On the I6th of November 2019, gubernatorial elections will take place in the oil rich Bayelsa State, South-South of Nigeria. Expectedly, the whole state is in fever pitch as the elections approach. Although there are many parties contesting in the polls, PDP and APC stand out.
While PDP is hoping to retain power, APC is hoping to dislodge them from the government house. The latter aspiration may appear herculean given that the PDP has been in power in that state since 1999 even if nothing is guaranteed these days. The contest for power in Bayelsa state is interesting because it is the state of the former president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan and more importantly, it is an oil producing state. Given the economic position the state occupies in Nigeria, there are fears in many quarters that the federal government is interested in controlling power in that state.
Although INEC has reiterated its commitment to conduct a free and fair election, it has a further responsibility to ensure that the electoral process is not manipulated, the ideology of ‘do or die’ is not re-enacted, and all the parties in the state are given a level playing ground. The report that the Nigerian Army wants to introduce Operation Crocodile Smile 4 before elections in the state is seen by many as a ploy to deploy the instrumentality of force and coercion to influence the election results in favour of the APC. It is this kind of mindless interference that promotes apathy and hate in the body politic. It is apparent that the APC controlled federal government is always interested in gubernatorial elections. As Bayelsa state prepares for election, Kogi state also prepares for election on the same date. While Bayelsa State produces oil, contributing to the wealth of the country, Kogi State does not produce oil although it may produce other things which do not contribute to the national purse like oil. While the official term of eight years for the incumbent governor in Bayelsa State, Seriake Dickson, has come to an end and a new governor will emerge, in Kogi State, the current governor, Yahaya Bello, will be contesting the gubernatorial election for another term of four years. Also, while in Bayelsa State only gubernatorial elections will take place, in Kogi State, in addition to gubernatorial elections, senatorial elections will take place following the annulment of Kogi West senatorial election won earlier by Dino Maleye.
Every day, Nigerians wake up with a feeling of depression arising from federal government policies. Recently, Mr. President wrote to the senate requesting the release of N10 billion naira to Kogi State which will cover expenses the state incurred in undertaking federal projects. According to the letter by the president, Kogi state needs the money to pay workers who have not received their salaries for thirty-eight months.
This request from the presidency is coming at a time when gubernatorial elections are some weeks away. Given the nature of elections in Nigeria where votes go to the highest bidder, given the ways the last general elections were conducted across the country with surreal figures churned out, many observers insist that the presidency’s request for the money is shrouded in oblique motives. Perhaps, he is asking for the money to give to Kogi state to enable APC to perpetrate rigging and all shades of dubious activities. If the intention of the presidency is genuine, why can’t Bayelsa State be paid N7 billion naira refund for Value Added Tax, VAT? If such a gesture is extended to Kogi State, then it follows that the same gesture should be extended to Bayelsa State.
There is nothing wrong in the federal government disbursing funds to states as bailout, but Nigerians are intelligent enough to see the handwriting on the wall. If the presidency is committed to paying workers in Kogi State, is it not possible to pay the workers directly without having to transmit the money through the executive governor of the state? It is this kind of guile that implicates the federal government in a partial, obviously biased, and tendentious disposition on matters of national interest. If we consider that the federal government is APC controlled and Kogi State is APC controlled, it follows without further extraterrestrial or spiritual insight that the federal government is playing a familiar game, rehashing a similar orchestra which convulsed the whole country during the last general elections.
It is indefensible that a state will not pay its workers for thirty-eight months, yet the workers are still working, with families to feed, and bills to pay. Non-payment of salaries is not a party tradition because Lagos state is APC controlled and workers are paid on time. I also remember that Abia State is PDP controlled and workers have not been paid for many months. So let us leave the party angle out of the discourse. That Kogi State has not paid workers for thirty-eight months equates to a scandal. If it were in other climes, two things will happen. First, the governor will resign his position or he loses every moral justification to present himself in another election. Secondly, all the workers in Kogi State will be subjected to scrutiny to find out how they have survived for thirty-eight months without salaries. It is either because they are alien creatures with a rare staying power of doggedness which propels them to work in the face of hunger and starvation or they have devised some other underhand means to survive in which case corruption reigns supreme. Either way, Kogi State deserves to appear in the Guinness book of records and officials of the party in power face trial for criminal complicities. For the presidency to propose to give Kogi State a whopping N10 billion naira in the face of obvious irresponsibility by the governor is to endorse incompetence and financial recklessness. Indeed, the psychological constitution of a governor who will prioritize federal government projects to paying workers’ salaries deserves to be examined.
If Kogi state is paid N10 billion naira, then Bayelsa State deserves their N7 billion naira Value Added Tax because the state provides a fertile platform for the production of Nigeria’s major mineral resource. In fact, Bayelsa State deserves the money more given the appreciable progress in terms of infrastructural developments recorded by the government. Because the state is controlled by the opposition party, PDP, the federal government does not deem it necessary to empower a perceived enemy a few weeks before a major election. Nigerians are no fools. We are intelligent enough to read between the lines and decipher what the federal government is about to do. With money in hand, victory at the polls is guaranteed and this is the script the presidency is trying to act out in Kogi state while denying the same in Bayelsa State. If the federal government is honest, if the federal government is fairly committed, then let Bayelsa State receive their VAT refund. In that way, we will see truth and fairness in their naked simplicity other than this kind of hide and seek game of the primitive ancient Greek pattern.
Dr. Adiele writes from Lagos via [email protected]