Kogi: A Cognizance Of, Not Dwelling On The Past, Is Key By Petra Akinti Onyegbule
In the course of my current job, but more so due to my innate interest as a concerned citizen, I have read various opinions, news articles and everything else in-between about governance in Kogi State under Governor Yahaya Bello.
The public domain is a fast-paced evolving one but one thing is for sure; if falsehood borne out of ignorance is repeated often enough, it soon begins to assume the status of truth.
This is why, in appreciation of the fact that sensationalism is necessary to sell today’s papers and garner nanoseconds clicks, I would simply like to put some facts in the public domain; let the people or at least have that in their possession, as they express their right to judge all governments.
I believe every Kogi indigene that means well for the State should have access to authentic information that will enable them appreciate the times we are in, and so, I will do the best I can to correct wrong impressions in this piece, especially concerning payment of salaries.
It is common knowledge that Kogi, like virtually all other states, is largely dependent on crude oil revenues, which have plummeted in recent times. That we must move away from that position is non-negotiable.
On July 4, 2016, Governor Bello convened a stakeholders meeting for a no-holds-barred open forum, in order to lay out the bare facts and figures on state finances, enabling everyone access to the raw data. He proceeded to take questions after his address and briefings from select government officials for the purpose of greater clarification, and it is our sincere hope that the knowledge garnered will be deployed positively as stakeholders go on to interface with their constituents and the wider public.
Between January and June 2015, the Captain Wada-led government received a total of N22,085,710,571.97 from the Federal Account Allocation Committee, FAAC. The receipts for the corresponding six-month period under Governor Bello in 2016 was N13,118,150,265.78, a negative difference of N8,967,560,306.19 representing a drop in accrued revenue of almost 41%. Conversely, the wage bill for Kogi’s civil service is currently put at N2,771,196,745.52 monthly. From January to June 2016, the bill amounts to N16,627,180,473.12, far outstripping the FAAC revenue and putting Kogi’s finances in a deficit of N3.509 billion. Kogi State’s monthly internally generated revenue (IGR) of approximately N450 million comes up to N2.7 billion for the six months – this fails to remedy the situation.
Kogi cannot remain enslaved by a bloated civil service workforce
Governor Yahaya Bello is not in the business of shirking his responsibilities, and the civil service is the responsibility of government. However, so is the rest of the population too.
The enormity of the problem hits home when you realise that the salaries of a very minute percentage of the state’s approximately 3.5 million people completely wipes out government’s total revenues. This analysis is necessary so people will understand why the governor has made the screening exercise in the civil service a top priority, and why any resistance to those noble efforts should be deemed by well-meaning Kogites as anti-people and anti-progress. Plummeting revenues mean our people must be bold enough to admit that the status quo is totally unsustainable and that for Kogi to survive, something must give. The civil service must be leaner, and we must realize that any ghost workers siphoning money for decades will need prolonged, unrelenting screening to be unearthed and eradicated.
Information gleaned from the interim report of the screening committee evokes raw emotions when one sees that a total of 9,720 ‘workers’ on Kogi’s payroll did not turn up for the screening exercise AT ALL, and this number does not include the thousands who will still not pass the actual screening. These are likely unqualified and ghost workers, who know they will be found out, and wisely declined to show up for scrutiny. Yet many of the beneficiaries of this scam continue to demonise a scheme that is one of the fastest ways to remove Kogi from something it has no business with – poverty.
In Kogi State Polytechnic, Lokoja, as many as 1,200 phantom workers were found on the school’s payroll, and this is just one institution. To lend credence to the integrity of the screening exercise, a system of checks in the form of a back-up team has picked a number of holes in the job done so far, with government officials identifying wrongly-screened workers that the committee is taking a second look at. The exercise will continue, with cleared workers paid their entitlements promptly, until all errors are eliminated and the exercise is as credible as can possibly be, given the frenetic pace officials must work at.
