Fate can be very cruel. At the near conclusion of the Kogi State governorship election on November 21, 2015, there was jubilation everywhere in the state as news filtered out that the then candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Prince Abubakar Audu, was clearly ahead of the candidates of other parties. At the end of voting, even the sitting governor and candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Captain Idris Wada, fell behind Audu by more than 41,000 votes. The resultant jubilation was hinged on the people’s belief that with Audu in the saddle, the state would return to its glorious days.
They had every reason to think so. Audu’s stints as governor, first from January 1992 to November 1993 and then from May 29, 1999 to May 29, 2003, are regarded as the golden age of the state whose development has been stalled under successive administrations from Alhaji Ibrahim Idris to Wada. Under Audu’s leadership, the state had witnessed remarkable physical development, particularly the construction of township roads, roundabouts, housing units and other landmarks that transformed Lokoja from a glorified village to an ideal capital city. As fate would have it, however, the wild jubilation would soon turn into ashes in the people’s mouths. From the blue came the news that Audu, the supposed winner of the election, had died.
The ensuing confusion was compounded by a declaration from the Independent National Electoral Commission that the election was inconclusive. The decision of the All Progressives Congress to pick the incumbent governor Yahaya Bello as its candidate in the governorship rerun has since turned into a nightmare for the people of the state, particularly workers and pensioners. If the people of Kogi State had thought that they had their worst experience with the Wada administration, they must have realised by now that they were actually in paradise when they thought they were in hell. With Bello in the saddle, the people are now many miles behind the spot Wada left them.
Not only is the state not witnessing development under the Bello administration in the state, the basic entitlements of workers and pensioners have become a mirage. Governor Bello had hardly settled down in office when he hit on the idea of carrying out an audit of the state’s workforce with a view to fishing out ghost workers.
To the dismay of well-meaning people in the state, however, there are now more ghost workers in its civil service than there are legitimate ones. By some strange alchemy, thousands of workers who had served diligently in the state’s civil service for decades have been declared ghost workers. So much so that at the end of the exercise, the audit panel declared about 18,211 workers nonexistent. The public outrage provoked by the exercise forced the state government to constitute another panel to review it. But rather than reduce the number, the review panel added more than 300 names to the list of ghost workers.
Ensconced in the inner recesses of Government House, the review panel, unfortunately, is a no-go area for many of the workers who, armed with their employment and confirmation letters, would like to prove their status as bona fide civil servants. Many of them are turned back at the gates by stern-looking soldiers and policemen, leaving the poor workers with no choice but to return home and quietly bemoan their fate.
The story is told of some workers who travelled all the way from Ankpa to Lokoja in a chartered bus to visit the panel in the hope that their ghost status would be reversed. However, only a few of them who had links with some powerful figures in government were granted audience. Unfortunately, the bus in which they were travelling back to Ankpa was involved in an accident and 14 of them died.
About three weeks ago, a female civil servant of my acquaintance, who had been working as a secretary at the state’s Ministry of Justice as far back as 1992, called me on the phone and was close to tears as she narrated how she got to the office on a Tuesday morning only to be told that her salary had not been paid because she had become a ghost worker after 25 years in service! I am told that the first prayer point of any civil servant preparing to go to work in the state these days is that he or she would not become a ghost before the close of work.
But even those that are not yet declared ghosts are hardly better off. Many of them have not been paid salaries for as many as seven months while the ones purportedly paid are only paid miserable percentages of their salaries. The yardstick by which the government determines the percentage paid to each worker as salary remains a mystery. In a particular month, a worker would be paid only 50 per cent of his salary while his colleagues in the same ministry are paid 30, 40 or 60 per cent. Then in an instance of unconscionable propaganda, the government will go on air and declare that it has settled all outstanding salaries.
The plight of pensioners in the state is a different kettle of fish. It was gathered that last December made it one year since most of the pensioners received their last payments. While it is public knowledge that states are in dire straits financially, the economic situation can never be a justification for the fate that has befallen Kogi workers under Bello.
A situation in which genuine workers are wilfully declared ghosts just so that the government can shirk its financial responsibility to them smacks of insensitivity, particularly when the grapevine is buzzing with the rumour that the state government committed a whopping N1 billion to the recently concluded governorship election in Ondo State. Perhaps unknown to Governor Bello, the implications of his actions or inactions are more far reaching than the discomfort it is causing workers and other individuals in the state.
They constitute a damaging indictment on the advocates of power rotation who have been whining about Igala’s domination of governance in the state.
The manner he has conducted the affairs of the state since he assumed office last year as the first non-Igala governor leaves one with the impression that he plotted his way to the Government House just to discredit the agitations of the other ethnic groups for their rights to the state’s leadership.
In a state whose workforce is dominated by civil servants, any financial misfortune such as the workers are going through is bound to ricochet on traders, artisans and other service providers whose survival depends largely on the civil servants. That in part explains why crimes like armed robbery and kidnapping are prevalent in the state. If the governor does not find this a cause for concern, it should bother him that Kogi ranks among the states with the highest number of fighters in the Boko Haram army. Talk of an idle hand being the devil’s workshop. While the civil servants may be civil enough to avoid the deadly sect like a leper, artisans whose livelihoods are threatened may not think twice before joining the sect if that is their only guaranteed source of survival.
By Vincent Akanmode