The Rot in Bello’s Kogi

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The screening committee set up by Kogi State Governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello to screen state and local government workers as well as pensioners is due to submit its report this week. Based on THISDAY findings, the committee headed by General Olusola Okotima (rtd), unearthed considerable rot the governor would have to deal with, moving forward. Yekini Jimoh writes

The greatest challenge every successive government in Kogi State had always faced was that of over-bloated wage bill. The wage bill of Kogi was always inflated through sharp practices like ghost workers engaged by top civil servants, politicians and associates of government in power. But any moment from now, the screening committee put in place by the Kogi State Governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello is expected to submit its report on its findings.

The committee, headed by General (Rtd) Olusola Okotima and his team, is said to be rounding off after two months of screening of workers, both at the state and local government levels. In fact, the screening exercise has been described by the people of the state as one of the best ever conducted in the state.

Several screening exercises such as Head of Service screening, Accountant-General screening, Sally-Tibot and of recent, Ogunmola screening had been conducted in the past by previous governments and despite the fact that a lot of irregularities were discovered in the civil service, government did not take actions.

Today, the wage bill of the state is put at N3billion, with staff strength of over 39000 while what accrues to the state from the federation account monthly had dwindled to between N2 billion and N1.9 billion. But the governor established a new, infectious atmosphere of optimism during his inaugural speech, stating: “I will be fair to all Kogites and I belong to everybody and belong to nobody.

“I hereby declare that the Yahaya Bello administration will not tolerate corruption. I will live by example. My administration has zero tolerance for corruption and it remains so and I think Kogites should be guided in this direction. We will see increase in our Internally Generated Revenue. We will conceive a socio-economic blueprint that will benefit the people,” he said.

But the governor recently lamented over a discovery, where a certain member of staff is taking the salaries of over 40 people while another is earning salary in four different offices in the State.

“The state is bleeding under very heavy wage bill occasioned by manipulations on the part of the civil servants, which has made government to perpetually rely on borrowing to meet up with its obligations. The issue of screening that is ongoing is very important. When we came on board, the wage bill was N3billion and staff strength of over 39000.

“When you move round the state, where are the offices? Where are the schools? Where are the hospitals and we are aware that since 2011, there has not been any advertisement for recruitment of staff, so how can we be having this heavy wage bill monthly?” he said.

Addressing workers during May Day celebration, the governor gave the breakdown of the allocation he had collected since he assumed office and said his administration had received four federal allocations since his assumption of office in January, 2016, out of which he paid full salaries for January and March.

“In January, we received about N2.6bn while our salary bill came to about N2.7bn. We paid full salaries. In February, we received about N2.5bn and applied that the differentials between allocations and wage bills for January and March as well as other pressing needs of the state which have direct impact on the lives of the people, including you, the workers.

“You will admit that Kogi State, with a population of about 3.5m people cannot spend all her money to service a workforce of about 100,000 people. Security, obligations to contractors, rehabilitation of infrastructure, etc are also pressing and unavoidable. In March, our allocation was about N2.3bn but we again paid full salaries to the tune of about N2.9bn.

“For April, allocation is about N2bn only. Even though the nearly N900m gap between allocation and wage bill is a huge challenge, we still hope to pay full salaries and even start defraying some arrears incurred by previous Administrations.”

The inability of the successive governments to address this issue was a function of many factors but today, the people of Kogi appear to have found a messiah in Governor Bello, who is determined to stamp out the syndrome of ghost workers from the state through the workers’ verification exercise, regardless of whose ox is gored.
So far, the exercise had uncovered how a single local government staff included as many as 300 ghost workers in the pay role of the local government. Also, 946 ghost schools with over 6,000 staff have been uncovered in another breath, with thousands of ghost workers uncovered across the state.

The committee also discovered that some people sat down in Lagos, Abuja, even abroad, and received bank alerts for salaries they did not work for.

“No more will Kogi State pay salaries to ghost workers, who are ‘serving’ in non-existing institutions discovered all over the state by the Screening Committee. We are dismantling the satanic infrastructure,” Bello said.
This, analysts reckoned, has reduced the state wage bill by about 30% thereby creating room for genuine employment and proper welfare of genuine workers of the state. Various loopholes have been further identified in the collection of revenue for the state in the past.

One of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Chieftains in Kogi State, Chief Clarence Olafemi commended the governor for taking the bull by the horn. The former Speaker of Kogo State House of Assembly and also former acting governor of the state said the screening exercise will reduce ghost workers drastically in the state.
According to him previous governments in the state was aware of ghost workers but refused to take action after receiving reports from the series of screening committee organised by the government. He noted that for any government to succeed, the government must remove sentiment and favoritism and then implement the report of the screening committee.

“State cannot developed in terms of infrastructural development when such government used all the state allocation to settle workers’ salary, how do you expect such state to move ahead,” he asked.

He mentioned that Lokoja, the state capital, was one of the oldest cities in the country and was the first capital of Northern Nigeria during the Colonia era, but claimed it was sad that Lokoja which boasts two great rivers – of River Niger and Benue – is more or else a glorified community. He urged the governor to go ahead and implement the report of the screening committee so that the state could move forward.

Another APC chieftain, Mallam Ibrahim Muhammed, said it was one of the best screening exercises organised by government so far since the creation of the state. He advised the governor to follow the recommendation of the screening committee and implement it to the letter, adding that whoever was found guilty among the top government officials especially among the civil servants should be punished.

A pensioner, Alhaji Umar Nnda, said the government of Bello has done well by conducting the screening exercise for the workers in the state.

“Civil servants have been a conduit pipe from which the state fund was been siphoned by those that matter in government. We have had series of screening in the state, head of service screening, accountant general screening, Sally-Tibot and of recent Ogunmola screening. All these never saw the light of today,” he said.

In the final analysis, the general expectations of the people is that the exercise would yield positive dividends for the state and the citizens at large, when eventually all the loopholes earlier created must have been exposed and shut down.

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So far, the exercise had uncovered how a single local government staff included as many as 300 ghost workers in the pay role of the local government. Also, 946 ghost schools with over 6,000 staff have been uncovered in another breath, with thousands of ghost workers uncovered across the state…The committee also discovered that some people sat down in Lagos, Abuja, even abroad, and received bank alerts for salaries they did not work for