The crisis in Ekiti has brought to the fore the issue of viability of many states in the federation

“What we want is our money to alleviate our poverty,” said the Ekiti State chairman of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Odunayo Adesoye, in response to the declaration by Governor Ayo Fayose that he had placed himself on indefinite strike in solidarity with the workers over non-payment of five months salaries. “We appreciate the governor for sharing our pains and anguish. But the workers will appreciate and commend him the more if he can pay at least two or three months salaries out of five months owed.”

In explaining the plight of workers in Ekiti State, Adesoye said their situation had gone beyond a solidarity strike by the governor. “We need more of action now than talk because our situation is gradually becoming hopeless. Some of us have the intention of going to work, but there is no money to pay transport fare. Some of us cannot take two square meals a day. Our situation has gone beyond what anyone can trivialise,” said Adesoye.

While we agree with the Ekiti State TUC chairman that such a serious matter should not be trivialised, we are also at pains to understand what point the governor was making by his declaration which flies in the face of both reason and the law. To the extent that many of the states are going through rough times as a result of dwindling revenues from oil sales, on which most of them depend, we can understand why Ekiti State may be in dire straits. But we consider Fayose’s theatrics very unhelpful. The governor cannot just fold his arms and say there is nothing he can do to alleviate the suffering of Ekiti workers simply because what he receives from the Federation Account has dwindled dramatically as a result of the fall in oil prices. He has a responsibility to pay the wages of the workers and he must find a way to do that.

However, the crisis in Ekiti has also brought to the fore the issue of viability of many of these states. Even when we concede that the major problem is the absence of good governance in many of the states where workers are owed—some for as many as 10 months— we must also acknowledge that we have a serious structural problem. That is why we have supported the argument for the restructuring the federation, an issue that is now on the front burner of national discourse.

As things stand today, most of the 36 states depend almost solely on allocations from the Federation Account, the bulk of which they expend on salaries and other recurrent expenditures. The countervailing mechanisms that ensure some level of accountability at the centre are either non-existent or too weak in these fragmented units and the logical result is that the promise of good governance embedded in the theory of decentralisation is delivered almost always in the breach.

Therefore, it is our considered belief that bigger federating units will allow for economies of scale on large infrastructure projects, will make for more economically viable and competitive federating units, and will reduce the undue pressure on the centre. When complemented with a mechanism for improving accountability, restructuring has the potential for ensuring good governance and human development in Nigeria.
We call on Governor Fayose to suspend his “solidarity strike” while urging him and his other colleagues that are also owing workers’ salaries to find ways to pay. But we believe that the ultimate solution lies in restructuring our federal system so it can work for the people.