- Nigeria plans to lay off one out of five civil servants by the end of the year, a move condemned by trade unions as likely to cause more poverty but described as necessary by the government to trim the bloated workforce.
The 33,000 employees to be shed from the 160,000-strong civil service under President Olusegun Obasanjo’s government reforms “are people who in the first place should not have found their way into the service,” said Nasir el-Rufai, a minister and member of the reform team.
Under military rulers who held sway in Nigeria for long periods, the tenets of civil service employment were ignored, El-Rufai said. The result was that “ministers just went to their villages and packed everybody (into public service),” he added, creating a “bottom-heavy” service with 70 percent of its workers in the lower cadres.
Those to be laid off either have disciplinary issues, were in poor health or have voluntarily accepted retirement, the minister told reporters in Abuja.
The public service is also plagued by the problem of “ghost workers,” whose names are placed on the payroll by corrupt officials to illegally enrich themselves. El-Rufai said a new integrated payroll system is being created to check the practice and forms of “double-dipping and credentials falsification”.
However, the country’s labour unions have condemned the planned job cuts as likely to worsen growing poverty in Nigeria and vowed to oppose it.
“The impact on family welfare will be predictably negative while it will worsen the poverty profile of the country, which is already alarming even by government’s admission,” said John Odah, secretary general of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) grouping 29 blue-collar unions.
“Offloading such a large number of workers into the unemployment market also has grave implications for the crime rate and is bound to aggravate social tension,” Odah added.
While acknowledging that reforms will bring hardships, Obasanjo has often warned that Nigeria’s civil service was taking up a disproportionate share of government budget through salaries and other administration costs, and was therefore unsustainable without job cuts.
“There is no doubt that the civil service has many more people than should be there,” said Nigerian analyst and newspaper commentator Ike Onyekwere. “To keep them there or not was always a question for the government to answer, sooner or later.”
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