Kogi State Governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, recently addressed some journalists on the pertinent issues in the state, especially the issue of the workers’ screening exercise. Yekini Jimoh presents the excerpts:
People are complaining in some quarters over the ongoing workers’ screening exercise. What do you think is their problem?
The state and local government staff screening exercise has been going on since inception of this administration, which came on board in January 27, 2016. The screening involved the verification of all the workers of state, local government areas, teachers and tertiary institutions in the state. The verification has been completed and the committee is in the process of collating the reports. I have taken my time to go over the preliminary report to ensure that the final report of the screening exercise does not go the same way as others during the previous administration.
It is also important to re-echo it once again that the President had released part of our bailout funds and I do not want the funds to remain in government account for too long. The screening exercise was very interesting as a lot of revelations and shoddy deals were unraveled. I took my time to visit the collation centre to have firsthand information about the exercise and after that I visited some schools in Lokoja to see if what is being collated at the collation centre tallies with the reality on the ground.
Having met with the NUT representatives and various head teachers in the state, I decided to visit some schools within the state capital, particularly Army Day Primary School and two other primary schools. From my findings in those schools I visited, it was exactly what is being collated at the collation centre. By virtue of the ghost workers discovered during the screening, if we say we should pay salaries of local government workers immediately, we will pay billions of naira into the pockets of a few individuals and it will not be healthy for the state.
I was on my visit to the school when the first list of those, who are through with the screening were released and there are some workers, who took to the street to protest that their names were excluded from the list. I went to the venue of the protest to listen to them and I explained to them what the current administration is doing to ensure that the issue of payment of percentage salary will not resurface again in the state. I equally warned them against doing things that will subvert the law. I advised them to always channel their complaints to the appropriate quota.
There is palpable fear amongst workers that about 50 per cent of the workforce will be laid off. Is this true?
There shouldn’t be any fear about the ongoing screening exercise. No single genuine worker of Kogi State will be sacked. If you are a genuine worker, you will be screened, paid and you will be in the service of the state or local government. What is happening now where people are protesting comes from those, who have been benefiting from the rotten system, whereby one person had a multiple names on the payroll and those types of people will definitely be affected by the screening exercise and they don’t want it to succeed. That’s why they decided to send their cohort to take to the street.
Like I often said, this exercise must succeed by the special grace of God Almighty. There are a few Kogi indigenes, who have decided to get the state rotten without recourse for the future of the state and its people. I don’t think there should be tension because after the exercise, if anybody is left out and has genuine complaint, he or she can forward it and I want to make it clear that we are not retrenching. We are not downsizing, rightsizing or leftsizing because it is not our focus for now.
We cannot be intimidated to the point of abandoning the screening. I am particularly aware that the bailout fund that was computed earlier by the immediate past administration was heavily padded and if we should allowed that, the bailout fund is not a grant; it is not free money. Kogi State will pay back and every kobo that is being paid will affect the economy of the state.
So, a few individuals cannot continue to be packing billions of naira while the people continue to wallow in abject poverty. If we allow that to continue unchecked, we will end up leaving a heavy burden for the generation yet unborn. So, the right thing must be done this time around and I am not ready to renege on my promise to reform the civil service, both at the state and local government council, though this effort is taking our time, we have to painstakingly take our time to remove the ghost-workers from the payroll.
Therefore, I don’t think there should be any form of tension or rancor that will arise from this very important exercise, which is ongoing in the interest of Kogi workers. It worries me a lot when some workers especially those at the local government take percentage salaries at the end of every month. That was the main reason we are resolute to remove the cause of such hardship on workers.
What efforts are you putting in place to rid the state of criminal elements that are now terrorising the state?
Before I took over the mantle of leadership of the state in January this year, the security situation in the state is better forgotten than imagine as kidnapping and other criminal activities were already at the highest point in some parts of the state. I am using this medium to thank and appreciate President Muhammadu Buhari and the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Solomon Arase for deploying four unit of mobile policemen, 32 Special Anti-robbery Squad and a helicopter for aerial surveillance across the state.
