By Chinwe Ugwu
There is a Nigerian saying that if you do not go under the belly of an elephant, you can never know that it has a flat tummy. Similarly, many public office holders especially politicians are often judged based on the outer appearance.
One of the most talked about governors in the present dispensation is the number one citizen of Kogi State, Alhaji Yahaya Bello. Whatever is happening in Kogi State today is divinely designed considering the circumstances that threw up Bello as the chief executive of the Confluence state.
In spite of the ill-feelings expressed in some quarters by some politicians in the state, Bello became governor and one year and eight months down the line, there has been a mix bag of reactions from both Kogites and other Nigerians on the performance of Bello. How has Governor Bello fared since February 27, 2016 when he assumed office in the Brick House? Has he delivered on his campaign promises?
One issue that causes divisions in a state is lopsided appointments. But Governor Bello being very conscious of the diverse nature of Kogi and the way he emerged as governor, he set out to unify the state. Hence, he brought in equity, fairness, justice and objectivity to bear on every action he took especially as regards the appointment of people into positions of authority.
Bello defied the status quo and for the first time in the history of the state, appointed a Chief of Staff from outside of his ethnic group. None of his predecessors was that generous and tolerant of other parts of the state but Bello did that and even including some of his closest aides. However, Governor Bello incurred the wrath of some so-called kingmakers in the state who were offended with the appointment of more young men and women into government positions. They had expected him to maintain the old order.
It is a fact that Governor Bello has received more insults and curses than any other governor for non-payment of salaries for a number of months. But most of these critics never cared to dig into the remote causes of why the governor has been hit by the misfortune of owed salaries. Many of the critics do so out of ignorance, while others indulge in it for mischief purposes and others engaged in it just to score a political point.
The problem of salary issues in Kogi State predates the Governor Bello administration and in fact has been associated with the state since 1999. It is axiomatic that the administrations of former governors Alhaji Ibrahim Idris and Capt. Idris Wada actually caused the salary problem being experienced today. These two administrations were so reckless financially that they left a huge salary debts profile for the state.
Hence, when Governor Yahaya Bello took over the mantle of leadership in 2016, he was unlucky to have inherited a huge debt of non-payment of salaries. There was an over bloated wage bill for over 80,000 civil servants; and this means both state and local government workers. Besides, as it was the case with the previous administration, there was an unimaginable massive and reckless corruption in the Kogi State Pension Board. In an attempt to redress the heist that was perpetrated in the previous years, Governor Bello initiated a screening exercise, whose revelation was mind boggling. It was clear that the previous administration had over employed and could not manage the over bloated workforce thereby leaving behind accumulated salaries and allowances. Governor Bello became the fall guy of the wickedness and mismanagement of the past.
Consequently, he inaugurated a screening committee, whose sole aim was to cleanse the rot left behind by the previous administrations. These are facts that most critics of this administration have failed to understand. Of course, some of them are unaware that Kogi is one among 25 other states that are faced with the challenge of workers’ salaries. Therefore, it is not an issue that is peculiar to the state. Despite these obvious bulwarks placed by previous administrations, Bello with the assistance of bailout and Paris club refunds as published in national dailies and on the state government’s website recently, has made significant improvement and advancement in the settlement of salaries and pensions.
It is curious that people have soon forgotten that before the coming in of Governor Bello, Lokoja, the capital city of Kogi State was an eyesore and for those who passed through the city they can attest to the fact that Bello has made tremendous efforts to give the capital a facelift and more befitting status. The State Sanitation Board had embarked on an indefinite strike as a result of non-payment of salaries thereby throwing the entire city into humongous heap of refuse. Of course, it was a contributory factor to the outbreak of cholera epidemics in Lokoja metropolis and its environs. Consequently and unfortunately some lives were lost. This was due to the failures and inept leadership of Wada and his cohorts of underperforming aides. It was the arrival of Bello on the scene that brought some form of sanity. As soon as Governor Bello assumed office, he swung into action and reached an accord with the organised labour, who immediately called off the strike. In order to strengthen the understanding between government and the organised labour, the governor had on May Day donated two buses to the organised labour in the state in order to facilitate their labour activities in the state.
