Yahaya Bello: A Rookie Governor And His Needless Retinue of Advisers by Ahmed Oluwasanjo

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The rookie governor has a lot to learn from his counterparts in other states. Take for instance, the governor of Lagos State – the most viable and richest state in Nigeria with an estimated annual internally generated revenue (IGR) of about N276 billion, according to National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), 2014 – Akinwumi Ambode, appointed just 14 special advisers to run his government. So, what’s the justification for Bello’s 20 special advisers in Kogi – a state that generates just N6 billion or less as IGR in a year? Should we assume that Kogi State is far more complex to run than Lagos State?

Last month, I did a piece, “Beyond Power Shift In Kogi State”. In it, I said, “I wouldn’t join those congratulating Governor Yahaya Bello, without reminding him that what he does or fails to do with power would be what he would be remembered for”.

This statement was not borne out of hatred or resentment for him, but for good reasons: one, power shift is not an elixir or an automatic solution to the problems of Kogi State. Two, like many agreed with, even if God brought Bello to power, He would not manage the state’s affairs for him; and three, Yahaya Bello’s feet must be held to fire, if we want him to succeed, because failure is not an option.

Since he assumed office, I have kept a close watch on his activities through the media, just to see how he would lay the foundation of Kogi über alles – one prioritised above political, religious, tribal or ethnic interests.

At first, when Bello insisted on the verification of the State’s civil servants before the payment of salaries, well meaning Kogites and non-Kogites countenanced the idea because such exercises usually expose ghost workers. The recent 23,000 ghost workers discovered in the federal civil service and the story of a cleaner earning N350,000 monthly in Niger State, are good premises for supporting Bello’s decision. Likewise the pruning of the Kogi State civil service, ridding the system of ghost workers, reducing the cost of governance and making resources available for the recruitment of the unemployed or to embark on other important projects, such verification was inevitable.

Ironically, the same Bello who insisted on rooting out ghost workers is appointing 20 special advisers for starters, while he is yet to present his administration’s development plan to Kogites. Likewise, his decision on whether to continue with the number of ministries and commissioners he inherited from his predecessor is unknown. By implication, the State would have to bear, either directly or indirectly, the costs of the domestic and personal aides of each of these special advisers.

…if a certified accountant like Bello understands the need to prune the state civil service, why is it difficult for him to understand that at this economic downturn it is equally important to run a very slim government? As an accountant and an entrepreneur, would Bello have appointed up to 20 special advisers if he would be paying them from his private purse, and had a continuously reducing income?

But, why is a rookie governor taking a step that would amount to a waste of the State’s resource? For clarity, let’s moderately assume that each of the appointed special advisers gets a monthly salary of N250,000. In a year, that amounts to N3 million per appointee, and about N60 million on the 20 advisers. And this figure would definitely be a lot more when other variables are added.

Given this and the fact that Bello has been a successful entrepreneur – in transportation – I have no doubt that what it cost him to establish his multi-million naira transportation company would not be more than what he would possibly spend in paying his 20 special advisers in, say, two years. So, expecting that he would be frugal enough to save enough resources to bring back “Kogi Travellers” – the one time state-owned transportation company – is not a hope that is out of place. By extension, bringing back Kogi Travellers would provide transportation service at cheaper price, create jobs and equally rake in revenue into the state’s coffer.

At this juncture, it would also not be out place to ask some questions. In the first place, if a certified accountant like Bello understands the need to prune the state civil service, why is it difficult for him to understand that at this economic downturn it is equally important to run a very slim government? As an accountant and an entrepreneur, would Bello have appointed up to 20 special advisers if he would be paying them from his private purse, and had a continuously reducing income? Even if Bello must honour political IOUs, must it be now when the state can hardly pay salaries? And, of what value are these appointments to the wellbeing of an average Kogite?

I know some cynics marauding around him to cash their share of the political IOUs would see nothing wrong in this. After all, his predecessors made more political appointments, and of course recently, when governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State appointed 70 special assistants, the sky did not fall. However, a critical comparison of the financial status of Kogi State and that of an oil producing Cross River State would make the truth obvious. Besides, if the people of Cross River State could tolerate such, I do not think Kogites should smile at Bello’s decision. Why should the governor be wasting state resources on political hawks when there are many graduates turned Okada riders in the state who need employment

Another example is Kaduna State governor, Nasir El-rufai who on assumption of office slashed his and his deputy’s salaries by 50 percent and decided on appointing only 12 special assistants for himself and his deputy, while he reduced the erstwhile 24 state ministries to 13, just to save cost. Please take note that Kaduna State’s internally generated revenue stood at about N12 billion, according to statistics from NBS in 2014. And without doubt, Kogi State is far poorer than Lagos, Kaduna and many other states that are appointing less special advisers/assistants to cut the cost of governance.

The circumstances that led to Bello’s emergence might be forcing him to pacify and compensate enemies, frenemies and supporters, but that should not be at the state’s expense, most especially at this time when state allocations are dwindling due to well known reasons. In fact, if Bello needs a retinue of special advisers/assistants on about everything, what would he be doing as an elected governor? Would he just be seating as a figure head while advisers and assistants run the government on his behalf?

Anyway, if there is any governor that should not be pacifying or compensating people with appointments, Bello should be the one. This is because he did not spend much on electioneering, as such it could be reasonable to assume that he is not as indebted to several people or groups. Second, he has a lot of work to do – despite the State’s meager resources – to prove a point that things can change in Kogi State. And, above all, his re-election would not be based on how many political appointments he made but how much he has been able to enforce the change that people are yearning for in Kogi State. If he feels this is false, then he might need to ask his predecessor, Capt. Idris Wada.

Of course, cynics and boot lickers around him might see this as the ranting of an aggrieved “wailer” or the scheming of a political adversary, but that’s fine. However, I would be glad if this preempts him from further pandering to unnecessary political IOUs that might cost the state resource that it does not have. For Yahaya Bello, the time of dreaming to become governor is over, it is time to walk his political office aspiration talk. Bello should be thinking of how to increase Kogi State’s IGR and not how to increase those who would squander what is not even presently enough.

A four year tenure does not last forever.

Ahmed Oluwasanjo writes from Abuja and can be reached at ahmedoluwasanjo@gmail.com.