Kogi Governor: The truth must be told, By Bernard Balogun

Posted by News Express | 16 May 2017 | 2,541 times

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•Bernard Balogun.

November 2017 will make it two years since Kogites lost an elder statesman, a visionary leader, a true son of the state who had unique taste for gigantic structures, with uncommon desire for rapid development of Kogi  State, development in the class of the Californian State. That synopsis is about our revered Prince Audu Abubakar of blessed and unforgotten memory. He was a great leader in the true sense of it but, he, as other leaders, had his own shortcomings. Allah shall continually be gracious to him in the celestial realm. 

By January 27, 2018, Governor Yahaya Bello, 42, will be two years on the saddle as chief executive of Kogi State. Kogi State is potentially great in terms of rich mineral resources, all in commercial quantities. It is blessed with citizens who have been adjusted as first-class professionals in their chosen fields of endeavour, be it in education, broadcasting, medicine, engineering or information technology (IT), etc. Painfully, the third leg of the tripod, which makes a state potentially great – economy – is obviously missing. Or put differently, commercial activity in the state is in its ebb. The state can also be described as essentially an agrarian society. This is why those of us outside the state are touched each time Kogi State is described as a “civil service State.” The template on ground certainly does not agree with this classification.

Incidentally, Kogi has been governed, since its inception, by men who are patterned towards civil service orientation. Though there are two exceptions. The first business man to govern the state was Alhaji Ibrahim Idris, who we understand owns the magnificent Ibro Hotels in Abuja. The second person is Alhaji Yahaya Adoza Bello, the current governor. He is the proprietor of the successful and prestigious transport enterprise, known as FairPlus.

This narrative must be clearly understood in its intended perspective. I am not here to praise Bello and this, certainly, is not a sycophancy stint. Permit me, therefore, to unambiguously explain that my personal interest is indeed subordinate to the larger interest of Kogi State, to which I proudly belong. I, therefore, owe it a patriotic duty to objectively appraise this administration at each milestone, commend the governor, if he deserves such commendation and, of course, constructively draw his attention to the administration’s lapses, if such exist. In doing so, one must be analytical and objective, devoid of sentiment and emotion. Kogi State belongs to us all. We should be prepared to make sacrifices, not only for the present but for the future of our children cum grandchildren. The current governor’s emergence at the centre-stage is certainly God’s design, and he should be supported and encouraged to succeed.

Since his assumption of office as the Executive Governor of Kogi State on January 27, 2016, it is important I state this, I’ve visited Lokoja twice, and Okene once. Before those visits, I was bombarded with stories of “non-payment of salaries;” and of “the governor sending permanent secretaries and some directors” on compulsory leave was all over the place. Then the governor was on air to explain that the “decision to send the permanent secretaries and directors on compulsory leave was a painful one, but he had to take it in the overall interest of the state and to avoid interference with the ongoing staff verification exercise,” at that time.

I visited Lokoja in August 2016. Virtually all the road networks within Lokoja metropolis and other major towns in the state were littered with potholes. Where-ever you turned, it was frustrating. Was it driving across the front of the Kogi Local Government Council Secretariat to post office junction; then to Bank of the North area onto the Mimi Bridge? It was a harrowing experience. The worst at that time was the road network within the State Secretariat. It was a despicable sight.  Driving from there to Okene was a nightmare. Return journey to Abuja was agonizing – would my car survive it? That was my impression of a government that was just about six months on the saddle. I was in a state of quandary to make an objective assessment. I needed to see change so badly.

One of the hallmarks of a good leader, a visionary leader, is that he rarely talks; he always keeps his plans to his chest while working assiduously to make an impact on the lives of his people and the environment. That is the trait the current Governor has exemplified.

Shortly on assumption of office, the governor set up the “Staff Verification Exercise”, which can be simply interpreted to mean “let us know how many we are and the weight of our monthly wage bill.” Certainly, that is a commendable gesture, an exercise prompted by genuine spirit to develop the state, and not designed to witch-hunt anybody, not for any reason.  Even when the Nigerian Labour Congress (Kogi State chapter) and chairman of the exercise were in disagreement, the governor quickly intervened, resolved the issue in favour of labour: consequently, the chairman was asked to go. That is a testimony of his sincerity of purpose, a purpose to make a difference and align his administration with the workers, meaning that workers are central to his government.

Once again, let us be reminded that this conversation is not to encourage His Excellency to progress in error, but to lay the facts and be objective. In fact, the state has progressed in error for too long; but the current governor is trying at all cost to correct the errors of the past. Certainly, there must be resistance.

In December 2016, I stumbled, via the internet, an address of presentation of the Report of the Civil Service Screening Exercise in Kogi State. Permit me to quote a portion from that speech:

“..Numerically, it is made up of just about 70,000 people altogether (meaning 70,000 work-force in the state, additional emphasis mine). This number is less than 2 per cent of our 3.5 million citizens (population).Yet, it demanded more than 100 per cent of our share of the Federal Allocations each month…”

No state, not even a country, can achieve success in a situation where the state uses the entire money from the Federal Allocation (centre) to service workers’ salaries. Let us tell ourselves the home-truth, I honestly encourage prompt payment of salaries, so that these workers can also meet their respective family obligations. Consequently, commercial activities in the host city shall be boosted, but I will not support “over-bloated wage bill” to the detriment of other sub-sectors of governance. That is certainly not the best way to go. That is progressing in error. 

In view of the governor’s remark above, I began to make contacts with Kogi indigenes within and outside the state. Do they have an idea of the staff strength in Kogi State? “Have you read the governor’s speech at the public presentation of the Report of the Civil Service Screening Exercise….”? Many of them had not, but some of them recalled having watched the event on television. For over a period of three months, I contacted many Kogites, using the WhatsAppp platform.

