Despite the large sum of money received by the Kogi State government from the federal government as the London/Paris Club refund, workers and pensioners in the state are going through a horrible experience. Yekini Jimoh writes
When the present administration of Yahya Bello of Kogi State came on board some 20 months ago, it made it clear that he had come to sanitise the state, particularly civil service. To achieve this, the governor quickly set up a screening committee for workers, both at the state and local government levels, pensioners inclusive.
The Auditor-general of the state, Mr. Yusuf Okala, and his counterpart at the local government level, Mr. Ahmed Ododo, were the two major actors that anchored the exercise.
However, after the screening of workers and pensioners across the state, spanning about 20 months, over 90 per cent of Kogi workers and pensioners are yet to be paid. Many of the workers and pensioners have lost their lives as a result of the non-payment of their salaries.
In fact during the screening exercise, some workers were kidnapped on their way to Lokoja, while others who were equally unlucky lost their lives in the kidnappersâ€™ den.
During the administration of the immediate past governor, Captain Idris Wada, he paid workers and pensioners promptly. Sadly, Governor Bello, despite the alleged inflow of money, which included the bailout funds, the first and second tranches of the Paris Club refund, totalling over N38billion, still, over 90 per cent of the workers and pensioners are yet to get their salaries in the last 20 months. Apart from this, the governor has also collected loans from banks in the state. The latest is the N1.9 billion loan approved by the state assembly.
Today, Kogi workers and pensioners have literally become beggars due to their increasing hardship. Many parents have withdrawn their wards from school as a result of the unpleasant situation facing the workers. And efforts by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), led by the state chairman, Comrade Onu Edoka, for the governor to see reasons, had proved abortive.
Some of the workers, who spoke to THISDAY lamented that their situation was critical.
â€œWe can no longer send our children to school. We canâ€™t even afford house rent and even take care of our medical bills,â€ some of them lamented.
An 80 year old pensioner, Mallam Otu Damisa, said he retired as a Secondary School teacher but lamented that since the present administration came on board, things had become difficult for him.
â€œI lost my wife early this year. She died as a result of medical issue. I could not afford her medical care, because in the last 20 months, I have not collected a single penny from the state as pension,â€ he said.
Another pensioner from Kogi West senatorial district, Mr. Tunde Tanimola, while narrating his predicament noted that with the amount of money collected by the administration from the federal government, and the internally generated revenue, government should be in a position to defray all the outstanding arrears of pensioners. He appealed to Governor Bello to make the payment of pensions and salaries a priority, noting that governmentâ€™s attention was on things that have no bearing on the civil servants and pensioners.
â€œWe are suffering. We are dying despite so many resources that came to the state within one and a half years of this present administration. Some of us have not been paid for upward of 18 to 20 months. We believe that this government will give a listening ear to our appeal.â€
Another civil servant told THISDAY in confidence that despite the fact that she was on the cleared list, she was yet to get a Kobo for over 18 months. She therefore appealed to government to consider her plight as all her children have been withdrawn from School.
Only recently, a group based in Abuja had accused Bello of mismanaging N30 billion bailout fund given to the state. The allegation was made by an Abuja-based civil society group, Egalitarian Mission for Africa (EMA).
The group has asked Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) to probe the current administration in the state.
However, Belloâ€™s major criticisms came from a member of the House of Representatives, Hon James Faleke, who recently accused the governor of plunging the state into debt. He said the governor borrowed over N35 billion from two different banks less than two years after assuming office, noting that the profligacy of the governor has plundered the state into a debt that would take between 15 to 20 years to repay.
Faleke, a governorship hopeful and major stakeholder in the state, lamented that despite the high indebtedness and huge resources that had accrued to the state under Yayahaâ€™s watch, â€œthere is nothing to show for itâ€.
A statement signed by him reads: â€œMy heart bleeds for Kogi. I am constrained to step out once more to raise an alarm over the unmitigated profligacy of Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello, leading the state currently reeling under the weight of some burdensome local bank loans with a repayment plan of more than 15 years.
â€œRather than find ingenuous ways of liquidating the debt bequeathed to him by his predecessor, the governor is raising the stateâ€™s debt portfolio. The previous government of Idris Wada owed two or three monthsâ€™ salary when he left office, and handed over a debt of about N800 million only.
â€œThe total debt portfolio was about N45 billion, inclusive of pension arrears. With the intervention of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, Wada requested for N50 billion to enable him clear the salary arrears and another bail out of N10 billion for infrastructural development.
â€œBefore the funds were released, Wada had left office. Eventually, N20 billion of the N50 billion was released to Governor Bello, while the N10 billion for infrastructure was also released fully. So, the total bailout to the state was N30 billion. Almost simultaneously, Belloâ€™s government got monthly allocations for the state and local government areas with an average of over N5 billion monthly for 18 months running now.
â€œSurprisingly, the governor has taken loans of over N35 billion from two commercial banks since his assumption of office. The state has also collected over N14 billion reimbursements from the Federal Government for infrastructure and environmental works done by the state under the previous administrations.
â€œOn the heels of these is the Paris-London Club loan refund, the first tranche of which was N12 billion and N6 billion as the second tranche released last week. I have come to the conclusion that posterity would be harsh on critical stakeholders in the state, including me, if we fail to talk about the current free fall into a humongous indebtedness the state is being led to by its current manager.
â€œFor record purposes, Yahaya Bello to my mind is a very lucky man. He came to office after we spent our resources to defeat an incumbent. Just imagine the enormous resources as enumerated above and what Kogi should have achieved with a purposeful leadership.
â€œBut alas! What do we get? Many workers (state and local governments) are still being owed a minimum of three months, and some councils a maximum of 17 months arrears, despite the allocations running in excess of N200 billion since 2016.
â€œMay we ask the House of Assembly, which granted approval for the loans, what the governor has done with it? And since it is an open secret that no single road project has been completed among other things, why are the lawmakers quiet? Kogites demand answers from them as they are supposed to be their representatives.â€
The unfortunate thing about the Bello governorship is that it has harmed greatly, the call for generational power shift. For a man who should have represented the younger generation in the political leadership of the country, Bello has turned out the biggest disappointment of this dispensation, thus making it more difficult for younger people to be trusted with power. He is largely considered as both clueless and lacking in requisite intellectual credentials to run any outfit let alone a state.