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Issues That Will Determine Kogi Governorship Poll

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In this report, AHURAKA YUSUF ISAH takes a look at past issues and politics in the assessment of performance of the governor Yahaya Bello-led administration in Kogi State and how the realities on ground would influence the outcome of the November 16 governorship election in the state.

In any mention of Kogi State in a gathering in the cities, remarks are often made in the negative. Even those who have never been to the state would cite issues of bad roads and unpaid salaries.

At the height of unpaid salary crisis of Kogi State, Senator Dino Melaye (Kogi West) on October 24, 2017, raised a point of order at plenary to draw the attention of the senate to the suffering of civil servants in Kogi State.

That was a few days after a director in Kogi State civil service reportedly killed himself over unpaid emolument. Attention of Nigerians were rapt when Melaye announced that 40 senators donated at least 1,260 bags of rice to civil servants in Kogi State.

“Today, in my state we live in perilous times and vicissitude. The social media and newspapers have been awash few days with the unfortunate incident of a civil servant who committed suicide upon receiving information that his wife gave birth to triplets,” Melaye said.

Despite all that, not a single bag of rice donated was displayed and none of the so-called donated bags of rice were taken to Kogi State workers till date. Call it politics or sham, that’s all Kogi got from it.

Curiously, it was gathered later that the deceased senior civil servant decided to hang himself when his wife told him that their pastor who medically donated his sperm to impregnate her was lawfully positioned to name the newly – born. The thought of his house and car he sold to raise N1.5million to meet the medical fee for his wife to conceive through their pastor and that the newly – born was not his own, led to the suicide but again masqueraded as being caused by unpaid salary.

Barely a few weeks after  it began to sit, on May 24, 2016, chairman of the state and local governments’ staff screening and verification exercise, Brig. General Paul Okutimo (Rtd), said he discovered 3,000 accounts operated by ghost workers and that N20 million was siphoned every month by top civil servants handling the state’s pension scheme.

“Apart from thousands of account numbers opened to service ghost workers in the state, the committee also discovered the existence of ghost schools in various parts of the state during the exercise. Many of the schools existed on the records of education secretaries in the local government areas, but the on the spot verification exercise embarked upon by the committee revealed that such schools were not on ground,”Okutimo said.

This is just as the Kogi State Auditor-General, Okala Yusuf, revealed on July 25, 2016, while submitting the staff screening report that the state government lost N213 billion to 18, 211 ghost workers in 13 years.

He said that the ghost workers were discovered in the ministries, departments,and  agencies (MDAs) and in the 21 local government councils in the state, adding that while 7, 606 were discovered in the councils, 5,872 at the state level, pensioners accounted for 1,040 of the ghost workers. The exercise he said, had reduced the joint workforce of the state and local governments from 88, 973 to 63, 870, while the monthly wage bill reduced from N5.8 billion to N4.6 billion.

Yusuf said that the 929 workers who were illegally employed in the state in 2015 and 2016, were also among those categorised as ghost workers just as some workers in the diaspora had been collecting salaries for years while residing in Abuja, Lagos, Kaduna and other cities across the country. The committee, he said, relied on employees’ biodata verification form and the Nigeria inter-bank payment settlement system to identify the ghost workers.

The governor has had this to say at a time, “We undertook a thorough staff verification exercise as the first step of a comprehensive civil service reform. The state was dangerously operating a civil service without data, discipline or efficiency. We had to stop that. Everything is going digital in our civil service. It didn’t come without bashing from people who are resistant to change. But we had to campaign ourselves through months of rigorous and intent screening and digitisation. We are poised for a rejuvenated, rebranded, reinvigorated and refined civil service.’’

But there were expressions of outcry, outrages and groaning over the unpaid salaries by people from some quarters which were loudly echoed in the social and conventional media by some Kogi and non-Kogi State indigenes. Even before the bailout of N30.8 billion was received in July 2019 , that helped the  state government to settle outstanding salary arrears. The organised labour in Kogi State on June 1, 2019, described the payment of December 2018, and January 2019, salaries to state workers and pensioners as a huge relief.

A statement by the NLC chairman, Comrade Onuh Edoka, and his TUC counterpart, Ranti Ojo, said the payment of the two months’ arrears to workers and pensioners would go a long way in ameliorating the suffering of the workers and pensioners.

While returning from the meeting of the national working committee (NWC) of the APC on September 7, 2019, Governor Yahaya Bello, told journalists that his administration had paid all outstanding salaries in the state.