Some civil servants are self-sabotaging the governance process
For a State that will be 25 years in existence in August, it is unfortunate how previous administrations mortgaged our commonwealth. Kogi State earned as much as N4.05 billion from FAAC in January 2015. In the last month of the Wada administration one year later, N2.58 billion was what accrued to Kogi in January 2016. That 36% decline of almost N1.5 billion coincided with a time when Kogi’s already bloated wage bill was further increased, through questionable last-minute recruitment into the civil service by a departing governor; a move that was obviously intended to further burden the incoming government and set it on the warpath with labour if the new governor dared reverse those employments. This is a nationwide tactic, but its effects remain devastating to the minds of workers, who are used as pawns but suffer the most.
By the way, FAAC receipts in June 2016 amounted to N1.8 billion, less than half of what came in just 18 months ago.
Despite these challenges, employees of Kogi’s tertiary institutions were among the first set of workers paid their salaries and subventions when government finally accessed the first tranche of bailout funds. Remember, salary backlogs were also inherited. Of the five months owed them, four months (January to April 2016) were settled, amounting to N2,330,446,773.72, which, for some context, is the equivalent of one-quarter of the N9.4 billion that Kogi received from FAAC for the same four-month period. While many other civil servants are getting only three months’ pay, members of the Kogi Sate University (KSU) chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Universities have since downed tools, insisting on not returning to the classroom until the one-month outstanding wages are paid.
It is sad that despite the prioritizing of tertiary institution workers’ needs to ensure a critical sector such as education is not toyed with, university lecturers (who should ordinarily be the most enlightened worker demographic) are hell-bent on frustrating the efforts of government in these times that call for understanding and a comprehension of what Kogi is battling with.
How can this ongoing strike claim to be in the interest of poor students, whose fees never get refunded, whose rents to off-campus landlords is wasting, regardless of whether or not the accommodation serves the intended purpose, and whose calendars and lives get disrupted for no just cause? KSU ASUU should kindly see reason in the interest of the Common Good; this period calls for partners in progress, not a sabotage of sincere government efforts.
If nothing, whereas Kogi State has only received 40% of the bailout funds applied for, lecturers have already gotten 80% of what is due to them (four out of five months arrears). However, there is more to this standoff than meets the eye; I can reveal that part of the lecturers’ grievances is that Governor Bello refused to honour an understanding they purportedly had with the last administration, which exempts them from Pay-As-You-Earn taxes. In layman’s terms – lecturers in Kogi State do not want to pay tax, and will therefore do all they can to disrupt a government that decides not to uphold such an unholy arrangement made with a previous administration.
This demand is simply not acceptable, in the same economy where petty traders and okada riders pay government levies daily, and are taxed at source, more or less. To find university lecturers who think it wise and just for government to forgo taxes from them, especially at a time when public revenues are drying up faster than a lake in monsoon season is very troubling, and very much against the fiscal health and development of Kogi State.
The past blights our future
That this administration chooses not to dwell on the past does not mean all Kogites are not suffering its consequences.
Kogi State is unarguably bereft of infrastructure, and the funds needed to develop them must be sourced from somewhere. Governor Bello has a mandate to fulfil, and he is expected to ensure government hospitals and schools are well-run, that the state’s 10 land borders are secure, and that Kogites have access to good roads, potable water and other social amenities. An overall enabling environment for entrepreneurship and industry must be created for the citizens to take full advantage of, and contrary to what the lecturers are demanding, fair taxes will play their part in boosting the state’s IGR.
The governor has also unwittingly made enemies, for stating his willingness to implement the Treasury Single Account (TSA) in Kogi, to ensure transparency and accountability in the handling of State finances. It is noteworthy that, for all the revenue that accrues to Kogi’s tertiary institutions, the administrators remit not a single Naira into the state’s coffers. I repeat: these institutions are not privately-owned, and they all receive budgetary allocations every fiscal year for being State-owned, yet remit no money into the public purse.
