Governor Bello’s Mansions in the Midst of Anguish

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Ring True

By Yemi Adebowale; yemi.adebowale@thisdaylive.com;  07013940521 (text on ly)

While Kogi State civil servants and retirees wallow in pain and hunger, Governor Yahaya Bello is displaying irritating opulence. Few months back, the story was about his newly completed Abuja mansion. The arrest of a Kogi State civil servant, Johnson Musa, for exposing the Abuja house is still fresh in my memory. Musa was later dragged before a Chief Magistrate Court in Lokoja for allegedly threatening Bello and revealing his Abuja castle. This bold civil servant took the aerial pictures of the massive residence and posted them on social media, with the caption, “This building is owned by an individual in Kogi, where hunger is the first name, in less than one year.” Musa was arrested by men of the Department of State Services on the prompting of the state’s Ministry of Justice. The prosecuting counsel, Mohammed Abaji from Kogi State Ministry of Justice, alluded to this. This young man stood up against corruption. I hope genuine patriots and human rights lawyers will rise and save citizen Musa from further humiliation.

Just last week, Governor Bello launched another state-of-the-art mansion, this time, in his home town of Okene. The posh building was inaugurated with pomp, during the Ekwechi festival in the town. The Ohinoyi of Ebiraland, Alhaji Ado Ibrahim, was around to personally inaugurate Bello’s latest castle situated along Mahmoud Atta Street, GRA, Okene. This talk about this governor being a successful businessman before his foray into politics is nonsensical. The pertinent question is: Why display so much opulence amid poverty? In this state, civil servants have been seething for almost two years over huge unpaid salaries. Many retirees have lost their lives waiting for gratuity and pension. Kogi State has persistently been in the news for all the wrong reasons since the emergence of Bello as governor. This young man is just not getting things right in Kogi, mainly because of his specious exuberance.

I doubt if any governor has inflicted this much pain on civil servants in particular and the people of the state in general. His endless staff audit has become a convenient alibi for owing salaries and pensions. The disbursements of bailout funds by this governor have also not been transparent. The instruction of the federal government was that 50 per cent of the fund should be used to pay salaries, pensions and gratuities. This has not been the case in Kogi State. The Kogi chapter of the Nigeria Labour Congress led by Onu Edoka has refused to allow Bello’s impunity to go unchallenged. Edoka remarked lately: “Workers in this state have suffered total hardship since the coming of the present administration. Over 70 per cent of workers cleared during the staff audit are yet to get salaries of between 17 and 20 months. Despite the huge money collected by the state government in the last 20 months, it is a pity that workers are not being paid by Bello.” He also wants Bello to explain to the people of the state how he spent N38 billion, comprising bailout funds, the first tranche of Paris Club refund (N12 billion) and the second tranche (N6 billion).
If the state’s wage bill is about N2.9 billion, as confirmed by this governor, then N38 billion is more than enough to pay the salaries of these workers for 12 months. This is aside Kogi’s monthly allocation from the federation account. Bello has a lot of questions to answer about Kogi’s finances. The NLC must continue to pile pressure on him until he confesses.

I am particularly pained by the persistent mess in Kogi because Governor Bello ought to be representing the youths who are “Not Too Young to Run.” At 42, Bello is the youngest governor in Nigeria. I was expecting him to prove to cynics that Nigerian youths are capable of managing sensitive political positions. But the reverse has been the case. This young man in Kogi State has not fared well. Today, I am urging youthful Bello to deeply reflect on the numerous crunches bedeviling Kogi State and strive to change his style of leadership. If he is genuinely interested in the progress of Kogi State, he must prioritise the welfare of civil servants and pensioners, because this is a “civil servant” state. It is a shame that the huge bailout funds and Paris Club refunds were not transparently utilised by Bello to ameliorate the suffering of the civil servants. This governor must urgently make amends to reduce tension in Kogi State.
The peace-loving people of this state must stand up and be counted in the battle to checkmate Bello. This is clearly not the change Nigerians voted for. They should not be under the delusion that the debacle in the state will simply vanish with time. It will be a risky and criminally-negligent assumption.

