Minna — There appears to be no end in sight to the lingering strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, in the country as Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala declared, yesterday, that the nation's economy cannot accommodate the demands of the lecturers for now.
The minister spoke while delivering her keynote address at the opening ceremony of this year's National Council on Finance and Economic Development, NACOFED, in Minna, Niger State, yesterday.
She said that if other sectors were to be adequately and urgently developed, less emphasis should be placed on recurrent expenditure, especially salaries and allowances of workers.
According to her, "at present, ASUU wants government to pay N92 billion in extra allowances over and above their salaries. Though we are in discussion with them, the problem is that the resources to take care of the demands are simply not there."
She said that with the present situation in the country, Nigerians need to make a choice.
She said: "People are supportive when there is agitation to increase salaries, pensions among others.
"But on the other hand, people also turn around to say the recurrent budget is too high and there is no way you can have it both ways and so we have to make specific choices in this country."
Okonjo-Iweala noted that the country was still suffering from the impact of the wage increase in 2010, adding that by the time other demands are added, the recurrent budget will be getting higher, thus leaving virtually nothing for capital.
She said: "Do we want to get to a stage when virtually all the monies and resources we earn are being used to pay salaries and allowances for public servants, who make up a minute percentage of the country's population?
"If we do, it means that government workers will take up the entire budget of the country with nothing left for roads, water, education and others."
She, therefore, challenged the commissioners and other stakeholders to use the conference to find permanent solutions to the lingering financial problems in order to move the nation forward.
The minister enumerated some of the challenges facing the country to include, over-dependence on oil revenues, the lopsidedness of the public expenditures, the budget formulation process and the need to improve the actual public financial management system.
She, however, said that despite these daunting challenges, there is progress in agriculture, housing and real estate, manufacturing and diversifying the economy away from oil and improving the non-oil tax revenue collection.
Vice President Namadi Sambo, in his speech read on his behalf by Minister of Economic Planning, Dr. Shamsudeen Usman, said some of the reforms in public financial management already taken by the present administration had started yielding results.
He said they include reducing recurrent expenditure to sustainable levels, while increasing the fiscal space for supporting capital projects and eradicating ghost workers, among others.
Governor Babangida Aliyu of Niger State, who was represented by his deputy, Alhaji Ahmed Ibeto, said that the country must gradually but surely steer away from oil-dominated and global control to a liberalised agro-based economy, where government and private entrepreneurs actively participate in economic activities.
He urged the participants to use the forum to articulate issues that are germane to the realisation of a deregulation of the downstream oil sector.
Participants at the conference, with the theme Restructuring Nigeria's Public Finances, comprised state finance commissioners and other relevant stakeholders.