RECENTLY, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)’s National Commissioner in charge of the South-West, Professor Lai Olorode disclosed that the commission was asking for special enumeration for its staff because of the nature of their job. According to him, a special salary scale for the staff of the Commission would prevent a situation in which politicians would lure the staff to do some ‘funny things’.
He went further to describe the function and activities of the Commission’s staff as special, requiring special benefits. In his words: “What the Commission is doing is a special assignment and we know that the workers are open to great temptations especially from politicians.” In other words, INEC staff should be placed on a special salary scale, an enhanced salary scale, to enable them to resist the temptation to corrupt inducement by politicians. Olorode also argued that “the work is very risky and the Commission’s workers who do their work as expected at times risk being killed”. The exposure of the staff of INEC to severe risks commands an enhanced pay. Lastly, the Commission is seeking to make sure that its workers are happy so that they can give their best performance.
The demand for a special pay by INEC is not the first in Nigeria. Several agencies of government have achieved this goal in the past. Indeed, the staff of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), and a few other agencies of government have been on a special salary scale. They have all used the claim to special status to demand for a special salary scale. The CBN alluded to its position as a regulator of banks and establish a comparison of the salary of its staff to those of the banks they supervise as a basis for the demand. For instance, like INEC, they had argued that poor salaries that do not compare with those in the banks they supervise would worsen the temptation to compromise. In the case of FIRS, a good pay was expected to reduce the temptation to compromise in the collection of taxes.
The removal of some agencies from the standard salary scale of the public service for whatever reasons has made the remuneration system in the public service chaotic. What is unfolding is the fact that the list of special agencies with special pay package has continued to grow. The success of an agency in achieving the goal of having a special scale depends more on the capacity of the agency to influence those in authority than any meaningful logic. Take for instance the claim of temptation. Are workers in the Ministry of Finance less tempted than those in the CBN or the National Communications Commission (NCC)? Besides, if a job is risky, especially the type of physical risk put forward by INEC, what is required is an insurance policy that covers staff while on such risky assignment. Similarly, when a job has peculiarities, what is required are special allowances to cater for the peculiarities. This was done in the case of medical doctors and academics in the universities. Such situations do not call for a special salary scale. The claim of a special job commanding special salary scale by INEC does not sound convincing.
There are already too many salary scales in the Federal Government. Perhaps the time has come for the government to take a second look at them. The Federal Government should review the scales of the so called special organisations such as the CBN and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) whose special salary scale has not prevented the monumental corruption that is associated with them. In the last few years the crisis in the banking sector owed partly to the failure of supervision and we are all witnesses to the monumental corruption associated with the fuel subsidy regime. The special status of these organisations seems to have privileged them to spendthrift.
The structure of remuneration in the public service is chaotic; the proposal by NEC would further deepen the chaotic situation. It will make the pay system further unfair and therefore deepen temptation driven by a feeling of injustice on the part of workers in federal agencies with regular pay. Even, our legislators who are notorious for their jumbo pay have not demonstrated greater abilities to resist gratification to convince anyone that such salary scales help to strengthen resistance to temptation. Therefore, those workers in INEC who cannot resist temptation from politicians under current pay conditions will not resist it even if their salaries are doubled. Those who cannot resist temptation should be shown the way out when caught. Punishment for wrong doing is a greater deterrence to bad behaviour than enhanced salary scale.