Buoyed by the need to boost the environmental condition of the state, the administration of Bello paid a counterpart fund to enlist the support of the Nigeria Erosion Watershed Management Project (NEWMAP) to assist in tackling the menace of erosion in some parts of the state. The effort has made the state to be among the 18 elite states in the country to benefit from the Federal Government and World Bank programme to protect the land from environmental degradation. Similarly, the governor embarked on the resuscitation of the Ekuku Dam in Agassa at Okene local government area with vigorous effort to ensure its completion aimed at boosting portable water supply to the entire central senatorial district of the state. The perpetual darkness that was the lot of Lokoja has since disappeared as the city has been electrified with solar-powered street lights, rehabilitation of township roads, cleaner and beautified environment, building of new state-of-the-art structures and renovation of Government House.
Similarly, the state government is doing all within its powers to fulfil its promise on capital projects such as roads, rural electrification, portable water for the rural communities, quality healthcare centers, free medical outreach, GYB model school projects and series of projects which are completed and some are ongoing. The communities in Dekina and Omala Local Government Areas where the two ex-governors hail from never had electricity until Governor Yahaya Bello came to their rescue to provide electricity to those communities.
One of the striking things Governor Bello has done since coming into office his critics have refused to acknowledge is the realignment of the state civil service. The workers verification committee, which was set up to determine the actual staff strength by fishing out ghost workers from the system, exposed the corruption and incredible atrocities committed by very senior civil servants in the state. Some of the bizarre revelations made by the verification committee was the discovery of ghost schools, fictitious schools and salaries were being paid to workers from such non-existent institutions. This exercise has therefore helped a great deal in sanitising the state civil service.
It is on record that Governor Bello is one of the few state chief executives in the present dispensation to grant full financial autonomy to the local governments. The implication is that the state government ceased deductions of local government allocation, a practice, which has been severally condemned by all and sundry.
The administration has also executed a lot of projects including the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with a foreign firm to revive and upgrade as well as expand the Organic Fertilizer Plant in Agbeji in Dekina Local Government Area of the state. Work has also resumed on the dualisation of Lokoja township roads up to Lokoja-Okene road as well as construction of the drainage system along the major road in the state capital which has eased the traffic flow in the confluence city.
Since the governor came on the scene, the Internally Generated Revenue profile of the state has been on the rise. This is largely due to the accountability, transparency and high level professionalisation brought to bear on the state Inland Revenue Services as well as other corrective measures adopted to block revenue leakages. In fact, the Chairman, Kogi State Inland Revenue Services (KGIRS), Alhaji Oseni Yakubu, said the ability of the Yahaya Bello administration to make the state conducive for businesses has been responsible for the growth of small and large businesses which taxes contributed to the increase in the state’s IGR. He said “when we came on board, taxation in Kogi State was in a deplorable situation,” adding that the situation was so bad that the Revenue Graph showed a flat.
Governor Bello has also done exceedingly well to contain the terrible security situation in the state prior to his resumption of duty. Before 2016, the state was the hub of all manners of crimes including armed robbery, kidnapping and a host of others. Bello has in less than two years rid the state of criminals and criminality. Today, residents of the state go to bed with their two eyes closed while commuters who passed through the state no longer go through the harrowing experience of being attacked by armed robbers or kidnappers.
In line with the APC’s programme on job creation, Governor Bello has empowered 2,500 youths on various skills acquisition and vocational training programme, 100 Youths trained on ICT, 460 gainfully employed in Revenue board, 1600 presently undergoing recruitment into health sector, 1600 Vigilantes are gainfully employed, 100 forest guards are also employed, 500 recruitment of fresh teachers is ongoing and mega tourism development is already in pipeline and all these achievements recorded within the last 21 months can necessitate the potential industrialisation of Kogi State.
Similarly, Kogi State Social investment programme has empowered over 50,000 of Youths and women on Npower and Government Enterprises and Empowerment Programme (GEEP).
It is, therefore, not out of place to urge the good people of Kogi State to continue to support their youthful governor to accomplish his laudable plans.