ANALYSIS: Salaries Chaos: Is Aregbesola, Others, Victims Of Poor Planning Or Corrupt System?Featured Contributors/Columnists, Latest News Friday, June 19th, 2015
By Tajudeen Balogun, Head, African Examiner, Nigeria Bureau – The effects on the country and her populace, of many socio-economic gaffes traceable to the immediate past administration in Nigeria; the trailing public comments – condemnation and commendation (on them), will hardly cease in the nearest future. Of course, at its twilight, so many despicable deals which ordinarily would have been swept under the carpet, (if the former ruling party had won the last Presidential Poll), were unavoidably uncovered and opened to the general public.
A very good example was the controversial and drawn $20 billion missing oil money; its belated, rather scandalous and ridiculous forensic audited report. Another related instance was the pervasive scam in the downstream sub-sector of the oil and gas industry of the country, which has for long been perpetrated but entered an alarming dimension during almost six years tenure of the last government, which “criminally” but fraudulently incapacitated the country’s refineries, thereby making the main source of National income (crude oil) remained at the mercy; sharp practices of the ‘untouchable’ cabal as well as high exchange rate, which regrettably further devalued the naira and relegated the national economy.
Equally, it would be very hard for many Nigerians, both at home and in diaspora to forget so soon, many suspicious, ambiguous and ludicrous manner former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, managed the excess crude account and foreign reserves such that many questions were raised and up till the moment, no satisfactory and convincing answers has been provided to them.
Recall, issues relating to fast depleting excess crude account and Nigerian foreign reserves were among those persistently raised by former President Olusegun, while the last government was still in power. Well, in my candid view, instead of critically addressing the germane questions asked, former President Jonathan’s men and aides, whether acting on the direct instructions of their boss or on their own discretion, virtually and always choose to chase shadows and denied the public the real facts of the matter. So, as for the past government, my conclusion was that saying the obvious or plain truth on critical issues of national interest was as difficult for it, as having the political will to do the same.
Unfortunately, the mismanagement; financial recklessness; the flagrant extravagance and so many gross misconducts across the board soon took their tolls on many states of the Federation, leaving so of them till the moment, failing and grappling to meet up with their financial obligations, including payment of workers’ salaries.
As at present, about 18 out of 36 States in the country are owing at least a month salary while those mostly hit by the (inevitable?) effects of the ravaging economic recession are burdened with not less than seven months workers’ salaries! Abia (about 7 months); Benue (about 7 months); Imo (11 months); Osun (8 months) and Plateau (7 months) States are among the mostly affected in the sad and worrisome trend. I must note here for the purpose of further reference, (and to fault certain wrong inferences) that while two (Imo and Osun) have been under the ruling APC, the other pair (Benue and Plateau) were formerly under the opposition PDP, but just taken over by the ruling party in the last general elections. In the case of Abia, it has been and remained under the PDP.
Risking being contradicted, one (Governor) out of the affected, appeared to be more ‘touched’ and has since remained more in the news on the current salaries crisis –he has been consistently speaking and lamenting; somewhat sympathized with, yet roundly attacked and scolded, is the Osun helmsman, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola.
For instance, the Governor spoke extensively on his government’s miserable and disgraceful salaries ‘fever’ in late March this year, in Lagos at his party’s National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s Colloquium and 63rd birthday anniversary. Aregbesola was asked to speak on the reality of free meals to public school pupils, (an agenda on the APC Manifesto), using Osun’s experience as a case study. Take or leave it; believe it or not, the embattled Governor reeled out as follows as the real reasons he was owing his workers their salaries. He informed: the “Federal allocation to the state has reduced by 40 per cent since 2013”; that when the situation became so unbearable, he resorted to taking a loan of to the tune of N12 billion to offset the outstanding as at the last he paid. Ogbeni narrated he was still up to the task by meeting up with payment of wage bills of over N3.6 billion with N4.6 billion Federal allocation until July, 2013 when the Federal Government announced a drop of about 40 per cent allocation to all states.
This, he added automatically reduced the state’s allocation from N4.6 billion with which he was meeting his bills to N2.6 billion and ever since, the State under his watch, had to augment salaries between N1 and N1.6 Billion. He claimed he was forced to take a recourse to the State’s reserves to pay the November 2014 salary – the last his government paid to the State’s workers. And he finally lamented that Osun (as at March 2015) was burdened with a total of N12 Billion debt, previously spent to pay salaries.
Just last week, Governor Aregbesola in another public statement on the matter, promised that the pending State workers’ salaries would be paid by June end. As I related earlier, readers are at liberty to admit or throw away some of the points in the Governor’s long narration and last pledge.
The same Governor is also recently being heard in the request to President Muhammadu Buhari by the APC Governors to help them out of their salaries snare.
