For starters, I have been avoiding giving my informed thoughts on this thorny issue. I don’t want mischief makers to label me as a sycophant or a paid praise singer because of the position I’ll take. But today, I have decided to break my silence, in my bid to put a stop to all the lies, half-truths, outright mischiefs, misconceptions, and deliberate misinformation that is gaining currency in the polity today in our dear State.
This is indeed a trying period in the life of our State and her over 4 million people. True, the leadership quality of our amiable Governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello and his able economic team is being tested by a single hydra-headed monster called salary payment. It is gradually becoming a clear threat to our nascent democracy in the State, and a potent tool in the hands of mischief makers and desperate politicians. Every tom, dick and harry have taken up arms against our Governor on this issue.As it were, nobody wants to work the path of dispassionate disposition or intellectual discourse on the issue.
As at today, the young man is the most traumatized, criticized, vilified,distracted, and crucified Governor in the country. Both traditional and social media platforms are awash everyday with un-distilled hate speeches, directly targeted at the Governor and his image. He had been taken to the cleaners for the umpteenth time by hack writers, bread and butter journalists, arm-chair analysts, and other sponsored civil society organizations, whose only agenda for their registration is to pull down the Governor at all cost.
A lot of emotive comments by supposedly elite citizens have filled the air space on the issue of non-payment of salary as it has become the most talked about contemporary issue at every beer parlour and other socio gathering venues in the state in recent times.
The Governor has been put out in public domain as a ‘wicked, insensitive, and demonic leader’ by his transducers. Even the opposition, PDP, that put the State in a big mess and cliff-hanger before their unceremonious departure, has also found the voice to call the Governor ‘the new pharaoh of our time’. The Governor’s one time bosom associate and political backer, Senator Dino Melaye has also joined the fray in his own wisdom and for the reason best known to him. This is the narratives that are playing out in the polity today.
There is no gain-saying the fact that this issue of non-payment of salary would certainly form the major campaign issue by some visionless gubernatorial aspirants in the forthcoming 2019 general elections in the State if we allow the situation to linger on before it is tackled decisively.
But, what is really the actual socio-economic reality on ground in Kogi State today? Did the issue of non-payment of salary take root with the Yahaya Bello administration? Where were we really coming from on this very issue? Is Kogi State the only State today that is still experiencing challenges in the prompt payment of salaries? What exactly has Yahaya Bello done or failed to do, to tackle this monster that has brought so much undeserved reproach and smear to his person and his administration in the polity? What is the way forward in our collective responsibility to overcome this greatest challenge of our time? These and many other questions is the kernel of this write-up in my bid to deepen intellectual discourse and dispassionate understanding on the issue.
My intention is to proffer workable solutions on the way out of this quagmire in the life of our dear State. As a stakeholder in Kogi project and an informed Journalist, I cannot sit on the fence and allow the situation to linger on without contributing my quota on the way forward. First, the point must be made abundantly clear that the issue of non-payment of salary in Kogi State predates the coming on-board of Yahaya Bello administration in January, 2016.
Recall that the immediate past Governor of Kogi State, Capt. Idris Wada left behind a backlog of four months unpaid salary arrears. This situation prompted the organised labour in the state to embark on indefinite strike that was still lingering into the eve of the take-off of Yahaya Bello administration. To add salt to injury, ex-governor Wada, bequeathed a humungous debt profile that was clearly a political booby trap for the incoming Yahaya Bello administration.
As at today, it is on record that a staggering amount of 500 million naira is being deducted from source monthly from the State allocation from the Federation account to service these debts. Please note that the large chunk of this debt was frittered on ill-conceived white elephant projects that did not add value to the economy of the State. Most of these projects are standing as monuments of abandoned projects that Kogi State may never complete in the nearest future.
It is also on record that Capt. Wada administration was neck-deep in the practice of percentage payment of salaries to local government workers and teachers for many months before he was rightly disgraced from office by Kogi electorate. Recall that the ex-governor even attempted unsuccessfully to commence percentage payments to Kogi State civil servants, but met stiff opposition from the leaders of the organised labour. In the same vein, ex-governor Wada bequeathed a State mired in State-wide insecurity and a volatile political environment.
These are the true picture of the socio-economic situation on ground before the coming on-board of Governor Yahaya Bello. The question now is what did Governor Yahaya do to tackle these unwholesome narratives in the interim?
First, Governor Yahaya Bello swiftly moved to negotiate with the striking civil servants to return to work in other to give him a head start in office. He quickly successfully cleared the three months’ salary arrears before he decided to carry out a holistic staff screening exercise to put an end to the rot and corrupt civil service system, he inherited from the ex-governor Wada. But barely six months into the tenure of Yahaya Bello, Nigeria slipped into a prolonged economic recession that lasted for over two years before the country technically recovered from the recession.