Most were astonished that Kogi had such a huge number of work-force. They rhetorically asked: “If 100 per cent of our monthly Federal Allocation is expended on salaries alone, where will government find money to respond to other needs such as roads, agriculture, health-care, education, security and other sundry needs”?

Till date, the above statement credited to the governor has not been disputed, giving credence to its truth.

For purposes of comparative analysis, I investigated the staff strength of three states. Here are my findings.

Lagos State with a population of over 17.5 million has less than 50,000 work-force.

Rivers State with a population of 5,591,589 has about 48,000 work-force.

Oyo State with a population of about 5.9 million has a work-force of 105,000. (The government has resolved to cut down this number drastically.) Though the government had queried with the word “drastically” but, “certainly there is urgent need to bring down the wage-bill of workers.”

This, indeed, should pose serious concern to all Kogites, who wish the state well. There are many private organisations in these states. These companies find the environment conducive and attractive for investment. It is so because the government created the necessary enabling environment. Certainly no state, as Kogi was previously run, under such a huge wage-bill can survive and develop. Certainly not!

It is, therefore, appropriate to applaud the political will of Governor Bello to resolve this huge salary burden, once and for all.  I was in Lokoja last month. Traffic lights have been erected at strategic locations. Construction work is progressing with its side-gutters: from the road along International Market onto Anglican Bishop’s Court, to the General Post Office up to the Bank of the North area and to Mimi Bridge. I made a brief stop at the State Secretariat. I was pleasantly surprised to see a well-tarred road network within the Secretariat. I am reliably informed that construction work is also progressing in other major towns in the State. Impressive!

At the foyer, where the commissioners are dropped, at the Secretariat, I interviewed a worker.

This is how the interview went:

Good day, sir. Are you a worker here?

Yes, sir. Are you looking for somebody?

Yes, but he is on his way. I am just wondering how you are surviving? I understand government owes you guys many months of unpaid salaries...

He looked at me intensely and smiled, saying: Na true, but no be true. (Confused?). Government is owing me only April salary. I don get March salary. I get all my papers correct, with BVN and that committee clear me. Even sef, I know somebody wen government pay 13 month-salary one time, when the committee clear am. Na true I dey tell you. Oga, this government they try well, well. People dey complain, government don set another Staff Screening Appeal Committee: say oya, go defend yourself. That one they go on now.

End of interview.

Information reaching me says medical practitioners in Kogi State are on strike. Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) is one of the responsible associations in the country. They are men and women of repute, mature and humane in their thinking, their sense of patriotism is high and dedication to their patients and duty are not in doubt. But I like to make this humble appeal to the Kogi chapter, to please, in the  interest of the larger society and ethnics of the profession they have sworn to judiciously uphold, return to work and engage the government in a dialogue, in an atmosphere devoid of rancour and hostility. I also make this passionate appeal to government under the able-leadership of our dynamic and purposeful Governor  Bello, to personally intervene in this matter and invite them to the negotiating table. Health services cannot be in limbo for too long. Please, do this in the overall interest of Kogites, whom you swore to govern and protect. God shall grant you that wisdom and political will to resolve this. It is certainly for this and other related issues that God has miraculously brought you to this Olympian height. And He shall not abandon you, Your Excellency.

Finally, I am not here to praise you, unduly. I am genuinely impressed with your achievement in so short a period. You have drastically brought down the rate of insecurity to the barest minimum. This is commendable. Road networks in the state are receiving priority attention. Fantastic! Renovation of government quarters is also ongoing, a development that had been neglected for so long a time. Delightful!

At this point, permit me to respectfully suggest that you seriously consider the possibility of revamping the Conference Hotels on Ganaja Road. It is a conducive environment for top-class conferences and top-notch business men and women will be attracted to Lokoja. In fact, Lokoja is naturally a tourist destination centre, with those historical relics all over the place. That sector alone is capable of offering employment to quite a chunk of unemployed adults and youths in the state.  Consequently, this will boost commercial activities in Lokoja.

I understand that Jakura Marble Industry on Marine Road, belong to Kogi State Government. That industry, if revamped, appropriately financed and run, is capable of activating the commercial life of the state. It will also be another employment avenue.

On a final note, it is important, Your Excellency, to continue to engage the Ministry of Solid Minerals on the possibility of granting Kogi State certain rights to operate one or two sections that will not only generate revenue but also offer huge employment to indigenes. Ajaokuta Steel Plant is made up of many sections such as: Foundry, which is the base; Heating treatment section, Machine Tools section, Annealing section, and Metallurgical Laboratory section, among others.

Each of these sections is commercially viable and can absorb thousands of unemployed youths and adults and increase the financial base of the state. No doubt about it.

I am glad to learn that the dredging of the River Niger is about to begin. That, too, is an avenue for employment and shall consequently increase in the state’s financial base.

Your Excellency, you have brought your vast business acumen to bear in the administration of the state and its impact is showing positively.  Please, I encourage you do not be discouraged by side-talks. You came to run with a mindset, a mindset to take Kogi State out of commercial dungeon. Keep doing your best for the state, especially this nagging issue of non-payment of salaries. A quick one: the only language known to workers the world over is money. God shall give you the grace to resolve it to the credit of your administration. Certainly, at the end of your tenure, history and posterity shall be fair to you and your lineage.


•Bernard Balogun writes from Wuse District, Abuja. He can be reached via 0803.787.9275 (sms only)

Source: News Express

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