Kogi State is in a mess but there is a remedy.
As regrettable as it is that Yahaya Adoza Bello is the governor of Kogi State, it is a tentative reality which everyone must live with. Besides the President of Nigeria, a Nigerian governor is about the most important public official in the country because with exception to just a few key state policies which affect the wellbeing of the entire country, virtually everything else revolves around an average governor.
January 26th 2016 was a watershed in the history of Kogi State because it heralded the enthronement of a government that has distinguished itself by not a few unusual benchmarks.
Whereas, millions of Nigerians celebrated the emergence of a youth face as governor in a dispensation characterized by a “sit tight” syndrome among African leaders just a few months ago, loud murmurings, disquiet and grumblings – a major sign of resentment currently greets the mention of the names Yahaya Adoza Bello in youth circles.
Today, Kogi State has been characterised by very poor rating by major investors and key rating agencies the consequences of which is visible in the welfare of employees of the state government with multiplier effects on local businesses, artisans and local markets.
Security is compromised. Education is sick. Trade is handicapped. Healthcare is comatose. Human capital development is dead. Peaceful coexistence amongst tribes died and a long time ago and has been forgotten.
Recently, thousands of local voters including academic staff of universities, youth and civil society groups have been caused by grim economic realities to embark on near violent protests demanding a review of specific government policies.
Grave allegations of inappropriate conducts have been brought against the governor and key members of His cabinet by some independent agencies. These allegations do not exclude an indiscriminate use of state power to intimidate and harass citizens including subduing members of the state legislature, abuse of executive privileges manifested by an open engagement of the governor in incidences of multiple registration as a voter, manipulation and utilization of various formal and informal security institutions for classified purposes, application of state funds by Gov. Yahaya Bello to fund the construction of a county marble mansion for private use and the inability of the cabinet to account for billions of Naira Paris club special intervention funds released by the federal government.
On the pretence of wanting to identify and rid the state civil service of ghost workers, a verification exercise commissioned nearly 24 months ago is still ongoing. The implication of these is that some state workers are still being owed between 6 to 22 month backlogs of wages. While some have simply withdrawn from work, a handful of others have died as a result of different reasons including suicide.
Curiously, the Kogi State government was about the highest donor to the Anambra State chapter of the APC in the last gubernatorial election.
The integrity of not a few state officials including local officials of the All Progressives Congress have been openly questioned by local and foreign media in a manner which caused large members of the followership base of the party and governor to doubt if indeed the party as a political platform still existed as a veritable instrument championing the ideals and leadership models of the founding fathers of modern Kogi State.
In recognition of the yearnings for a new kind of leadership and social order in Kogi State, it has become important for an irreducible benchmark of quality to be set. Kogi State shares a rare proximity to the Federal Capital Territory as a result of which the affluence of the seat of power must be harnessed to rub off on Kogi State and benefit the people.
While this may be a tall order for the current government which is bereft of ideas, tact, initiative and solutions, concerned children of Mother Kogi must rise to the occasion and insist that only the best is good enough for the people of the confluence state.
In a few months’ time, another opportunity will be presented to Kogi people to decide for themselves the future of the state. Already, a handful of individuals have indicated interest in managing the affairs of the state but quite a few of them come across as individuals who have a measure of understanding of the most pressing needs of Kogi State. Many say they will build roads. Some say they want to harness the agriculture potentials of the state. Many others just want to attain a level of significance using the gubernatorial elections as a launch pad. As interesting as these pledges may seem – something important is lacking and it is a lack of a deeper understanding of what the most important needs of Kogi State are.
From a global perspective, the needs of Kogi State can be summarised into two – the corporate needs of Kogi State as a legal entity and the needs of Kogi people as individuals who make up society. Any individual who is oblivious of these narratives should perhaps be persuaded by lovers of Kogi State to re-evaluate His/Her decision to contest the coming governorship elections because over everything else, a total stop must be put to the “learning on the job” system of governance.
Now here is the real issue: any State that cannot meet its recurrent expenditure obligation to its workforce is not economically viable. Not only has the current government proven this consistently, it has also proceeded to score one low after another in the most important indices of leadership. Ordinarily, one would expect that after receiving over N10B in Paris Club refunds, incidences of non-payment of salaries would be history in Kogi State but rather than address workers welfare, members of the kitchen cabinet of Gov. Yahaya Bello have enriched themselves by acquiring state of the art SUV’s and purchasing houses in Abuja and Lagos.
The inability of the state government to be prudent fund managers have further manifested in its loan portfolio.
Regrettably, as at now, not even the incumbent governor can offer a satisfactory explanation about our financial position and how monies held in trust for generations unborn was spent. On a daily basis, people are treated to various degrees of lies planted in media about how well government is performing, how well IGR has risen and all what not but these are in sharp contrast with official records obtained from the Federal Government of Nigeria which clearly paint a grim picture of the economic viability of Kogi State.
The government boasts of improving IGR but in reality, over 85% of it are gotten from PAYE deducted at source from the salaries of civil servants it reluctantly pays. This means that government simply takes a fraction of workers salary and declare it to the public as IGR. Outside these deductions, the government has not lifted a broomstick towards improving IGR.
