Emmanuel Adeyemi, Lokoja
The hostility between Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State and his deputy, Simon Achuba, has got messier, as the latter recently alleged his boss was planning to use armed thugs to hurt him. Bello and Achuba have been in a running battle since 2017 over allegations of nonperformance, nonpayment of workers’ salaries and arbitrary use of power leveled against the governor by his deputy. Achuba said the feud has led to the stoppage of his salaries and allowances amounting to over N815 million.
The feud between the duo was brought to the public domain two weeks ago when Achuba openly threatened to take the governor to court if by the end of seven days, he still doesn’t pay all his salary arrears and allowances.
In a letter dated July 17, 2019 and addressed to Governor Bello by Femi Falana (SAN), Achuba’s counsel, he said the nonpayment of his salaries and allowances have greatly affected the smooth running of the office of the deputy governor even after memos to that effect were approved by the governor’s office.
The letter reads in part: “The accumulated statutory allocations the state government has withheld is N819,709,980,000 (Eight Hundred And Nineteen Million, Seven Hundred And Nine Thousand, Nine Hundred And Eighty Thousand Naira) which includes travel allowances, hotel bills, pledges and outstanding monthly impress and salaries due to our client as the deputy governor of Kogi State.
“These said statutory allocations are duly captured in the Kogi State Appropriation Laws of 2017, 2018 and 2019 supported by various memos sent your office since 2017 which were duly approved without cash backing till date. Notwithstanding the fact that the statutory allocations have been illegally withheld, our client has continued to carry out his functions as the Deputy Governor of Kogi State. In as much as our client is prepared to continue to discharge the enormous responsibilities of his office, he is currently hampered by lack of funds which has wide ranging implications for the state even as it prepares for the forthcoming gubernatorial election.
“In view of the foregoing, we have our client’s instructions to request Your Excellency to use your good offices to ensure the immediate payment of the withheld statutory allocations legitimately appropriated for the office of the Deputy Governor of Kogi State since 2017. Take notice that if our client’s request is not granted within seven days of the receipt of this letter, we have our client’s instructions to seek redress in the National Industrial Court. It is hoped that Your Excellency will not allow our client to resort to litigation in respect of this matter as that may embarrass the Government of Kogi State.” the letter added
But in a swift reaction, the governor through his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Kingsley Fanwo denied owing the deputy the amount being claimed and expressed his willingness to meet the deputy governor in court even as he insisted the deputy governor’s salaries have never been stopped at any point in time.
According to a statement: “The Kogi State Government hereby states that the salaries of the deputy governor have been paid up to the same date as that of the governor and other political office holders in Kogi State. It is our belief that the claim for salaries at paragraph 4 of the letter of demand was done to generate sensational headlines in the news as there is no stated salary arrears in the prepared breakdown of claimed entitlements attached to the letter of demand. The salaries of the deputy governor have not been stopped at any time since he took office in Kogi State.
“The sum of N786, 427,480 (Seven Hundred and Eighty Six Million, Four Hundred and Twenty Seven, Four Hundred and Eighty Naira) of the outrageous N819, 709,980 (Eight Hundred and Nineteen Million, Seven Hundred and Nine Thousand, Nine Hundred and Eighty Naira Only) claimed by the deputy governor have not been approved let alone processed for payment by the government.
“The deputy governor is aware that by virtue of extant financial regulations, even where expenditures are provided for in the budget, they are still subject to approvals based on an estimation that funds to defray will be available; and where they are approved, the release of such funds still depends on the availability of funds.
“The deputy governor is also aware that those expenditures may not be approved or that lesser sums may be approved based on the availability of funds. The claims of the deputy governor in this regard are therefore premature and mischievous. Of the N819, 709,980 (Eight Hundred and Nineteen Million, Seven Hundred and Nine Thousand, Nine Hundred and Eighty Naira Only) claimed by the Deputy Governor, there are expenditures such as unauthorised pledges running into N23,200,00 (Twenty Three Million, Two Hundred Thousand Naira only) which are not provided for in the corresponding budgets of the relevant year.
“Also included are claims for unauthorised trips of the deputy governor and his wife and other expenses, which may or may not be approved, yet the deputy governor has claimed them as due for payment. Of the whooping N819, 709,980 (Eight Hundred and Nineteen Million, Seven Hundred and Nine Thousand, Nine Hundred and Eighty Naira Only) claimed by the deputy governor only N33, 282, 500 (Thirty Three Million, Two Hundred and Eighty Two Thousand, Five Hundred Naira only) has been approved for payment.
“We note that the deputy governor has also in his claims included imprest. It is our position that it is the office of the deputy governor and the permanent secretary in his office who is entitled to imprest and who can demand payment of same. It must also be noted that imprest is paid on availability of funds and the government has in the past, paid imprest as at when due when funds were available. The payment of imprest will continue to all imprest holders as soon as funds are available.”
Achuba has refuted Governor Bello’s claims that he is not being owed salary arrears. While fielding questions from journalists at his GRA residence over the running battle with his principal, he berated the governor for being economical with the truth saying, “It is a thing of shame for the governor to deny owing me salaries and entitlements when he has a lot funds at his disposal.” He said contrary to the claims by the governor, he took approvals of every official journeys he made and that of his wife and also secured approvals from the governor before he made pledges on behalf of the government.
Achuba also alleged that his life is in danger for speaking the truth and being on the side of the workers and the masses in the state who he says, are suffering due to ‘maladministration’. He said if anything happens to him, members of his family or any of his aides, the governor should be held responsible. He then called on President Muhammad Buhari to intervene in the crisis.
He alleged that governance in the state is being ‘faked’ by the governor as there is nothing to show as development since the past three and half years despite the allocations that have been collected from the federation account, the Paris club refund and the bail-out funds. He specifically said the issue of non-payment of workers’ salaries and that of political office holders, bad governance, lack of physical infrastructural development and the continued fights with individuals and institutions of government perceived as enemies are the main reason why he is having problems with the governor.
His words: “The governor sees me as his energy because I always tell him the truth. I have been a critic of past governments and if I am in a government that is not doing well especially in payment of workers’ salaries, I should be able to speak out because we cannot be here forever, and posterity will judge us.
“If you are given an opportunity by God to become governor of a state, it is to render service to the people and not to be the people’s Lord. You must humble yourself and not take everyone who has a different view as your enemy. A good leader uses persuasion and dialogue and not force on the people he leads, as is currently done in Kogi State.”
On the efforts he has made so far to reconcile with the governor, Achuba said aside from many traditional rulers and clergy who had intervened, he personally went to the governor several times to beg him to no avail. He said he has also visited the presidency more than 10 times to report the issue, including to the national chairman of the party, but he said nobody has deemed it fit to call the governor to order nor have an interface between him and the governor; a situation which he said, made him to threaten to head to court.