Emmanuel Adeyemi, Lokoja
Most Nigerians were aghast, when they heard that the Kogi State government has not paid salaries to civil servants in the state for 38 months out of the 39 months Governor Yahaya Bello has spent in office.
One particular person affected by the pathetic situation is Rebecca Ojochene, a heavily built and well-endowed Level-14 officer in one the ministries in Kogi State, who lost her husband, a pensioner, in April last year to an ailment that could have been easily treated, but for lack of money.
Before the husband died, the government did not pay even one kobo of his pension. As a result of not being paid the pension, three of her four children had to drop out of school while the fourth one who gained admission to University of Ilorin last year could not go.
Rebecca too is being owed 14 months salary, thus making life extremely difficult for her and the four children. Now, heavily indebted and shrinking in stature, Rebecca is a negation of her old self. She has resorted to frying akara (bean cake) at the roadside, close to the old Cinema House at New Layout Quarters, Lokoja, to cater for her children.
Also Sefiat Abdullahi, a Level-6 officer in a parastatal, is in similar condition. To survive the hard times brought upon her by prolonged non-payment of her salaries by the state government, the hapless woman resorted to washing plates and serving food at a popular restaurant located on Taiwo Road, Lokoja, where she’s paid N4,000 a month.
As tears welled up in her eyes, she told Sunday Sun: “Oga the last three and half years have been so terrible for me. It has been like hell on earth – no salary, no food and no help. I cannot go into prostitution like many women and ladies are doing now, at least with this one (washing plates, serving food), I am feeding myself and my three children who sometimes join me in washing plates here.
“I also told my husband, a carpenter (who has not received any contract work since December last year) to be coming regularly so that I can be serving him free food.”
Sefiat who said that she came from the same town with the governor at this point began to rain curses on the government.
The pathetic tales of Ojochene and Abdullahi are illustrative of the travail of civil servants in Kogi State.
The increasing acute hunger, starvation and helplessness being experienced by civil servants have led to death of many of the workers.
At the state secretariat, the place is littered with obituary posters announcing the death of workers. The situation reached a frightening dimension that compelled the Head of Service, Deborah Ogunmola, to issue a memo that posters of dead workers must no longer be pasted on the walls of the secretariat.
More troubling is the revelation that at least one worker dies every week due to non-payment of salaries.
In a rare show of commonality Christian and Muslim faithful have been earnestly praying that the governor state will not secure a second term ticket.
Meanwhile, the organised labour in the state, though thoroughly bashed and battered by the state government, has continued to push for the welfare of the workers. That was why at the 7th state congress of the Nigeria Labour Congress last week, the state Chairman, Comrade Onuh Edoka and his counterpart in Trade Union Congress, Comrade Ranti Ojo, looked straight into the eyes of the governor and told him the naked truth that their members were dying and still being owed between eight to 38 months salary arrears.
At the ceremony, Edoka said the government had succeeded in pauperising the workers to the extent that the union had to go cap in hand to Edward Onoja, the Chief of Staff, who many regard as the de facto governor to source funds to organise the ceremony because the check-off dues that ought to have been remitted to the union were still withheld by the same government, more than three years after making the deductions.
Edoka recalled that a former NLC chairman in the state, Comrade Salami Ajanaun, died of an ailment because he had no money to treat himself, stressing that the same government refused to pay his pension and gratuities.
In the face of this hardship, investigations, however, revealed that the All Progressives Congress-led administration in the state had received not less than N344 billion in the last 38 months yet it could not pay salaries nor embark on any meaningful project.
In a petition by elders of the All Progressives Congress in Kogi State, imploring President Muhammadu Buhari to withdraw support for the second term bid of Governor Yahaya Bello, they stated: “For the past 38 months, including February 2019 Gov. Yahaya Bello has not paid full salaries to the workers of Kogi State, despite the fact that the state received full allocation from Federation Account as detailed below: N132 billion from statutory allocation, excess crude and VAT; N51 billion as internally generated revenue; statutory allocations to local governments (N111 billion). Total funds received by the state and local governments: N294 billion. The other funds received by the state are as follows: Bailout: N20billion; Paris Club refunds 1, 2, and 3: N19 billion; and refunds from the Federal Government for road construction by previous governments (N11 billion).
“The governor had conducted multiple staff screening for both the state and the local governments. And from the report of the screening, the monthly wage bill (state, local governments and pensions) at the inception of the administration stood at N5.8 billion. After screening, this figure reduced to N4.4 billion.
“From table above it is evidently clear that the total revenue received by the state government was more than enough to settle all salaries, pensions and gratuities with huge balance remaining for overhead costs and capital projects.
“It is very instructive to note that even without bailout and other funds received outside statutory allocation, Gov. Yahaya Bello could have still paid all salaries including pensions without conducting multiple screening and inflicting pains on state and local government workers.”
The petition of the APC elders further stated: “From the foregoing we will like to restate the issue that Governor Yahaya Bello has traumatized, inflicted poverty and fear on our people.
“People who dare to raise their voice to complain or protest this mistreatment have been summarily killed or intimidated to the extent that a reign of terror is foisted on the people of the state.
“We feel strongly that the traumatised people of Kogi State and most especially the APC family have had enough of Yahaya Bello. We feel very strongly that attempting to foist this non-performing governor as candidate by the party and or the powers that be, will be a great national disservice and will lead to the loss of the state to the opposition in the forthcoming governorship election.”
A book written by one Ismaila Ohiare, which x-rays the ills of the Governor Bello administration has been trending in the state. The author urged the electorate to reject him at the governorship poll.
The book entitled, “The Trouble with Kogi State (a case study of governor Yahaya Bello with use of power),” is a 39-page book with the topic, which warned of the impending defeat of Bello.
Nevertheless, the governor’s media aide, Kingsley Fanwo, said that although the government has admitted owing the workers, the arrears would be paid as soon as the second part of the N30.8 billion bailout fund is released to the state.
On whether the state would be able to pay the latest minimum wage of N30,000 or not, Fanwo said that the government has already set up a committee to work out the modalities of the payment as soon as possible.
The governor’s aide, who lampooned the opposition and the media for distracting the governor from performance, said that if given a second term, the governor would transform the state to a greater height.