Also, the newly appointed local government administrators are already organising vigilante groups to assist in fishing out the hoodlums at the grassroots and with all these efforts put in place, we will go after the criminals; we will hunt them down to their hideout; we will pursue them into the bush and smoke them out until the state is free of all heinous crimes.
In addition, as a result of bad system practised in the past, where few leaders or individual carted away the wealth of the state at the detriment of the masses, whose population is over three million, the attitude of this few people, who so much believed in milking the state had thrown the youths who are in their prime age into total joblessness.
To restore hope in the youth of this state, we are planning to go into agricultural programme, where they will be fully engaged to earn a living. Though there are some of the youths, who are recalcitrant and don’t want to do anything meaningful that will add value to their lives, we are appealing to them so that they can be part of government’s gesture to enable them better their future.
Again, those who have been stealing Kogi’s wealth through over-bloated payroll, we will fish them out and recover the money they carted away. We will not stop at that, they will face prosecution to serve as deterrent to others. I am assuring the people of the state that there will be no sacred cow in this fight against fraudulent activities that had retarded the development of the state.
What are your plans for the disbursement of the bailout funds? Will there be any committee to that effect?
To the best of my knowledge, the bailout funds was meant to pay the arrears of workers’ salaries and other allowances they were entitled to because they have not been paid in the past. Government does not need a committee to pay monthly salaries and as such, we will follow all the processes that normally lead to the payment of workers’ salaries using government machinery. Involving a committee for that purpose will mean that we have to pay their allowance and we don’t even have money for that.
We have the list of genuine workers that government owed salaries both at the state and local government levels. The record of various unpaid salaries and the months are there. Once the screening exercise is completed, we will disburse the funds through government machinery the way and manner monthly salaries are paid to the workers through their various bank accounts. I am also assuring the workers that no kobo will be paid cash; it will be through bank transaction.
We will make sure that the disbursement is properly done so that we can also access the balance of the bailout to put smile on the faces of Kogi workers especially the local government staff, who for long have been collecting percentage salaries. In addition, I have said it often without numbers that this administration will not spend a kobo belonging to the state without recourse to accountability. This state has suffered enough in the hands of fraudsters, who do not believe that Kogi state should grow. Therefore, whoever that is willing to work with me should have it at the back of his mind that he is not coming to siphon the state resources because such characters can never go on in the same train with me.
The screening aside, what is development focus of the state?
First and foremost, we met a state that is already decayed in all sectors. The resources that ought to have been used to effect positive development are being carted away by a few opportunistic individuals, who do not have the interest of the state at heart. We are ready to recover those stolen funds from all the projects that are executed in the past. We are not only concerned about the issue of salary, we will extend our tentacles beyond that and that was why we will block all the loopholes that have been established in the past.
We are going into serious IGR drive in order to generate enough funds because no meaningful development can take place without enough funds. We have cardinal points we will look into such as education, health and agriculture among others. Even the civil service reform will not stop at the screening; we will also go into how these workers can be trained and retrained for effective service delivery. Infrastructure such as road, water and electricity will also be given consideration by this administration because these are areas, where government efforts can touch the lives of the masses directly.
For emphasis, who are the genuine workers in the state?
A genuine worker is someone who applied for a vacant position through the state government advertisement of vacant positions, urging interest and qualified candidates to apply. The applicant undergoes interview and is issued a proper employment letter, having satisfied the necessary requirements. This person should be in the service of the state or local government and drawing salaries. He enjoys promotion and increment of salaries over a period of time and has proper documentation, which qualifies him to be regarded as genuine worker. In addition, the person must have a bank account through which he receives salary on a monthly basis.
But there are some people whose names were inserted into the payroll by some scrupulous elements. Some are fictitious names while some are given employment but you can never see them at their place of work. These categories of people are not genuine workers and we cannot pay them a dime as salaries.
Those who have been stealing Kogi’s wealth through over-bloated payroll, we will fish them out and recover the money they carted away. We will not stop at that, they will face prosecution to serve as deterrent to others. I am assuring the people of the state that there will be no sacred cow in this fight against fraudulent activities that had retarded the development of the state