By Usha Anenga
Benue State has a wage bill of N7.8bn (N4.2billion for state and N3.6billion for local government), the largest in northern Nigeria and, besides the oil-rich South-South states, the third highest (behind Lagos and Ogun states) in Nigeria.
In acending order, these are the figures civil servants wage bills for some states across the country…Kebbi: N1.02bn; Yobe: N1.3bn; Sokoto: N1.6bn; Plateau: N1.7bn; Taraba: N1.85bn; Adamawa: N1.9bn; Niger: N2.1bn; Nasarawa: N2.45bn; Ekiti: N2.6bn; Kwara: N2.8bn; Kogi: N3.2bn; Kaduna: N3.5bn; Osun: N3.6bn; Kano: N3.7bn; Ondo: N3.8bn; Benue: N4.2bn; Bayelsa: N4.5bn; Oyo: N5.3bn; Ogun: N6bn; Rivers: N7bn and Lagos: N9.1bn.
Benue State, one of the poorest states in the country is up there with economic heavyweights in the southwest like Lagos and other oil-producing counterparts. It will interest you to know that Kano state which has more than twice the population of Benue State with 44 local governments, still has a wage bill of N2.1bn for local government workers while Benue stands tall at N3.6bn.
Governor Samuel Ortom was the first to admit that there was fraud in the system on his first day in office. Benue State wage bill is obviously bloated by ghost workers since time immemorial, but efforts towards a solution have been, at best, drawn from a familiar book of lamentations.
After numerous unfruitful attempts to reduce the wage bill, the Governor’s latest effort was the constitution of a 10-member Salary Verification Committee with a charge on them to ascertain the authentic wage bill of the state. The Committee had Mr. Tertsea Ikyaabo as Chairman and Terhemen Jato as Secretary. Other members were Wondoo Atikpo, Jeremiah Ikuba, Iorpenda Tarnguhar, Regina Are, S.U Ikomon Peter Pa, Orindia Shie and Philip Nongo.
Inaugurating the committee, Governor Ortom urged its members to explore the bank verification number BVN and other ICT related measures to guard against future multiple payments to individual public servants.
He also charged them to expose the syndicate within the civil service believed to be behind the ghost workers syndrome for possible sanctions and submit it’s report in three months.
It’s been eight (8) months already with no result. During this intervening period, this over bloated wage bill has sucked the state dry, gulping 8 months of federal allocation, budget support and first tranche of Paris Club debt refunds amounting to over N32bn and still counting. As I write, we have a backlog of unpaid salaries amounting to 5 months for state civil servants and almost a year for those of the local government.
News of a second tranche of Paris Club debt refunds is sure to bring some excitement, but with our over-bloated wage bill, it still won’t amount to anything. With all efforts haven failed to achieve any appreciable reduction, it’s fair to say, the big fraud concerning Benue wage bill is still on.
I’m however aware of some youths in the state who have challenged the government, saying, if there be a political will to do right, that they be given the opportunity to fish and wipe out ghost workers within two months for free. Perhaps, if we heed and appreciate ourselves, we would realise that what we seek in China is right here.