The situation in Nigeria’s civil service leaves a lot to be desired. From the poor service delivery to the mediocrity that thrives in the service, which has often been described as the bastion of corruption in the country, many people have had cause to call for complete overhaul of the civil service to make it more business-like and productive, in line with 21st century realities. Some have also called for downsizing of the civil service which consumes a huge chunk of the country’s budget in overhead costs.
In spite of the shortcomings of the civil service amid the challenges the workers operate under, civil servants have continued to play their role as the oil that lubricates the wheel of governance in the country and like those in other critical sectors of the nation, they deserve to be treated right. It is on the basis of this that the recent notice by civil servants under the auspices of Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN) to the federal government to embark on strike from Monday September 18 if the government fails to pay all outstanding arrears owed its members gives us cause for concern.
The debts owed federal workers by the federal government, according to the union, include outstanding salaries, promotion arrears, first 28 days allowance on transfer from post, mandatory training allowance of Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation 2010, repatriation allowances, burial expenses and death benefits.
The civil servants, in apparent frustration, decried the inability of the federal government to meet promises made to its members for over two years. According to the union, “it is rather unfortunate that the same federal government that has given state governments bailouts up to three times to settle the entitlements owed their workers, takes delight in punishing its own employees by denying them their legitimate benefits.”
It is distressing that the country has now found itself in a situation that can best be described as a season of strikes. Medical doctors under the aegis of National Association of Resident Doctors embarked on strike over one week ago to press home their demands for improved working conditions of their members. This was shortly after universities had been grounded following the strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), which the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) also joined.
The issues the civil servants are agitating for are familiar. These same issues reverberate each time the unions mull a strike action. In May 2017, the unions threatened to go on strike to protest the over N200 billion it claimed the federal government owed its members. The workers had at the time claimed that there was a presidential directive that all arrears be paid but the directive had been flouted by the officials in charge.
While we acknowledge that the workers reserve the right to protest unfair working conditions as enshrined in the labour laws as well as the propensity for government to dishonour agreements after failing in its obligations to workers, we call for the understanding of the workers at this time, as available information shows that the federal government is up to date in payment of monthly salaries of its staff, apart from those recently employed and are yet to be captured on the government payroll.
Government, overtime, has acted negligently by not paying earned allowances and promotion arrears to staff since as far back as 2007, in some cases, but the present economic realities call for understanding on the part of all government workers.
While we appeal for understanding of the workers at this time, we equally call on the government to be proactive in engaging the unions to ensure that things do not degenerate to the point where they will have to go on avoidable strike.
Government must be sincere in its engagements with the labour unions and when agreements are reached, they should be fulfilled according to the terms to earn the trust of the workers, not like the situation in the states where the governments still owe salaries despite several interventions by the federal government, in addition to statutory allocations from the federation account. President Muhammadu had cause to complain about what can be termed willful sabotage by the governors who have frustrated every effort to clear the backlog of salaries since 2015 when the current administration came on board.
The government must do all within its means to ensure that the ASCSN strike does not hold but that fair, realistic and sincere agreements are reached with the ASCSN and other striking unions, especially medical doctors, who provide essential services, so that they can resume.