I read with utter disgust the ultimatum issued to Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) by Yahaya Bello-led Kogi state government to apologise or face legal action.
Bello can convince gullible Nigerians that he is innocent but definitely not Kogi teachers, local government workers and pensioners whose source of livelihood has become a ponzi scheme in the hands of their supposed leaders.
While I can’t speak about the existence or otherwise of a fixed deposit account, neither the claimed ‘mirror account’ in the bank, I can say without doubt that Bello was, and is still, insincere with the management of not just the N20billion bailout in question, but the entire N50,8 billion bailout package he accessed in his first tenure.
You wonder why Bello’s cronies have been replying EFCC from outside Kogi state? They know the newsmen they will be addressing in Abuja do not know the details of their mismanagement of the said funds. I get easily irritated when people who know next to nothing about the real situation in Kogi jump from television to radio stations trying to dress Bello in borrowed robes. If anyone or organization want to know the truth about bailout fund utilization in Kogi, they must come over to the state and get the real facts.
When he was sworn in on January 27, 2016, Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi was described by many a lucky man. Yes, he was lucky to have emerged Governor of a State without his name listed on the ballot. He inherited a dead man’s votes.
His luck did not end with his novel emergence as Governor but he was lucky with ceaseless inflow of funds as well. Billions of Naira, aside the monthly allocations, kept trickling in and Bello was smiling from both sides of the mouth. Paris club refunds, in three tranches, ecological funds, refunds for federal roads constructed by Kogi government poured into Kogi coffers in torrents.
He also inherited a request for N50.8 billion bailout fund arranged and negotiated for by his predecessor in office, Idris Wada. The bailout fund was the highest request among all 36 states of the federation. In fact, no other state requested for up to half of what Kogi, under Wada, requested for. That shows the rot in salary payments before Bello assumed office because the N50.8b was wholly meant to offset salary arrears of state and local government workers.
Take a moment and imagine a work force denied N50.8b of their sweat! How did these workers survive the harsh economic conditions of the nation while been owed a whooping N50.8b? Indeed, Kogi workers are survivors.
In a deft political move, the Federal government denied Wada of the N50.8b bailout and hurriedly paid same to Bello in 2016.
The bailout was paid into Kogi state coffers in two batches – an initial N20billion and a balance of N30.8 billion.
Unfortunately, Bello squandered the golden opportunity to become a hero. Once the money hit the government account, he decided to use just a part of the fund to offset arrears of salaries owed by his administration as against what the fund was meant for – inherited backlog of salary arrears.
He introduced an unending screening exercise that juggled which civil servant gets paid this month and who gets paid next month. He created a bizarre situation where some workers will get paid in January and classified ‘uncleared’ in February without pay. Some where even paid in percentages from the bailout that was designed to pay arrears in full!
When Bello got the first payment of N20billion, he decided to use N10billion each for both state and local government workers. That was fraudulent. When Wada applied for the N50.8billion bailout, state workers were owed just one month salary arrears while provision was made for an extra month. With a monthly wage bill of N3.1billion, the highest he should have released for state worker should have been N6.2billion. But he practically used N10billion to pay salary arrears he owed state government workers who he denied during his ill-fated screening exercise. Ordinarily, the N30.8billion balance he got after that ought to have been reserved for local government workers only! Whatever Bello was, and still, owing state government workers is solely due to his reckless management of state monthly allocations.
A year after the first tranch of the bailout was paid to Bello, the national leadership of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, told a bewildered nation that ten states misspent the bail out funds. He described Kogi, under Bello, as worst case scenario.
Wabba said: “Out of the 36 states, we have 10 bad case scenario and out of this 10, we have six terrible ones. They paid 40 percent pension to their pensioners without their consent and provided a form for them to sign under duress. That is not allowed in law. We have Bayelsa, which has between five to 10 months arrears. Ondo is owing between four and six, Ekiti (five to eight), Benue (five to eight) and Kogi, which is the worst case scenario.
“We have three categories of workers in Kogi. We have 40 per cent that are being paid up to date, we have 25 per cent that has not been paid between eight and 16 months and another 25 per cent that has not been paid between eight and 21 months. In all, the sectors, they have categorised the workers into three categories.”
With N50.8billion in his kitty, Yahaya Bello had all it takes to clear ALL outstanding salary arrears in Kogi state and design a steady continuity in payments on a clean slate.
With the bailout fund, Bello had a golden opportunity to be a hero, engraving his name in the hearts of all workers and their dependants long after his tenure in office.
With the N50.8billion, Bello would have turned the lives and destinies of state and local government workers around, including that of their dependants.
With N50.8billion, Bello wouldn’t have been desperate to hiring hoodlums to launch ‘tatatata’ during his re-election in 2019 as it would have been a smooth ride for him as Kogi electorate will see him as a hero who has come to liberate them from past misrule.
With the N50.8billion, Bello would have indirectly industrialize the state as many of the civil servants had drawn up BIG plans to invest the arrears of salary owed them. Most of the local government workers are owed more than a year cumulative salaries. Some planned to build houses which will bridge housing gap in the state, some planned to buy cars which will improve mechanic’s businesses while some planned to start small scaled businesses.
With the N50.8billion, Bello would have ranked among the best governors in Nigeria in contrast to his current rating as one of the worst governors to have graced the Nigerian political space since independence.
With the N50.8billion, Kogi economy would have improved vastly leading to ease of governance instead of the laboured attempt to govern as we experience currently.
Bello was so blessed with inflow of funds between 2016 and 2019. He had the golden opportunity to be the best governor in the history of Kogi state but he missed it badly. It will be very difficult, if not impossible, for him to redeem himself in eyes of Kogites who he has disappointed so badly.
So, on the current controversy over the existence of a salary bailout account, we believe Bello, not EFCC, should apologize to teachers, LG workers and pensioner.
– Adamu Ojonugwa writes from Lokoja, Kogi State.