The civil servant in recession and inflationWritten by Muhammad Ajah
One is put at the gage trying to comprehend how civil servants are coping up with life under recession and high inflation. Today, there are public servants whose monthly salaries are less than N25,000. That is US$50 if a dollar is equated to N500. This is not to talk of the state government workers who get far less than that. One is, therefore, pained the more considering the fact that the minimum wage of N18,000 has not been implemented by some states over five years when it was enacted. Maybe there is no mechanism for enforcement of this law. Yet, wonderfully, the government engines – the civil servants – are working and they are expected to be maximally productive, corrupt-free and patriotic. Nonetheless, many of these lovely country people are doing their best to keep their national and state obligations sacred. But alas! Their rewards are in heaven!
Most civil servants have been living on the mercy of God. The salaries they get are not realistic because the cost of living has risen to unbearable height. It is surprising that the government is foot-dragging to make any quick increase in the wages of these meek lambs. This policy of underpaying and expecting high productivity is of the colonial era and not democracy. Though the recession has dealt with the government itself, it must be a matter of national emergency to improve the salaries and welfare packages of the real government labourers, with the high hope that the economy will get better.
No one in Nigeria today does not complain of hardship. Generally, there is no more free money. I think the rich have more complaints than the poor; a terrible situation that heralds the reluctant justice in the distribution and utilization of the commonwealth. Maybe the private sector is still better because they control the prices of commodities. Though they base their calculations on government provision of basic amenities which are mostly lacking, they are mostly capitalists and everything centers on profit – huge profits. The government, as promulgated, creates the vicious circle because the primary requirements for businesses are expensive and also insufficient and inefficient.
Means of transportation and production are exorbitant. Transporters and producers therefore capitalize on the high cost of machines, electricity, fuel/diesel, amongst others to deal a hell with the masses. According to the minister of agriculture, Audu Ogbe, the illegal fees collected on Nigerian roads by the Army, police, customs and local/state government agents are responsible for the hike in the cost of commodities. The private workers need not wait till the end of the month to earn a living. But, the civil servants whose salaries have remained paltry and static are always at the receiving end.
Especially the junior workers who get little above N20,000, life is miserable. How a single matured citizen survives on this amount is a miracle. For those who are married and have children, life is a hell. Some families have been broken because of this. Both parents quarrel over household demands: feeding, accommodation (rent), school fees/requirements, utility bills and medicals. Unfortunately, some female partners secretly engage in unholy act to complement the male’s efforts and vice versa. Children of these workers do not go to school; some go halfway and are chased back home for school fees; some allow their grownups into unholy acts to meet up. Child abuse and labour, investigations have shown are natural companions of the low income earners in the public sector.
A holistic analysis of the conditions of the civil servants attracts sympathy and fears for the nation. They are accused of being the engineers of corruption, leave the politicians out of it. While the politicians come overnight and lord over the civil servants, they teach the politicians the job and still remain poor. And by the time the politician finishes his or her tenure, the story turns the other way round that the money belonging to the government and the people are taken away.
It is true that some workers are corrupt, especially those who see/keep funds or make decisions for the diversion of the money for personal use. But for the low income earners, they depend on the gifts from their superiors and contractors. In that case, a file in a public office must be pushed to the next desk/office with a bribe which is subtly called gratification/gift. And before now, a contractor must have parted away with over half of the contract value before the contract is eventually handed over. It was 10% unconditional payback and conditionally anything above half of the contract money. The situation is unpredictable with this recession, inflation in prices and war on corruption by the Buhari-led government.
Most houses in the cities are vacant because the rent is high. This is despite the fact that rents have reduced with the present reality. 90 percent of the civil servants live in the suburbs where all kinds of affordable houses are erected for them or by themselves. For instance in Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja, civil servants live outside the Abuja Municipal where their offices are located. From Kaduna state to Abuja metropolis, there are more than twenty villages/settlements including towns like Suleja, Madallah, Zuba, Dei Dei and Kubwa. From Keffi to the city, there are up to twenty-five villages and towns like One-man village, Masaka, New Nyanya and Mararaba. From Abaji across Kwali, Kuje and Gwagwalada through the Airport Road, villages are uncountable. From the Apo axis, settlements are many where civil servants seek low rent accommodations. Life is quite uncomfortable in some of these settlements some of which are over 50 kilometers away from the city center.
Most of these routes into the metropolis witness heavy traffic every day. One has to leave the home as early 4.30am to be able to beat the traffic, especially at the military checkpoints where motorists queue for several hours. Lateness to work, though not acceptable, has become common. With this recession and meager salaries, most civil servants engage in some other businesses to meet up with family life demands. Some have become farmers. Recall that some states declared some workdays free for civil servants to farm. This is naturally affecting productivity and discipline in the service. But life is more paramount than any abstraction.
Independent investigations showed that civil servants whose birthplaces are from neighbouring states prefer to come into Abuja, squat with friends or sleep in their cars and go every weekend to their homes. This has negative effects too. From Thursday, some of them from this category of civil servants begin their weekly trips home. Majority stay half day on Friday to observe the Friday prayers and zoom off. On Mondays, offices are often not complete until noon as some of them come back same day. This means that some of them effectively work for three or four days. The recession, inflation, inadequate salary and conscience are here interwoven. May God save Nigerians!
Moreover, during the workdays the level of indiscipline, incivility and sloth seem to be on the increase; all in the name of striving to keep body and soul together. Going late to work and closing early are observed. Staff buses of agencies are now used as commercials. Hawkers gain access to sell inside or around offices. Indecent dressing by the female workers is not checked. In short, one often wonders if some of these female civil servants are mentally healthy. Sometimes too, it is difficult to differentiate between married and unmarried due to the ugly inclination to ungodliness and frivolities.
No time in more appropriate to implement the reward and penalty measures in the civil service. Hard working citizens still abound, but the increase on the other hand of workers who display unseriousness is worrisome. Some of the workers feel too big to serve due to the process that brought them into the service. It is true that some are forced to ‘come and chop’. Some enter the service through the back door; so they do not know or possess what it takes to serve. Some are children of ‘big men’ and cannot do otherwise because they are fragile. Some do not even have the qualifications, yet nothing can be done because they have godfathers within the system.
However, the recession has taught the workers lessons on survival in hardship. Nigerians have become wiser in economic management. Generally, it has not been easy for this category of workers whose salaries have refused to grow while all components of living have grown astronomically.