“As regards the issue of news making the round that Kogi State is owing salaries, I want to categorically state that my two predecessors inherited salary arrears. It is a problem I inherited when I assumed office. But I want to announce to you today, that Kogi is not owing any worker at all. We have been able to clear all workers’ salaries and we are up to date,’’ the governor said.

However, in line with the All Progressives Congress (APC) current mantra, the Bello-led administration has also said it would take Kogi State to the next level.

Against that backdrop, the state government packaged a document called, “New Direction.’’According to the ‘’Dream Book’’ as it is touted in Kogi State government house, the package is indisputably a compendium of plans or amplification of ideas based on empirical evidence gathered from research studies following the governor’s vision, espoused in five development outlines or thematic areas with a mission to lay granite foundation for the present and future development of Kogi State.

The governor himself has christened and summed these ideas in the dream book as ‘Education for All’; ‘Health is Wealth’; ‘Job Creation, Youth Engagement and New Ventures’; ‘Infrastructure and Utilities’ and last but not the least, ‘Productive Public Service and Pension Reforms.’’ Bello is said to be emphatical on security, education, agriculture, uealthcare, Job creation through small and medium scale enterprises, eco-tourism as well as massive infrastructural development across the state.

He stated during a media roundtable in London on August 28, 2017, through his media and publicity handler that, “Before the present administration in Kogi State, there was no direction or succinctly put, we were on an old, negative, corrupt and inept direction. The emergence of Governor Yahaya Bello, has changed the development narrative of Kogi State. Our focus is on education, agriculture, healthcare, Job creation through small and medium scale enterprises, eco-tourism as well as massive infrastructural development across the state. “We discovered our roads were in shambles on assumption of office and the governor has declared a state of emergency on the roads. Kogi is currently a construction hub. The federal government has also approved the reconstruction of major Trunk A roads in the state.”

According to the governor’s aide who craved anonymity, “The New Direction is just a roadmap showing a bearing; a development plan presenting priority demands of each community, local government and senatorial district in order to be equitable and just while developing the state. He has done a lot in all the thematic areas highlighted just now. His achievements speak loud and clear. The good people of Kogi State can see, feel and touch GYB achievement. Let the opposition import candidates from the Mars planet, Governor Yahaya Bello’s achievement shall give him unadulterated victory in the November 16 governorship poll in the state.”

According to recent releases from the media and publicity section, on security, Governor Yahaya Bello’s administration bought over 200 security vehicles for different kinds of security operations across the state and over 500 motorcycles for the use of vigilante service men to access difficult terrain where criminals are terrorising the locals and farmers.

“To solve highway crimes, Governor Yahaya Bello’s government cleared 40 metres on both sides of highways to ensure criminals have no hiding place. He demolished structure owned by kidnappers and other forms of criminals to serve as deterrence.

“He constructed Army Forward Operation bases at different places across the state to enhance the security of lives and property. In order to avert farmers/herdsmen clashes, the state government created a dialogue and cooperation platform for a free flow of communication between the government and the herdsmen on one hand , and the communities and herdsmen on the other hand. This excellent relationship has ensured that both farmers and herdsmen are living peacefully together in Kogi State.’’

It stated also that on healthcare sector, the governor renovated, remodeled and re-equipped existing primary healthcare centers, cutting across all the 21 local government areas with solar-powered boreholes and electrification to help the success of the Healthcare Plus Programme. He is providing free maternal and newborn healthcare services including referral services. Bello Health Intervention program has so far helped 168 patients with life-threatening issues such as stroke, congestive heart failure, malignant diseases, various degrees of trauma, including spinal cord injury, some of which were sent abroad for advanced treatment, just as a successful separation of conjoined twins has been recorded. He has launched a project known as the Confluence Advanced Medical Diagnostic and Imaging Centre (CAMDIC).

“Under the New Direction administration, the old College of Nursing, Obangede, which is a mono-technic, is being converted to a polytechnic as new courses such as dental nursing and midwifery are introduced. This is just as zonal hospitals in Kabba (Kogi West), Idah (Kogi East) and Okene (Kogi Central) are renovated and upgraded to modern standards. This has made it easy for people to access quality healthcare without necessarily besieging the medical facilities at the state capital. The administration has also constructed a cottage hospital in Kpareke, while an administrative block at the School of Health Technology, Idah was built. Just take a tour of these places and confirm rather than feeding from lies of the opposition and devil’s advocates.’’

