The level of dehumanization and oppression of workers in Kogi state by the state government with regards to the payment of salary has reached an alarming level. For a situation that has gone beyond repair, it is usually said, “it can’t be worse than this.” The situation of Kogi state workers, especially those affiliated to the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) and Local Government Areas (LGA) in general, can’t be really worse than its present condition.
The amount being paid as monthly take-home has shifted from being ridiculous to sheer wickedness. The salary for January has just been paid in March and it is lamentation across the state. Civil servants are paid as little as three thousand naira!
Let us have some numbers for the January salary which payment commenced on the 8th March, 2022. The monthly take-home of a level 5, step 4 officer in one of the LGAs in Kogi central was two thousand nine hundred and ninety-one naira, sixteen kobo (₦2,991.16k). In the last two days, I have also seen a pay slip of two thousand, four hundred and seventy-three naira (₦2, 473). A primary school classmate with SUBEB was paid sixteen thousand naira (₦16,000) having been in service since the year 2000. Take note that this is even less than the miserable eighteen thousand naira minimum wage. For a person who has been in service for over twenty years, if not for qualification, shouldn’t the long year in service confer an improvement in wage. Yet these are individuals with qualifications ranging from NCE, HND, BA to BSc.
Assuming these people are even cleaners or messengers without any form of educational qualification, a two thousand naira salary is not only paltry but ungodly. This, even, would be considered an improved salary, as they were previously paid nothing!
Governor Yahaya Bello began his stewardship of Kogi state in January 2016. His early first step was the apparent intention to reform the Kogi state civil service and rid it of ghost workers. A commendable effort it seemed had the intention been pure. But, unfortunately, it turned out that the aim was to begin a cycle of plight for Kogi citizens and civil servants.
In fact, I had written in a piece before his inauguration in 2016 that one area his administration needed to look into is the civil service. The problem of ghost workers and bloated civil service is a reality across states in Nigeria with Kogi not an exception. So, any genuine attempt by any state government to address this evil should be extolled. However, hiding under such cover of reform to loot a state and pauperize its workers to the level of destitution is heinous.
In the guise of reforming the civil service, the administration began a never-ending verification exercise which until today there is no official gazette of the report of the numerous committees that were set up to review, re-review and re-review (excuse me for the tautology) the works of preceding committees. Besides the dehumanization that civil servants had to endure during this period, workers and retirees went on for several months without salary and pensions. Real ghost workers were discovered and unrealistic ones equally manufactured. School teachers, particularly, some of whom might have taught Yahaya Bello and his cabinet members, were dropped as ghost workers or as lacking the qualification to teach.
While the verification and re-verification lingered, many state worker’s fate hung in the balance and the majority went on for years without salaries. The state claimed there was no money to pay workers until the verification exercise was over. Meanwhile, a portion of the bailout fund from the federal government to offset the arrears in wages was sitting elsewhere in a secret bank account generating interest. Years later the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) discovered this portion of the fund and returned it to the Central Bank since the Kogi state government denied owning the money.
After a prolonged verification exercise lacking direction, some of the workers were reinstated with an undertaking to forgo their accrued arrears. Others were neither told to leave nor to stay. Those hard hit are school teachers and workers under the local government. In spite of the over reduction of the workforce in local government, their meagre salary is either not paid or paid with a very ridiculous percentage as illustrated in earlier paragraphs. For instance, before the emergence of Yahaya Bello, Okene LGA had a workforce of about two thousand five hundred. Currently, it is barely above five hundred, yet the salary fluctuates between zero and fifteen percent. As measly as this percentage is, it is neither regular nor guaranteed. Yes, this is the Kogi state of a visionary, energetic and youthful Yahaya Bello.
It is hard to meet any LGA or SUBEB employee who is not financially indebted. Meeting basic needs such as a-day meal has become excruciatingly difficult with attendant increase in the level of immorality. Workers and their family members are looking haggard and malnourished. About two years ago, I was informed of the death of a neighbor, a teacher, who had died from illness. This is someone I met teaching in the mid 80’s while growing up. Another neighbor, his professional colleagues, told me of how the deceased was unable to seek treatment because of lack of means. This kind of story is common with the demise of Kogi state workers.
While the pauperization of workers is ongoing, those entrusted with managing local government affairs have become lavishly rich. Appointees, who yesterday were nobody, perhaps receiving their first ever ‘high-paying’ job as Special Assistants to the governor, on a salary of probably less than three hundred thousand naira, were helping themselves with the bailout funds, putting up sumptuous properties in choice areas within and outside of Kogi state and adding new wives. They have suddenly become “good Samaritans” giving out cars and landed properties to friends and mistresses as gifts. They have also evolved a level of oppression with such impunity that borders on ungodliness. Threat and physical harm are used as instruments of silence. I heard a rumor that whenever they are told that workers are dying of poverty, they would simply reply, “it is their time to die.”
To cover up for the atrocities perpetrated at local government level, full payment of salary for state workers is being implemented to a reasonable level. Possibly, based on this, those feeding from the crumb of corruption will come up with the ridiculous argument to defend this evil being perpetrated that the LGA is a separate tier of government and therefore the governor cannot be blamed for their wrongdoings. It is sheer hypocrisy or ignorance, or even both, to claim not to know that LGAs in Kogi state, as it is in many other states, have been reduced to a department in government houses. The total abuse of this important tier of government in Kogi state and elsewhere further strengthen the call for the true independence of local government councils.
President Muhammadu Buhari has on different occasions lamented the total erasure of local government functionality in the federation. It is understood though that this a constitutional matter, the action of the president should be beyond lamentation. Understandably, as a president who does not run his mouth on his actions, but who achieves his set goals with stealthy pace and calmness, we hope his usual wisdom of silence is being invested to ensure true autonomy of local government councils before his departure.
The National Assembly has already kick started the process and there is an overwhelming majority in support of this. The autonomy should include financial independence, a law to prevent joint account with states government and the erasure of the State Independent Electoral Commission (SIEC) which has become the tool for the subjugation of LGAs by governors.
There is no other time the LGAs need intervention other than now, particularly, in view of the abuse they are being subjected to by state governors. Local government councils need to be rescued urgently. If not for anything, but for the sake of Kogi people.
A.S.M Jimoh (firstname.lastname@example.org)