Unending Tears of Osun State Pensioners
Tears are still flowing in the home of a retired headmaster, Lukman Odewole, in Masifa, Ejigbo Local Government Area of Osun State, who hanged himself on September 29, due to non-payment of his 13 months pension arrears by Governor Rauf Aregbesola.  Late Odewole was sick and could not take care of himself. His wife and a child also fell sick about the same time. This frustrated retiree could not bear his cash-crisis and chose to commit suicide. Pensioners operating on the platform of 2011/2012 Forum of Retired Public Servants of Osun State, took to the streets about three weeks ago, lamenting the death of Odewole and the non-payment of their pensions for over 13 months. Leaders of the cluster said the protest was fired by the rising death rate among them. One of them, Yemi Lawal, confirmed that Odewole retired from Young Tajudeen Primary School in Masifa, adding that hundreds of pensioners had died since 2013 because of hunger.
Lawal said: “We are appealing to President Buhari to save us from Aregbesola. Buhari is the only one who can save us from hunger and untimely death. One of our members in Ejigbo last month committed suicide because of financial hardship. We want the federal government to conduct workers and pensioners audit to know the exact number of pensioners and workers. We are also pleading with the President not to pay any intervention fund meant for salary and pension to the Osun State Government because the money will be diverted just like the previous funds were diverted.”

The Secretary of the Forum, Mr. Sola Olojede, added: “There are so many of our people, who are sick and can’t go to the hospital because they don’t have money to eat. We have worked for the state and the state should pay us our entitlements.”
The condition of civil servants and retirees in Osun State is pathetic. Here, pensioners and civil servants die virtually on a daily basis, due to huge unpaid salaries, pensions and gratuities. Unfortunately, the Aregbesola administration has been economical with the truth about the payment situation of these traumatised seniors and workers. In Osun State, civil servants and retirees wallow in pain, while Aregbesola and his cronies live big. My message today to this governor and his aides who have been spreading false stories about these agonised civil servants and retirees is a very simple one: Judgement Day is around the corner.

Frustration on the Boko Haram War Front
Tales from the war front in the battle against Boko Haram are still not palatable. Frustration is escalating among our gallant soldiers. I thought the army authorities would deny reports that an exasperated soldier, identified as Samaila Gabriel, shot himself dead in Yobe State. No such denial came. So, the deceased with service number 09NA/63/2867 is the latest victim of our crooked system; his corpse was deposited at the Sani Abacha hospital in Damaturu. Gabriel’s colleagues reported that he got frustrated as a result of the refusal of the authorities to transfer him out of the North-East after about three years in the location. It is sad to note that many of our soldiers have been on tour of duty beyond the maximum six months. Less than a month ago in Chibok, a staff sergeant, Silas Ninyo, killed his superior, one K. Mani, injured four people and took his own life, after wreaking the havoc. Frustration is clearly on the rise among our ill-equipped and ill-motivated gallant soldiers. Urgent steps must be taken to stop this trend. The issue of irregular payment of operational allowances must also be addressed. These needless deaths of our soldiers must not continue. Only last Sunday, a military vehicle stepped on an IED device planted on Damboa Road, resulting in the death of two soldiers. Hi-tech equipment can abate incidents of this nature. On Wednesday, the terrorists briefly took over Mainok village, killing and maiming innocent people. Casualty figure is still a closely guided secret. I have persistently screeched for rejig of this war. Those leading this war must make way for fresh hands with fresh ideas. Our soldiers are capable. Inadequate equipment and motivation are the things not available.

Wike’s Pointless Gift of SUVs to Rivers Federal Legislators
Many of our governors never cease to amaze me. One of such is Nyesom Wike of Rivers State. I am still bemused by his recent gift of 16 Sports Utility Vehicles to members of the National Assembly from Rivers State. Three of the vehicles are for senators, while the 13 others were given to House of Representatives members. In all, about N600 million of Rivers State tax payers’ money must have been spent on this profligate purchase. Wike said that the vehicles were acquired to aid the lawmakers in the discharge of their official functions. Haba! These legislators have been adequately catered for by the National Assembly in terms of posh vehicles. Why this unnecessary exuberance by Wike? What is he trying to achieve? Besides, these representatives are stupendously-wealthy people, with many posh vehicles in their compounds. They can safely afford extra posh vehicles, if they so desire. So, why waste money on them again? In this same Rivers State, so many people have no access to public water supply, quality healthcare and other basic necessities of life. I stand to be corrected. My dear Wike, you should be thinking more about the suffering masses of Rivers State instead of extravagant expenses such as this.