After the euphoria that greeted his emergence and eventual inauguration as governor of Kogi State, Alhaji Yahaya Adoza Bello is gradually settling down to the business of governing the state.
There is no doubt that Nigeria’s youngest governor is taking on the enormous task of putting life to the long-held hopes and aspirations of the people of Kogi State for an inclusive government that will deliver socio-economic development to lift them out of the deprivation they have endured under the past administration.
With high expectations birthed by the ‘new direction’ agenda in Kogi State, many in the state are waiting to taste the pudding as promised abundantly in the inaugural address of the governor. Like the old maxim, the true test of a political leader is not how well he campaigned, but how effectively he is able to meet the responsibilities of the office.
Although Bello’s emergence is widely seen as divinely ordained, nothing will make his time in Lugard House more meaningful than his ability to meet the yearning and aspirations of the people.
For the 3.8 million people of Kogi State who have long been deprived of meaningful development, nothing matters more than a government that can muster the wherewithal to turn around the comatose state of social infrastructure and put the state on the growth trajectory that has eluded it in the last 24 years of its creation.
It appears though that nothing much can be achieved by the new administration which is reported to have inherited an empty treasury, unpaid salaries and hefty debt profile of well over N50 billion despite the shoddy job by the immediate past administration to cover up a number of domestic indebtedness.
Even with the debilitating state of affairs, which Governor Bello inherited, the administration has taken decisive steps in announcing a policy direction, which is a clear departure from the lackluster past.
Within two weeks of taking over the affairs of the state, Bello was able to conclude negotiation with the organised labour in the state and convinced them to suspend the six-week old strike, which it embarked upon due to non-payment of salaries by the past administration. He also ensured payment of the October 2015 salary in fulfilment of the agreement reached with the leadership of the labour union in the state. The administration of Governor Bello ordered the immediate restoration of water supply to Lokoja metropolis after nearly three months of water scarcity in the state capital.
Perhaps the most remarkable of Bello’s achievement in the last few weeks is his restoration of full financial autonomy of local government administration in the state. This means that all the 21 local government areas in the state will henceforth take full charge of financial resources of their respective local governments as allocated by the federal government. This decision came shortly after the governor ordered reinstatement of 15 illegally sacked local government chairmen in the state.
Apparently, Bello has activated a policy direction that departs from the old ways where the state government allegedly carries out all forms deductions from local government allocations. However, the question is how sustainable is this new direction if the large percentage of money available to the state government is spent on payment of salaries with little or nothing left for infrastructural development.
As things stand, Kogi State requires financial bail out to save the state from the transactional specter where all that is received is shared among the workforce month on month. The Kogi bailout issue has been the most controversial of all the states that applied for fund under the federal government’s structured facility to enable state governments meet their obligations due to dwindling federal allocation to states.
The Kogi State government was said to have applied for N50. 8 billion bailout fund to offset outstanding salaries and pension arrears of civil servants in the state with a repayment period of 20 years. There was also a N10 billion infrastructure development fund, which is yet to be released to the state. The federal government is also indebted to Kogi State to the tune of over N20 billion for federal projects executed by the state government between 2003 and 2012 in road construction and the power sector.
It is time for the state government to expedite action in drawing the attention of the federal government to some of these financial obligations, which ought to have been settled before now. While the new administration is committed to exploring new ways of improving internally generated revenue to augment federal allocations, it is pertinent that whatever gaps were responsible for the delay in the release of the Kogi bailout is resolved without further delay.
If the ‘new direction’ agenda of Governor Yahaya Bello must translate into quick wins in social infrastructure, youth empowerment, agricultural development, education and public service reforms, the Kogi bailout must be secured to settle outstanding debts to allow the government save a little for capital expenditure from its revenues. This will no doubt enable the government to deliver the change for which the people voted for the All Progressives Congress in Kogi State.
— Dr. Ozohu-Suleiman wrote in from Mass Communication Department, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria