Bello (r) with Kogi APC chairman, Alhaji Hadi Ametuo...a commitment to change

Revelations from the ongoing reform of the public service in Kogi State have reinforced the need for a total overhaul of the system, writes Yekini Jimoh

The Steering Screening Committee set up by the Kogi State Government to screen workers in the state, including Local Government Councils is already yielding results as the committee discovered some anomalies during the ongoing exercise in some areas of the service system. The committee headed by General (Rtd) Olusola Okotima and his team is believed to be working round the clock to see that it meets the deadline given to them by Governor Alhaji Yahaya Bello of the state for the submission of its report.

When the present administration came on board, the wage bill of the state was N3 billion with staff strength of over 39,000. What accrues to the state from the federation account monthly had dwindled from between N2 billion to N2.2 billion while the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) hovers around N400 million naira and N500 million naira monthly.

Governor Bello recently lamented that he didn’t want to be a governor that will only come and pay salary and then leave. According to him, for the past twenty five years that the state was created, “We were created along with other states in this country it is sad that we still find ourselves where we are today. Civil service is the engine room of any state and where we are today, it means, that the engine room must be overhauled because we can no longer compete favourably with other state created the same time.”
He stressed that because of the situation, there is the need to carry out the screening excise for civil servants in the state.

Before the commencement of the screening exercise, the governor directed that all Permanent Secretaries, Director of Finance and Administration and Cashiers should embarked on one month compulsory leave while at the Local Government Councils, the he directed that Directors of Local Government, Treasurers, Cashiers, Education Secretary and their Accountants should also proceed on one month compulsory leave.
The reason given by the state government was to pave the way for a transparent staff audit of ministries, agencies and parastatals. Already, the screening exercise is yielding positive results as some discoveries were recently made public by the screening committee. One of the discoveries was a staff taking salaries of over 40 people while another staff is earning salary in four different offices in the state.

It was also discovered that at Kogi State College of Education (Technical), Kabba with barely 300 students, the non-teaching staff is over 500. Also, the committee has discovered over 20 ghost Primary Schools in some Local Government Councils during the screening exercises.

Just few weeks ago, Governor Bello paid an unscheduled visit to some ministries in the state, revealing two billion naira fraud in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. Sources privy to the visit told THISDAY that the sleaze was in connection with the Kogi State/CBN MSME, which was allegedly diverted by some top directors in the ministry.
Governor Bello, who was astonished, immediately directed the Acting Permanent Secretary of the Ministry to turn in a comprehensive report on the fund. He also asked the ministry to collaborate with the Office of the Accountant-General of the state for thorough investigation.

Alhaji Yahaya Bello promised to get to the roots of the fraud, assuring the people that he was ready to prosecute anyone found wanting in the MSME-gate that has shaken the ministry to its foundations. He reiterated the determination of his administration to root out corruption from the civil service, saying his administration will not spare anyone found to have constituted him or herself into a drain pipe in the state.

Sources told THISDAY that palpable tension has since enveloped the civil service even as the Head of Service in the State, Mr. Moses Atakpa was sent on a 30-day compulsory leave. Kogi workers are already complaining over their non-payment of four months salaries by the state government, alleging that the governor is planning to sack some workers.

Speaking on behalf of the workers, the Chairman of Trade Union Congress (TUC), Kogi State chapter, Comrade Ranti Ojo berated the Governor Bello over his purported plan to sack 40 per cent of the present workforce in its employment.

The union alleged that the government had set up a parallel six-man committee sitting at the glass house of the Lugard House with a mandate to reduce the workforce at all cost.

Comrade Ojo demanded the stoppage of the committee, saying failure of which the workers might withdraw their members serving on the screening/verification committee of the state government.

He also alleged that the State government was engaging in witch-hunting by extending the 30-day compulsory leave it sent permanent secretaries and other top government functionaries for another 30 days without coming out to make public the offences committed by these categories of workers.

According to him, the union kept quiet when the first compulsory leave was given to the people by government thinking that their offences would be made public before the expiration of the 30 days.

“But we are taken aback by another circular No HSC/KGS/CIR/3/VOL.V/542 dated 15th March, 2016 titled Re: Urgent Directives from the Executive Governor extending for another 30 days the compulsory leave granted to our members in the service of Kogi state even when none of them has actually been accused of and found guilty of any gross misconduct.

“This current action is tantamount to a witch-hunt and a negation of the civil service rules and regulations given the conditions of service of our members in the state”.
But the Kogi State Council of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) has commended the state government for the ongoing screening exercise to determine the actual workforce of the state and Local Government workers. This was contained in a Communique issued and signed by the State Chairman of NUJ, Alhaji Ali Atabor and the Secretary, Alhaji Adeiza Momohjimoh, copy of which was made available to THISDAY.

The union urged the government to show a human face by paying workers’ salaries while the screening is ongoing to reduce the hardship faced by the masses as a result of non-payment of salaries. It also commended the state House of Assembly for its resolution calling on the state government to pay workers’ salaries without further delay.
But the governor has said the ongoing workers’ screening exercise has become imperative to ascertain the integrity of the government payroll, adding that it was in the interest of workers and the state government. The governor, who stated this in Lokoja in a statement hailed the workers for their patience and cooperation with the screening committee, assuring labour of better days ahead.

The Governor said wage is the right of every worker and reiterated the commitment of his administration to ensure that the civil servants earn their wages regularly. According to him, no government can succeed without the cooperation of labour, referring to the public service as “the most critical backbone for the implementation and execution of development plans and programmes”.

He said: “I want to commend labour for its patience and steadfastness in ensuring the staff verification exercise is successful. This has shown that both the government and organised labour are on the same page in ensuring that we reposition public service and discourage corruption which has deprived our esteemed workers from getting their due pay.

“My government will stop at nothing in enthroning a well-motivated workforce that will be ready to work with our government to take Kogi to a new pedestal”, he said reiterating the determination of his administration to improve the living standards of the people in line with his electioneering promises.

He called for a continued support, prayers and collaboration from the people of the state to enable his administration achieve its lofty dreams. According to him, his government will continue to strive to ensure the resources of the state work for the greater number of her people. But more importantly, the hope of many is that the verification exercise yields the expected result.

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The reason given by the state government was to pave the way for a transparent staff audit of ministries, agencies and parastatals. Already, the screening exercise is yielding positive results as some discoveries were recently made public by the screening committee. One of the discoveries was a staff taking salaries of over 40 people while another staff is earning salary in four different offices in the state