It goes without saying that the immediate implication of this period of recession, was that virtually all the 36 States started experiencing shortfall in their monthly allocations. Remember that Kogi State is one of the few States with over-bloated wage bill inherited from the past regime.
It is also on record that Kogi State was among the States that had implemented the payment of minimum wage at the State level, even when the internally generated revenue was put at a paltry 250 million naira monthly. The good news is that the administration of Yahaya Bello has since recorded a growth of the IGR to over one billion naira monthly as we speak.
However, the challenge in the payment of salaries was brought to the attention of President Muhammad Buhari, who responded swiftly by ordering the release of bailout funds to about 28 States that were badly affected. The point must be made that this bailout funds was not a largesse, but had condition of repayment attached.
Kogi State Government judiciously utilised this bailout funds to clear virtually all the outstanding salaries. The Governor in the spirit of his accountability and transparency published in several national newspapers on how the bailout money was utilised. However, his sworn enemies were not satisfied with the openness of the Governor on this issue and they continued to bay withnegative criticisms on the issue.
It is on record today, that about 20 states that collected bailout just like Kogi, are at today owing between four and seven months’ salary arrears in their respective states. The case of Benue and Ekiti State readily comes to mind. Even Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State with all his pro-masses hullabaloo,showmanship, and pretences, is likely to leave behind seven months unpaid salaries just few weeks from his departure from a two term tenure in office.
People have accused Governor Yahaya Bello of alleged insensitivity, but the true narrative is that Governor Bello is fully aware of his constitutional responsibility to take the welfare of Kogi citizens as a matter of priority in the scheme of things. In furtherance of this, his administration took loans from commercial banks to augment the dwindling allocations to be able to meet up with this responsibility as witnessed before last Christmas.
Officially, Kogi State Government as at today owing three months arrears to those category of workers that have been duly cleared during the prolonged but painstaking civil service screening exercise. Yes, there are other pockets of workers that are yet to be fully cleared due to one issue or another and this has contributed to the purported delay in the payment of their salaries.
The governor has also paid due attention to the prompt payment of pensioners entitlements. I have pointed this out in an attempt to set the record straight and put a lie to all the mischievous misinformation’s being circulated by desperate politicians and other uninformed critics in their attempts to ridicule the governor and score cheap political points.
Now what is the way out of this lingering challenge in the prompt payment of workers salary that has become an albatross on the neck of our youthful governor? The governor himself is not completely overwhelmed by this daunting challenge as he and his able economic team are working tirelessly to put this development to a permanent rest. If you ask me, this is not the time for mischief and display of unpatriotic politics from his traducers.
Governor Yahaya Bello may not have performed wonderfully well in office in the past two and a half years, but the young man certainly deserves some credits and accolades for his remarkable achievements in security, infrastructure, water resources, health, agriculture, transportation, education, job creation, and the fight against endemic corruption that was hitherto a byword in local government administration and the entire civil service system.
All these visible and tangible achievements did not just happen like a miracle from terrestrial forces. The Governor has invested heavily to get the desired results. Today, Lokoja is one of the cleanest State capital in the country compared to the past status as the dirtiest State capital in Nigeria. Recall too, that Yahaya Bello administration has been up to date in the payment of the State’s counterpart funding of MDGs, SDGs, FADAMA projects, and other donor agencies. In view of the foregoing, I am always at a lost when people continue to ask what has Yahaya Bello been doing with Paris club releases and the State’s statutory allocations from the Federation account.
In conclusion therefore, I want to suggest that all well-meaning people of Kogi State, organised labour, civil society organisations, including our traditional rulers should urgently urge the State governor to convene an all-inclusive summit on salary payment challenges with a view to working out a practical and lasting solution to put the issue to permanent rest. Governance is a collective responsibility.
If you ask me, the problem on ground is not only Yahaya Bello’s problem. Let’s joins hands to find a workable way forward. I wish to seize this opportunity to commend leadership of the organised labour in the state for their display of non-partisanship and a high degree of patriotism in their handling of the issue of salary payment debacle. I will equally implore the affected civil servants in the State to continue to exercise patience and deep understanding because I am fully convinced that very soon there will light in the tunnel. Thank God the State government is expecting another tranche of Paris club refund from the Federal Government. I am fully convinced that Governor Yahaya Bello as a listening and anointed leader would do the needful when the money hits the State’s accounts.
Calling Yahaya Bello unprintable names in the name of infantile politics is not the right way to go as a good citizen at a perilous time like this. Together, we can make Kogi State work again. I know that there is no limit to the evil in the minds of mischief makers and desperate politicians; I want to make it abundantly clear that Governor Yahaya Bello is destined to spend his constitutional eight years tenure in office by the special grace of God.
And Kogi State and her over four million people would be better for it in all ramifications. His new direction vision which was well thought out by the visionary governor would take us to the Promised Land.
– Otori Ozigi is a retired Public Servant, Journalist and PR Consultant.