It is therefore only right that their operations be reviewed in favour of Kogites, who are the true employers of the school administrators hold. Every single kobo must be made to count in these dire times.
For instance, available data shows that Kogi State University admitted some 5,000 100-Level students in the current academic year, each of whom paid about N57,000 in fees; a total of N285 million. Factoring in an additional estimate of 15,000 students for 200-400 Level (inclusive of direct entry admissions and spill-over students), who pay N27,000 each; (while non-indigenes pay as much as N46,000), the school rakes in a minimum N405 million from these conduits, making a grand total of N690 million for only 100-400L students. This does not include the university’s other ‘cash cows,’ comprising its pre-degree programme, diploma, post-graduate diploma, and post-graduate programmes that boast huge populations and charge reasonably high fees. The revenue profile of KSU alone is that robust, yet rather than contribute towards the State’s revenue, the state government votes significant amounts to it annually, and will be turned on in lean times by those who seemingly feed fat on the system.
At this point in time, Kogites who mean well for the State and for future generations should stand up to be counted. The voices of mischievous elements bent on truncating the goodwill enjoyed by this administration with misinformation and selected information must not be allowed to drown the voices of true progressives. Reservations expressed about the mandatory accounts with Access and Zenith Banks are understandable, but do not take into account a moot point. For the sake of reiteration, we must not forget that this was a precondition by both banks before Kogi State could access the funds they were providing; a situation the governor could do little about. Moreover, disbursing the funds from just two sources also makes it easier for audits to be carried out, and workers are at liberty to discontinue using those accounts once everything pertaining to the disbursement of these bailout funds may have been concluded.
For a rundown of salary expenditures so far, the sum of N734,582,430.96 has been paid to judiciary workers, being salaries and subventions for January to April 2016. Some 4,280 pensioners cleared for payment have been paid arrears for January to April, amounting to N1,175,019,148.12. The State’s traditional rulers, Kogi United and Confluence Queens Football Clubs, as well as four other agencies have also been paid four months’ arrears of N173,474,851.40 on July 1. Also, N459,423,856.93 was disbursed to a number of other MDAs cleared and paid last month. In addition to the lecturers, a total of N4,872,947,061.13 has been drawn from the salary account of the bailout funds.
‘Kogi State is more than salaries’
At the risk of being reprimanded for revealing some nuances in Government house, allow me share one phrase you are sure to hear in meetings or offices from the Governor’s mouth: “Dear Comrades…Kogi is more than salaries.”
Governor Yahaya Bello has always said he does not want to be remembered as the governor who was only able to pay salaries; this is the basest obligation a governor must carry out, and is nothing worth news headlines. Rather, the long-term focus is that Kogi has massive potentials, which must be exploited and put to optimal use for the benefit of Kogites, and this is where His Excellency would rather make greater strides in.
Because Kogi is more than salaries, simultaneously, in a bid to create the required investment-friendly environment, the provision of adequate security is paramount. The reported upsurge of crime in Kogi, earlier in the year has been curtailed, following combined efforts by the police and military. Recent travellers in and out of Kogi attest to the increased number of manned checkpoints dotting all highways. To complement the nightly air patrol in Lokoja by the police, 100 units of Ford Ranger trucks have been acquired, the bulk of which will be dedicated towards further improving security of lives and property in Kogi, in addition to contributing towards residents’ welfare, as they go about their business.
We are grateful for all the support this government continues to get from Kogi citizens, especially in these austere times. The journey so far has not been without its difficulties, but I can only hope you further understand why. We implore you to keep partnering with us as we work towards putting the dark days firmly behind us. In the near future, government’s investment drive and alternative revenue generation plans will start to fall in place, the results beneficial to all and sundry. The outlook is very encouraging, and we enjoin all Kogites to come onboard and contribute their bit.
We may be in turns suffering the consequences of the past, but rest assured that under Governor Bello, our past will in no way continue to blight our future.
Petra Akinti Onyegbule is the Senior Special Assistant on Electronic Media to Kogi State Governor.