OPENING REMARKS MADE BY
IS-HAQ OLANREWAJU OLOYEDE, CON, FNAL
(PROFESSOR OF ISLAMICS)
CHAIRMAN AT THE 7TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE OF THE
GUILD OF CORPORATE ONLINE PUBLISHERS (GOCOP) HELD AT ABUJA CONTINENTAL HOTEL ON THURSDAY OCTOBER 5, 2023
It is my pleasure to be in your midst today. I thank you for your invitation to me to be the Chairman of the 7th Annual Conference of your highly respected organisation.
Our country is at an historic moment, having just witnessed a change of government at the federal level and in most states of the federation. The successful conduct of the 2023 general elections and peaceful handover of reins of power from one government and administration to another signify progress on our democratic journey. This is commendable.
Further to this phenomenon, it is a right time to set agenda for the new governments at the national and sub-national levels. Thus, the choice of your theme for this conference “Nigeria: Roadmap for Socio-economic Recovery and Sustainability” is apt and relevant.
The Nigerian state is undergoing tremendous pressure under an excruciating socio-economic environment. The country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) though positive, has been growing at a declining rate over time. GDP growth was 5.01% during Q2, 2021 compared with a growth of 2.51% during Q2, 2023. Similarly, inflation rate worsened, as it increased from 19.64% in July 2022 to 24% by July 2023. Much more worrisome is the value of the Naira. It has now depreciated to above N700/$1.00 in the official market and above N1,000/$1.00 at the parallel market. These economic phenomenal have further put pressure on the well-being of Nigerians.
There must therefore be a frontal attack on the enablers of poverty. Insecurity, kidnapping and a host of other vices and crises have conspired to rob the country of realising its potentials in productivity and economic growth and development and have contributed significantly to the rising level of poverty. The issues confronting us as a nation have resulted in loss of earning assets, decline in the capacity to earn and curtail of purchasing power. It is therefore clear that the new administration and newly elected and appointed persons at various levels have their jobs cut out for them. There must be a new direction towards our nation’s economic recovery and to launch us on a path of sustainable growth and development.
Consequently, in planning a roadmap for economic recovery and sustainable development, we need to address some issues that have confronted us as a nation which have contributed to negative and slow growth, overtime. Some of these factors have contributed in not small measures to high level of corruption and low productivity in the public sector. For us as a nation to attain social justice, significant economic recovery and sustainable economic growth, there are some fundamental issues that must be addressed. Interestingly, the new government at the federal level has started with some bold actions and decisions, aiming at addressing the unfortunate circumstances we have found ourselves.
Unfortunately, under the new government, some fundamental decisions and actions that have been taken have further exacerbated and plummeted our path deeper to increased poverty. The removal of fuel subsidy and the attempt to harmonise the foreign exchange rates have further fueled inflation and general increase in price level, with attendant negative impact on disposable income and standard of living. We understand that some of these decisions are long overdue because the whole fuel subsidy and foreign exchange market regimes were not sustainable and were laced with leakages, rent seeking and massive corruption. It is hoped that in the medium term, the new policies will help in turning around the economy and put us on the path of sustainable growth and prosperity.
But we need to do much more overhauling.
Wages and the compensation structure in the public service deserves a total review and overhaul. Unless we are pretenders, we all know that some things do not just add up in the compensation of public servants and most of the public office holders. For example, the minimum wage, as a take-home pay, cannot take anyone home at this time in our economic history. Considering the ever-increasing price level and the national currency devaluation, both of which have led to a spiral inflationary level, wages at all levels have become inadequate to meet the provision of basic needs of life for so many.
Even at the highest level for top public servants and political office holders, the compensation structure is such that we all know that it is difficult for top level public officers and political appointees to rely on their pay to sustain their living conditions and the requirements or dictates of their offices.
