Op-ed: About two years ago, I had a small talk with Rafat Idris’, a very senior journalist in Abuja, about the controversy from Kogi, her home state. I can’t recall all the details of that conversation but I still remember that it dwelt on the unpaid salary crisis for which the state governor was and still being slated, rampantly, in the media. We had that talk at the pool side bar, Nugget Hotel, Utako. I had sought out Rafat for a reason. Like Governor Yahaya Bello, GYB, she is Ebira. “I have no doubt that the governor might have his reasons, but I am a unionist.
The salary matter should be of utmost concern and a basis for judging the Governor’s performance,” she said to me that afternoon at the hotel’s pool side resort. Abdulwab Isah, a senior journalist with Telegraph newspapers, put a different perspective on the matter. Like Rafat, he is, also, Ebira. But unlike her, Wahab (as we call him) and I go way back to Unilorin, same faculty. “Bello is not pushing his own narrative strongly enough. He may have good intentions, but I strongly believe he needs more presence in the media to help us see things we are not seeing. Otherwise, this salary matter is doing him a great deal of harm,” Wahab said. We had this conversation after a FAAC press briefing at the Federal Ministry of Finance Headquarters, Abuja, last year, if I recall correctly.
My choice of opening this intervention with two conversations I had with professional colleagues from same tribe as Governor Yahaya Bello, GYB, is deliberate. If you ever need someone to help you rationalize what might appear to be an unpopular government move, search for the kinsmen of the man in power. This is because, politics, everywhere, is tribal. I say this with the full authority of world’s leading political scientists. As a matter of fact, Francis Fukuyama, one of the scholars, in his soar away successful book, ‘Origins of Political Order,’ quoted evidence by evolutionary biologists suggesting that tribalism is genetic.
An Arab saying aptly demonstrates this fact, viz: ‘I against my brother, my brother and I against my cousins, my cousins, my brother and I against the world.’ I am yet to complete the 585 page book, but the author, in substantial part of his work that I have read so far, tends to believe that while every developed and economically advanced societies evolved as tribal enclaves, what appears to have given them the edge is the willingness to enact strictures that inhibits tribalism, parochialism, ‘praxis of behaviours’, any other primordially premeditated predilections.
Over time and in policy making parlance, we have come to refer to those strictures as ‘reforms’. And they are usually bitter pills to swallow. Indeed, Rafat and Wahab helped me put the Kogi controversy beyond anything tribal. Rather, I am willing to see the controversy as purely emanating from reforms GYB appears to be spearheading in Kogi.
When you run into a conundrum such as this, where variables do not conform to known stereotype, it forms what we call a ‘basis for enquiry’ in investigative reporting. In my opinion, if there appears to be no tribal underpinnings in the non-payment of salary matter, we can then assume that GYB has undertaken some modifications. The merit or demerit of it all is an entirely different matter, though. Were I to rationalize the merit of his reforms, I will look in the direction of the opportunity cost of ‘not paying salaries’ as it were.
Let me restructure the preceding thought with the Osun State instance. Rauf Aregbesola, erstwhile Osun State governor, might have ranked as the biggest debtor state chief executive both in salary payment default and loans obtained to run the state. But when you look at the heavy infrastructure stock and economic\developmental strides accomplished by the time the man left office, a pro-growth inclined critic will definitely give Aragbe the thumbs up. Let’s not forget: Osun still owes salaries but reelected Aregbe in 2014 for a second term and his party still got to install his successor last year. We have similar scenario play out in Abia, Benue and other states early this year.
The point here is not to excuse non-payment of salaries by governors. My point, rather, is that salary payment is the very least of what a governor is elected to do. After all, he was not elected by civil servants alone. As a matter of fact, government workers are just minuscule fraction of the population in any given state. If you are in doubt, kindly check on the ratio of state civil servants in your state against the private sector workers. Since we are on Kogi matter, here is what I know. Of a fact, Kogi’s civil servants before GYB’s reforms were about 70, 000 in a state of 4.2 million people.
I also know, too, that about 10, 000 of the said workers were either irregularly employed or just fictitious/ghost workers drawing salaries and pension from government in perpetuity. For instance, how do you rationalize a director in the state government service owning a school in Okene but passing the wage bill of the school on the ministry where he works? How about the case of a serving police officer in Kebbi who drew three different salaries from the state government while still earning police pay? What of the case of a single worker were 33 salary accounts were traced to his BVN? I have merely scratched the surface of the myriads of scam that infested Kogi’s civil service before the advent of GYB.
Let’s not lose sight of our argument on civil servant versus the public ratio. Kogi budget, like most states and indeed the country, have their expenditures skewed in favour of salary and overhead costs. This is why most states shamelessly tag themselves ‘civil service’ state; that is, unless salaries are paid, nothing moves, nothing gives, economically, in such a place. Interestingly, too, in Kogi, internally generated revenue, before the advent of GYB was at N400 million per month at the most.
That has since increased exponentially, to N1.2 billion, on the estimate. All the governor had to do was to restructure and strengthen the revenue collection machinery while plugging loopholes like cutting off those who have no business being around government revenue. There was no magic here. To put those processes in place, you need money, capital votes as against those voted for just salaries that also end up in the hands of salary and pension scammers.