Last Wednesday, at the Second Annual Capital Market Committee Retreat, in Warri, Delta State, the Central Bank Governor, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, stirred the hornet's nest when he radically prescribed that government at all levels should sack 50 per cent of their workforce if the burden of paying of workers' salaries has become so excruciating.
Sanusi spoke against the backdrop of complaints that money available to the federal, state and local governments for capital projects was shrinking, while recurrent expenditure was increasing.
However, some people, particularly workers, believed that they did not hear him correctly and looked askance as he pontificated.
If they thought they did not hear Sanusi correctly, they were mistaken as the stormy petrel intoned, "At the moment, 70 percent of Federal Government's revenue goes for payment of salaries and entitlement of civil servants, leaving 30 percent for development of 167 million Nigerians. That means that for every naira government earns, 70 kobo is consumed by civil servants.
"You have to fire half of the civil service because the revenue government has is supposed to be for 167million Nigerians. Any society where government spends 70 percent of its revenue on its civil service has a problem. It is unsustainable."
Sanusi said the country does not need over 100 senators and about 400 representatives to make laws. According to him, when the expenses of lawmakers, civil services and executive arm of government are calculated, Nigerians would find out that government, lawmakers and civil servants were the ones consuming their revenue.
He faulted 'wastage' of funds for the maintenance of 774 local government council chairpersons with aides, councilors and other appendages of the third - tier of government.
His asked, "Do we need 774 LGs, do we need 36 states some of which are unviable? Do we need 774 local governments, why not just remove them and have only state governments?"
The CBN Governor added: "There are state governors whose monthly allocation is barely enough to pay salaries. I hear such governors complain and I say 'why complain when the solution is simple?' It is irresponsible to use all money to pay salaries and wait for another month's allocation and pay salaries and after four years you would have done nothing."
Uduaghan tackles Sanusi
However, host Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan quickly countered Sanusi, saying that sacking of civil servants was a bitter pill that would worsen the socio-economic problems in the country.
To him, the solution canvassed by the CBN chief helmsman was a potential minefield and "a recipe for more trouble".
Uduaghan asked participants at the retreat to look beyond present problems by properly situating things.
According to the governor, the problem of recurrent expenditure started when companies in Nigeria started closing shops thus increasing the problem of unemployment. Uduaghan queried, "Where would the graduates of the schools be absorbed?"
He pointed out, "The scenario left government with the only viable option, absorb job seekers". Uduaghan cited the example of Delta State, where tricycles were recently introduced prior to the enforcement of the ban on commercial motorcycles as a means of transportation in Warri, Effurun and Asaba.
He told participants at the forum that government took a step to provide the tricycles at subsidized rate to erstwhile commercial motorcycle operators to achieve a seamless change and, at the same time, ensure that the commercial motorcycle operators maintained their jobs.
According to the governor, "Before any rational government can embark on retrenchment of workers, it must plan for them by developing infrastructure that will attract investors."
Adding a political twist to the discourse, Uduaghan said," Sacking of workers would be an unpopular decision ... If you advise us to drop workers, many governments will lose the next elections".
He reeled out the efforts of government in strengthening infrastructure and asked investors to tap into the opportunities that abound in Delta State and help to create jobs.
Sanusi had come under fire from the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) for the radical prescription.
NLC hits Sanusi
Speaking through its President, Abdulwahed Omar, the NLC said, "We were not shocked hearing the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, once again displaying his contempt for the working people in Nigeria with his recommendation that the Federal Government should sack 50% of its workforce for the economy to be revived"
The statement reads: It has become obvious that there are some individuals parading the corridors of power who are not qualified to be anywhere around organizations saddled with the responsibility of developing policies for national development. Since assumption of office as the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, all Sanusi's major pronouncements have been either directly anti people or ruinous to the Nigerian economy."
"The burden of wealth creation in Nigeria, like any other country, has been on workers, while some politicians and economic parasites like Sanusi over consume what the workers sweat to create. Workers are the key driving force of all economies and only a hollow economist like Sanusi will underplay this.
"The major problems of the Nigerian economy are corruption and lack of good governance, and until we solve these problems our economy will continue in comatose.
"Today, there are countless probe reports with names of those who swindled our country of several trillions of both naira and other foreign currencies still living in Nigeria either walking freely around the corridors of power or directly holding public or political offices rather than being in jail.
"We see in Sanusi an agent of death that must be defeated and crushed before he further destroys the Nigerian economy.
"While President Jonathan is promising to create more jobs, Lamido Sanusi is calling for mass sack of civil servants in a country with one of the highest number of unemployed, which has indeed led to gross deprivation and the current state of insecurity in Nigeria.
"While we believe the Federal Government will ignore the ranting of this hollow economist, Sanusi has never demonstrated patriotism in all his advice on economic and financial management in Nigeria.
"Sanusi's only understanding of governance is simply about saving money and not saving lives as his proposals are repeatedly devoid of human content and without consideration for the implications on larger society. The burden that will come with mass sack as high as 50% of civil servants in addition to the already saturated unemployment market can better be imagined. Governance is about improving the quality of lives of the people and not destruction of productive lives.
"To show how unknowledgeable and unfit he is as a public office holder, Sanusi also called for the scrapping of local governments in Nigeria, a country that runs a federal system, no matter how inefficient the system is.
"Local government is an important tier of government in a federal system and what we need is to strengthen the system to enable it deliver good governance to the people, as it is the closest to the grass-roots. Rather than removing the tier as proposed by Mallam Sanusi, the local governments require more funding to enable them function properly as required under a federal system.
"The truth, which Sanusi as a beneficiary is running away from, is that corruption has become a real burden on the economy and it should be the only priority item on the table of any serious government. Even if you sack all the workers in Nigeria, any amount saved from that will be stolen and the culprits will walk in freedom.
"And we need to ask Sanusi how much work he has successfully done in the CBN to reposition it to contemporary realities? He is surrounded with countless aides that are obviously not required by a man who believes that the Nigerian economy runs too high on overhead cost.
"It is obvious Sanusi was never qualified for the office of CBN governor in the first instance, and he must be asked to leave the office as he has shown more than enough incompetence and contempt for the Nigerian people," it stated.