 1st April, 2024”. He also noted that the inauguration of the committee was scheduled for 26 January, meaning that the committee had been inaugurated and assignment commenced. The minimum wage is a very delicate and highly-inflammable issue. Anything seen to be standing in the way of the labour movement achieving an increase for its own, would be deemed a sabotage. But that should not make the labour leaders unreasonable and unwittingly seconding spending which at its altruistic best, is profligacy and its selfish best, a fraud.
With the presidential approval well stated in the memo, Akume’s office must have drawn the half a billion from the nation’s purse, at a time when many federal civil servants were just being paid their January salary and at least a whole arm of government, was still expecting the January allocation. But the President will do well, to close the window of opportunity in his approval for Akume and his men, to ask for more for this talk.
The President should know his words of assurance of a better tomorrow typically fall on nationwide skepticism because his doings and the conducts of other senior officials of his administration hardly rhyme with his preachment. It is a case of do what I say but not what I do. Many Nigerians on Thursday laughed off the perspiration of House of Representatives’ Speaker, Tajudeen Abbas, at his so-called world press conference, which was nothing more than using the gavel to defend his godfather and installer, Tinubu’s Chief of Staff, Femi Gbajabiamila.
No amount of greenwashing will scrub off the reality that Tinubu has a Gbaja problem. The President has plenty of optics problems too, apart from his challenging sight. In provincialism, he is beginning to resemble his Daura predecessor. In nepotism, it is a case of six and half a dozen. In poor supervision of aides, Tinubu’s government is close to Buhari 2.0. No, Nigerians can’t survive a Buhari third term, by whatever means, in any shades.