Gov. Bello On a Wild Goose Chase?

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On 27th January when he was inaugurated without a deputy, Alh. Yahaya Bello, the Governor of Kogi State did not leave any one in doubts about his desire to sanitise governance in the State.

“To enforce our commitment to accountability,” he stated “the incomig administration will employ technology and a multilayered system of checks and balances to block all leakages in our financial processes and improve our wealth creation and retention capabilities…we will run this blueprint along with civil service reforms to change the orientation of our workers and improve their productivity,” the youngest Nigeria state chief executive said in his inaugural speech.

And given the advantage of his age, not a few people believed the Governor would hit the ground running. They were not disappointed. Within weeks of assuming power, Bello began to give flesh to the skeletons of his earlier remarks about checking the financial books of the State.

The first step was taken on Monday, Feb 22 when he inaugurated a Staff Screening and Verification Committee. The Committee was headed by a retired army General, Paul Olushola Okuntimo of the infamous military joint task force in Ogoniland in the 1990s when the late despot, Sani Abacha held the country by the jugular. Okuntimo was also Security Adviser to the Governor.

The Okuntimo committee’s mandate was to screen out ghost workers from the state government’s payrolls.  From that inauguration till date, the Committee have bent round many corners and even given birth to other amorphous committees, but it’s main mandate has been left largely unfulfilled.

Once it was inaugurated, the Okuntimo Committee went about its assignment with military high handedness. Soon allegations of indiscipline, fraud and unjustified mass sack of government’s workers were leveled against it. Labour unions in the state especially became apprehensive and demanded sack of the Committee.

Thus, in order to salvage his intentions of re-positioning the civil service, Bello sacrificed Okuntimo and replaced him with Dr. Jerry Agbaji, a nominee of the state chairman of Nigeria Labour Congress, Com. Johnson Onu Edoka.

Thus humbled, Okuntimo resigned his appointment as Security Adviser to the Governor. On Tuesday, 24 June, Bello inaugurated a back up committee headed by Yakubu Yusuf Okala, the State Auditor General, to work with the existing committee.

Things went on a faster lane and on Wednesday June 22, Agbaji submitted his committee’s  report. But the report was marred beyond redemption. Indeed, so bad was the report that out of its 29 members,, 12 who members who represented NLC affiliate unions in the committee declined to append their signatures to it.

Okala,  in a remark, said the field work of the Agbaji group was excellent, but it’s desk work was “marred by substantial fraud and high level of irregularities.”

Enraged by the shoddy job, Bello immediately disbanded the main committee and upgraded the back up committee to assume responsibilities for full fledged Staff Screening and Verification.

The reformed committee submitted its report on 26 July. The presentation was celebrated as a major achievement and covered live on national television.

The committee gave a detailed presentation of its findings. It disclosed that out of the 88,973 people it screened at the State and local governments, 18,211 were classified as ghost workers and unintended beneficiaries of payments from government coffers. It announced that the state would make a monthly saving of 1.3 billion from clean of of the register of the workforce of ghost workers.

The Governor was impressed with the work of the Committee. But the genuine workers who claimed they were screened out of the state’s workforce unjustifiably during the exercise cried blue murder.

Their strident protests led to Governor to again, on 8 August, inaugurate another 23-member review committee, headed by Okala to embark on a fresh round of verification and screening of workers.

Although the new review committee was given six weeks to tidy up and submit its work, it has already spent three months and the Governor is yet to smell its submissions.

Worse still, the Governor has continue to receive knocks for the level of inconvenience, discomfort and occasional deaths that attended the re- screening exercise.

For example, workers and pensioners from the 21 Local Governments were forced to come to Lokoja for screening. In the course of the migrations many of them were robbed while others were involved in accidents that killed them.

That is not all. It was a common sight to find senior citizens enduring hunger and extremely poor conditions around the Government House just to be screened by the almighty review committee.

Worse still, many of the civil servants and retirees have been clamped in police cells over alleged inabilities to explain certain discrepancies in their official records. Once apprehended, a detainee could only regain freedom after payment of N20000 bail fine.

But Bello is not one to fraternise with idleness. Even as the Screening Committee was morphing into different forms,  another committee crept into the stage.

On Friday 4 October, Governor Bello inaugurated a Judicial Commission of Inquiry to probe past administrations in the State from May 29 2003 to January 27 2012. The Commission has retired Justice Wada Umar Rano as Chairman with Ajimono Ipemida serving as secretary. Other members of the Commission include Dr Mohammed Aboki, Bar. Ameh Franklin Adejoh, Prof (Mrs) Angela Okatahi, Chief Ajewole J.O., Mrs Fatima Ojochenemi Audu, while Justice Daudu JB is to serve as counsel to the Commission.