When the Governor Bello’s aide who craved anonymity was asked to speak on the cattle colony the state government said it would build to curtail farmers-herdsmen conflicts last year , he said, “The state government belongs to the APC and whole-heartedly believes and adopts its party agenda. It was among the first APC state government that announced the marking out of parcel of land for the federal government to create cattle colony. If the federal government now wants the lands for Rural Grazing Area (RUGA), those lands are still there for it.”

A release from the state government itemising mileage it covered since it came on board stated that, “There is no government in the anal history of Kogi State that has recorded semblance of development stride the administration of Governor Yahaya Bello has done.

“It has succeeded in encouraging the youths to key into farming through orientation, sensitisation, mechanisation, inputs subsidy amongst several other supports. It has facilitated loans, cleared over 1000 hectares of farm land across the state, procured 375 Fergus Tractors with complete implements, three quantities each for Mini Harvesters, Planters, Broom Sprayers, Rice Reapers and other similar equipment to enhance agricultural activities and boost production.

Procured and assembled 1500 Tillers which were distributed to small scale farmers in 2017, encouraged the cultivation of over 3000 hectares of rice and 5000 hectares of cassava in the state, built greenhouse farm at Osara to produce tomatoes and other vegetables, constructed 500 fish ponds as a pilot scheme as well as distributing several tons of inorganic fertilisers to farmers at moderate prices.

‘’As the leading producer of cassava in Nigeria, the administration has attracted the biggest ethanol company in Nigeria known as Unicane. The company uses cassava as its main raw materials, thereby sparking massive production of the crop. Kogi farmers have never been richer.

“Federal government nominated Kogi State as the pioneer state for the National Egg Production Scheme because of the massive agricultural production in the state. 135 youths were empowered with N4.2 million each to support their poultry production. The Omi Dam success story is a massive testimony of the achievement of the Yahaya Bello-led administration in agriculture.”

On the story making the rounds that the administration has not constructed a kilometer of road all this while, the government said that was the story some mischief makers would want people to take home, but that the good people of Kogi State know better.

‘’In order to improve on the road infrastructure of the state, Governor Yahaya Bello’s administration procured modern equipment road construction from abroad to raise the capacity of KOGROMA to deliver quality roads at a lower cost to the state. This has paid off as we have better roads constructed or rehabilitated by the agency.

“There is the ongoing rehabilitation of Shintaku/Gboloko/Dekina road which is a major road in the Eastern flank of Kogi State. Also Lokoja Township road construction and rehabilitation is on, just as we have the Ijowa-Jege-Ife-Olukotun road, Ankpa Township Road, Ejule – Umomi – Ugwolawo – Ajaka Road,  Ibana – Okpo –Ikeje – Ogugu- Ette Roads, Kuroko – Ikaturu –Eika – Ohinzenyi Roads, Agasa Round About linking Iruvicheba, Iruvochinomi and Adavi – Eiba – Ihima Road are all under construction with several of them at the finishing point or completed.’’

Meanwhile, the unpaid salary narratives in Kogi State has become “funtus officio’’ or overtaken by payment of all salary arrears with the N30.8 billion President Muhammadu Buhari graciously approved for the state. Kogi State is largely a civil servant state. Despite Prince Abubakar Audu’s performance in 1999-2003, his inability to pay workers’ salaries regrettably led to his failure at the governorship election of the 2003.

With the PDP’s greenhorn flag bearer, Engr Musa Wada, an epic battle is set between “known and unknown’’ candidates on the November 16, 2019 governorship election in the state. It won’t be an inter-ethnic battle, so long as the chief host of the current administration in Kogi State – undoubtedly the chief of staff, Edward Onoja, and former governorship flag bearer Senator Echocho Jibrin Isah, the six House of Representatives members, scores of Kogi State Assembly members, commissioners and governor’s aides and local government area administrators of Igala extraction remain in the Kogi APC till the election day.

For the first time in Kogi State since 1999, this year’s governorship election shall be issue – based and APC versus PDP contest. It shall be a contest between the performances of the PDP’s 13-year administration in Kogi State contrasted with presentations of APC’s 3½ years of governance. Those waiting to cash on the tribal sentiment shall be stunned at the turn of events.

The chief of staff has since dubbed it as “new breed of politics.’’ Chairman of Kogi State Traditional Council of Chiefs, Attah Igala Ameh Oboni, has been advocating that his immediate subjects should relinquish power for some time in order for his domain to witness development. His wisdom has paid off with the administration of Governor Yahaya Bello, who is said to have invested heavily in the development of the eastern senatorial district of the state. The PDP therefore has serious assignment at hand, and it needs more than tribal mawkishness to win the November 16 governorship election in Kogi state.

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