Due to low salaries and emoluments, some misguided public servants at all levels are encouraged to look for sources within government to meet the elevated financial demands expected of their offices and status. The effect of this is the sacrifice of transparency and accountability in the administration of most government offices and agencies. In fact, the situation is so bad that salaries and allowances of Ministers and heads of some agencies are lower than the salaries of middle level officers in a typical private enterprise. Curiously, there is also a wide gap in the compensation and salaries of some government departments and agencies compared with some others. The juicy agencies and government departments have become a hub and attraction for appointments of connected individuals and families of connected individuals.
In another dimension, there is a wide gap in the compensation structure between the public and private sectors in Nigeria. While private sector executives are well remunerated in line with their output and dictates of their offices, the same thing cannot be said for public officers. In fact, salaries of most chief executives of the publicly quoted companies and some government agencies in Nigeria are higher than the emolument of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Similarly, salaries of some Ministers are lower than those of the chief executives of some agencies and institutions under their supervision.
These phenomenal encourage corruption and lack of accountability. It gives room for malpractices, financial impropriety, and malfeasance. When officers and executives are not well paid and they are entrusted with huge resources of the state, some may resort to helping themselves.
There is a lot to do to rejuvenate the economy. One way is to pay a commensurate remuneration for a commensurate work. With good, adequate and competitive compensation structure in the public sector, the system can attract good hands. I believe that paying the right wages in the public sector is one way to improve productivity of workers.
I am aware that sometime in the past, the Bureau for Public Sector Reforms toyed with an idea of adopting exchange programme at the directorate level between the public and the private sectors. The thinking was to help infuse new ideas into the implementation and running of government departments and agencies. It was proposed that government should make its compensation structure attractive to experienced private sector operatives to encourage them to key into the scheme.
When commensurable remunerations are paid, productivity can be enhanced, and key performance indicators (KPIs) can be set to ensure service delivery. In addition, code of conduct and standard operating procedures can be put in place to address the leakages that fuel corruption, ineptitude, and inefficiency. When workers are well remunerated, it helps to call them to account and work for their pay.
Furthermore, I propose the strengthening of governance in public corporations, publicly listed companies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). I believe that the leadership of these entities require greater scrutiny that would ensure that the interest of their stakeholders are served. I am aware that there is a strong code of corporate governance for licensed financial institutions, publicly listed enterprises and entities of public interest. The code of corporate governance, released into circulation by the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRCN) in 2018 together with the adoption of the International Financial Reporting Standard (IFRS) have assisted in curbing the incidence of corruption in the affected entities, and it is helping to create value and wealth for the stakeholders especially innocent members of the public who subscribe to the shares of these entities in the marketplace.
I recommend that the code of corporate governance be extended to all major actors in the Nigerian economy. In specific, government should come out, without further delay with code of corporate governance and make it mandatory for public sector institutions, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and small and medium enterprises that represent over 97% of businesses operating in Nigeria. When this is done, I believe there would be improvement in governance of government, non-governmental and private entities in Nigeria which would help to unlock their values for prosperity of Nigerians and sustainable development of the country.
It is important that our economists should not shut their eyes to the many alternatives to the template of Bretton Woods’s institutions. Not few persons believe that some austerity measures and curtailment of our high taste for foreign products are absolutely necessary in view of the current realities.
Ladies and gentlemen, to realise our potentials as a nation and achieve huge socio-economic recovery and sustainability, we all have our part to play. But we cannot be doing the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. We need to change the way things are done. And we need to be bold.
We are all here courtesy of GOCOP, an eminent media professional association. So it is necessary for me to remind all of us about the place of the media in development. A country with an effective and strong media stands a better chance of attaining sustainable development. So as we scramble to remake our country, government must take deliberate steps to partner the Nigerian media with a view to making them more credible and sustainable. If we are to attain the socio-economic and political progress we badly need, we cannot treat the media as adversaries and as entities whose health or ill-health shouldn’t concern us. The presence of the Presidency of Nigeria at this occasion convinces me that we are on the right path towards effective government-media partnership. On the other hand, the media should not deliberately undermine national security.
I have just touched on three areas of our economic life that I feel strongly that we should address to achieve our dream of an economic renaissance and prosperity for all. There are many other areas that the keynote speaker and panelists at this event would touch.
Thank you for your attention.