Governor Bello while inaugurating the commission emphasized that the measure was not aimed at witch hunting anybody but to ensure that stolen funds are recovered and used for the development of the state.

“The Panel is not just to find what went wrong and recover what is missing or stolen but to assist us in fashioning institutionalised means of preventing recurrence. We want to inculcate a tradition of preventing theft, not chasing thieves”, he said.

He lamented that Kogi state still ranks low on the global development map after 25 years of its existence due to corruption and mismanagement of public funds by past leaders, noting that his government is determined to put the state on the path of strong economic footing.

The time frame of the probe, covers the administrations of Alhaji Ibrahim Idris who ruled the state from May 2003 to January 2012 and that of Capt. Idris Wada, January 2012 to January 2016.

They were both members of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. As expected, PDP has kicked against the Committee, describing the setting up of the probe panel as a move to persecution of its members.

In a statement by its state publicity secretary, Bode Ogunmola, the party described the move as classical shadow boxing and political vindictiveness.

PDP accused Bello of singling out its members for probe even when they were not the only people who have governed the state from inception: “If his motives are pure and in the public interest, why did he not start the probe from 1999, when democracy returned to the country or better still from 1991 when the State was created?”

A social cultural group Igala Vanguard claimed the two exercises are ethnic cleansing against the Igala nation.

In a public letter it addressed to the Ohinoyi of Ebiraland, Ado Ibrahim and signed by Engr. Lawrence Akpa, it’s convener and Pa. Ibrahim Odaudu, it’s secretary, the group argued that “in clear terms, the probe is targeted at the administrations of former Governor Idris Ibrahim who recorded unprecedented achievements during his nine years tenure in the State and his successor and immediate past Governor, Capt. Idris Ichalla Wada. Incidentally the two men are Igala leaders. We see this as a direct attack on the Igala nation and sensibilities of our race.”.

The group said it is not against the fight against corruption and the need to bring sanity to the conduct of Government business when the motifs are altruistic: “But we have unassailable evidences that the proposed probe is intended to rubbish the hard earned reputation of these statesmen. We have heard on good authority that the script Governor Bello is rehearsing is targeted at rubbishing Igala leaders.”

The group called on the respected traditional ruler to prevail on Bello not to go ahead with the probe.

A former Senator and a retired General,  Tunde Ogbeha also described the probe as ‘self imposed distraction’ by Governor Bello.

He wondered why the government was looking back instead of focusing on its programs for the future. Ogbeha advised the Governor to implement programs that will touch on the grassroots rather than dissipate energy on what happened in the past.

Kingsley Fanwo, the Governor’s Director General on Media and Publicity however accused Ogbeha of being a beneficiary of the rote of the past. He urged the former senator to join his boss in fashioning initiatives that will bring about development to the State rather than being a arm chair critic.

The panel’s inauguration had stirred different controversies.

Instructively, the panel which was given three months to conclude it’s work, is yet to commence sitting more than a month after its inauguration.

Now, there are real fears the screening and the probe exercises may not achieve the anticipated results. “I am tired of this up and down. Screening today,  screening tomorrow without end. For how long shall we continue In this mess?” Pa Ogunmefun a retiree from Ijumu Local Government who came to Lokoja for screening told TheNews.

He is just one among many who condemned the long duration of the exercise.

Others also criticized government’s decision to retain Okala who chaired the screening committee as head of the review panel.

“Asking Okala to head the complaint panel is tantamount to asking him to review his own work. I will be surprised if the review work can achieve good results. This screening may not come to an end soon. Government is just buying time with it.” Edwin Okpanachi told this medium.

In the meantime, workers and pensioners continue to bear the pains of irregular payment of salaries and other social dislocations across the State.

The government has succeeded in creating disparities among the workers. Whereas the lucky ones are owed only three months,  a greater number  of the workers and pensioners have gone about 11 months without salaries. Thus, most  families now to live on the edge. With non payment of salaries, starvation has been on the increase and easily avoidable deaths have become rampant.

Idris Asiru, the State Finance Commissioner however gave assurance that epileptic salary payment will soon be a thing of the past. At a recent event in Mopamuro Local Government,  he opined that the screening will soon be concluded and timely payment of salaries and other emoluments restored.

Fanwo in a discussion with this magazine also reiterated that the probe and screening exercises are not targeted at anybody, but purely for the public good.

He gave assurance that government will see the initiatives to conclusion and will not abandon them midway as being feared: “Those who have not stolen or mismanaged public funds have nothing to fear. Genuine civil servants will also not be affected in any way. Contractors who have been faithful in the execution of their contracts can also go sleep. The initiatives are meant to recover public funds in wrong hands and to block all leakages through which our monies are mismanaged.”

Credits: Richard Elesho | TheNews

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