Has anyone wondered why suddenly, prized assets and shares held by government on behalf of Kogi people are about to be sold off? Here is the reason!
Presently, Kogi State has a multilateral debt portfolio of $32,719,347.57C or N11,680,807,082.49K besides other loans and domestic debts all running into over N100B. When considered alongside backlog of remuneration and payments owed workers, contractors and creditors (via compound interest), it becomes clearer that Kogi State is on life support and would require an injection of fresh funds to the tune of at least N300B to stand again. While several banks have shut their borrowing windows against the state, a few banks doing business with government do it under agreement with the ministry of finance that at every point, federal allocation must be routed through their systems so they can deduct their debts at source.
The aforementioned is a snippet of the needs of Kogi State as a corporate entity. What then are the needs of Kogi people?
This current administration is paying lip service to the socio-economic needs of the people of Kogi State on an equal basis. Some beneficiaries of what passes as governance in Kogi State insist all is well however, another group think that the emergence of this government and virtually all its actions are fraught with diverse forms of irregularities which bear tribal colorations and are targeted at specific individuals aimed at stifling and outrightly shutting out of some sections of the state from participating in leadership. This has led to unhealthy rivalry and violent skirmishes among various ethnic denominations in the state.
The meddlesome nature of the state government in the leadership matters of youth and student groups is disturbing. Even though this is often downplayed, academic staff of tertiary institutions obviously received a bloody nose on account of the strange proscription of the ASUU.
It is on record that since the inception of this government, the fundamental rights of Kogi people to freedom of speech and association has been repealed. Market groups, traders and artisans are prevented from forging patriotic alliances in a manner that satisfies their conscience.
The hallowed chambers of the state assembly of lawmakers have been desecrated and a reign of terror unleashed by security forces teleguided by the executive. Even recently, the state police command extended invitations to selected lawmakers for daring to suggest that certain modalities for peace and guaranteed security must be worked out before cattle colonies are formed in the state.
What therefore is the way forward?
Many people agree the current leadership of Kogi State has only offered pain, misery and penury to the people. The onus of real change therefore falls on the opposition.
Consequently, the opposition is expected to present an alternative who understands the yearning of the masses for good leadership and is ready to provide an irreducible standard of verifiable leadership as an acceptable alternative to everything the APC is.
How this candidate will emerge is too close to call and subject to diverse interpretations. In the midst of these interpretations, one thing is clear – the PDP must be fully prepared by first and most importantly putting itself in a psychological position to produce this needed candidate before anything else. For a state in dire need of economic salvation, social justice, political restructuring and reconciliation, it is only ideal for any process and candidate who seeks to challenge the APC to possess such attributes that can spur citizens to hope for a better future.
The tripods of credibility, verifiable antecedents and confirmed capacity to leader via discipline and integrity must at all times be the foundation on which any search for an acceptable candidate should be.
Who will save Kogi State as a corporate entity from imminent collapse?
Who has the goodwill and credibility to restore investors’ confidence in our system?
Who has the clout to harness potentials and partner with relevant individuals and organizations to revamp our local economy?
Who can level this mountain of debt standing before Kogi State without sending the state into the valley of bankruptcy?
Credibility is a question which every eligible governor hopeful must satisfactorily answer – it cuts across individual values, beliefs and ideologies. As a people, we cannot be in a hurry to replace an inept government only to end up placing a square peg in a round hole. We must within ourselves, conduct a thorough search for that candidate who shares the ideals of the founding fathers of Kogi state. We must identify within ourselves, individuals of substance who are sellable to Kogi people as a better alternative to status quo. Only then can we convince our brothers and sisters to reason with us.
In view of the task ahead, we must identify one of our own who has this intrinsic quality of verifiable antecedents which is among the core values of Kogi people. As a people, we have made just enough mistakes on political leadership. We must therefore resolve that henceforth, people who intend to learn on the job must be discouraged from participating in the leadership process.
Overtime, as a people, we have made the grave error of supporting individuals with a low sense of fiscal discipline and no integrity at all.
The resultant effect of this is that there is more often than not, high cases of misplaced priorities. This happens when funds that should ordinarily be spent on rural projects are utilized to acquire heavy duty armoured SUV’s and host lavish state dinners for a selected clique of persons. Another effect of this is that whereas other state governments are ensuring proper and prudent utilization of unbudgeted funds like the Paris Club refunds, Kogi State has a government which cannot satisfactorily explain how our share of the money is being spent. To say a large chunk of the funds may have been stolen by unpatriotic government functionaries cannot be faulted.
On the other hand, if a governor emerges who is disciplined and is an individual of integrity, all and sundry can be assured that scarce resources will be judiciously spent on viable projects by an administration that constantly seeks to write its name with gold in the hearts of people.
The APC as a political group of strange bed fellows has squandered and subsequently lost its mass appeal. The failure of the party leadership to even stabilize the state chapter of the party points to an undeniable reality that the party requires only a shove from the PDP before it dies.
The PDP as currently constituted can afford to position itself as a veritable platform for the reclamation of Kogi State. While this is the expectations of millions of Kogi people who look on with nostalgia and suspense, it remains to be seen if or not the party is willing to save Nigeria again.
Usman Okai Austin
Convener,Kogi Youth ROUNDTABLE
Wrote in From Abuja.