Who takes the blame of this mess? As I painted earlier, could the entire blame be shouldered or linked to the challenges, the country’s economy suffered in the hands of the past government? Can Governor Aregbesola and his colleagues mostly affected, be totally absolved of the blame, especially as you would recall, the former Finance Minister and Coordinating Minister of Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala once challenged the owing Governors, accusing them of financial profligacy? She had demanded why the Governors were owing so high, when their colleagues in other States managed to survive the austere season? Is Governor Aregbesola who seems to be carrying the cross of his other colleagues in the same fix, be really said to be a victim of miscalculation, poor planning, lack of foresight or a corrupt system? Time; only time will and will tell and can prove the Ogbeni right or wrong.
However, the political implications of the salary debacle in Osun, especially on the chances of his party in next State’s gubernatorial election seems hanging in the balance. There is no doubt in the fact that people are not really happy with the degenerating dimension the issue is going. Therefore, it might be necessary to ask here, that what is the current rating of the Governor among the Osun residents and her indigenes? Is Governor Aregbesola objective in his defence and excuses? How would he, his government and party as a whole, survive the crisis which already and expectedly had begun to attract diatribes, from the opposition, rivals within and outside the State?
For some days now, Governor Aregbesola’s main rival in the Saturday, August 9, 2014, Osun Governorship election and the PDP candidate, Senator Iyiola Omisore has been featuring and grating media interviews, using the fora to lampoon and cast all manners of aspersion against his opponent – reeling out how incompetent and wasteful he has been, in managing the affairs of the State.
Senator Omisore might go ahead if he so wished, to engage all the global mass media to exploit the advantages of the prevailing situation in his State. However, the former Senator, should be faced with the following facts. First is that, his party (PDP) was in charge of the State for about seven years (2003-2010), yet the Osun people had voted it out twice (2007 and 2014). Second, is that the challenge was actually occasioned by sudden ‘change in gear’ of the immediate past administration of his party (slash in States’ Federal allocation) and thirdly, the PDP, Senator Omisore’s party controlled States are among those caught in the same mess which he has been busy castigating his rival and his party over. What does this signify? A case of a ‘robber accusing a fellow colleague’?
Omisore is not alone in the game. Newly-elected Delta-born Senator, Ben Murray-Bruce, in what might be considered another political punch announced this week that he would donate half of his still being awaited and controversial wardrobe allowance to the Osun’s branch of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to offset part of the outstanding of its members’ salaries. Expectedly, the offer has been rejected by the State’s Governor with utter disregard.
The present workers’ salaries, although not really the first time it would be experienced in Nigeria, but the current appears more devastating and biting. Back to Aregbesola and his party’s chances, if eventually, survived the present quagmire, he must work harder in all fronts, to win back the people’s heart, convince them that similar challenge will not be repeated in the State as long as he is in power and his party.
Certainly, Governor Aregbesola is walking on a very strained rope and he must tread gently and must be more calculative. If his party must be accorded massive support in the State, he must also work swiftly and very wisely too, to correct his damaged relationship with the State’s workers. He must remember his counterpart, former Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi, did not survive similar ordeal, as couple with other factors, was voted out of power in the State’s last Governorship election which held Saturday, June 21, 2014.
Without mincing words, the Osun and other cases as well as the former administration’s angle are lessons not only for the State governments, but also the Federal, especially with regards to the importance of proper financial planning and discipline; well researched and articulated policies ahead of implementation and ultimately transparency and accountability in governance.
Similarly, the unpleasant experience is another lesson for those in government, in particular the Governors, to begin to increase in the level of their creativity and make a significant shift from tradition of sole reliance on the Federal allocation. The former Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola harped so much on this, when still in power. Which was the reason why he always boasted during his tenure, that with or without Federal allocation, payment of the salaries of his workers – career officers and political appointees would not be delayed, let alone of being mounted to months.
Finally, it is another eye opener for the new government in the country. Specifically, that in the dreamt New Nigeria, wastage and leakages as verbally and widely loathed and condemned during the electioneering campaign, should and must be put into action. A very good example here is the just announced bogus N8.6 Billion wardrobe allowance to 469 members of the National Assembly. To put it succinctly, this was the kind of reckless and visionless approach to recurrent spending that unexpectedly created vacuum and halted the immediate past government to meet up with her financial responsibility with the States, hence the ongoing salaries trail.
Nigerians Rebuff Extravagant And ‘Killing’ Pay
The ruling APC must not underrate Nigerians crave for change in all aspects of lives in this country. Its leaders must realize that their (Nigerians) voting for change was not just for the fun of it. What they voted for and keep clamouring for is total change! In the New Nigeria, their expectation is that the executive, legislature must show good examples for the entire citizenry to follow.
It is in the light of this that majority of Nigerians who voted the CHANGE political party were shocked and angry when the whopping wardrobe allowance of almost N9 Billion was announced to have been voted for 109 Senators and 360 members of the House Representatives! According to the breakdown, each Senator is billed to collect the sum of N21.5 Million while their counterpart in the House is to receive a total of N17.5 Million each! For whatever period of time this will cover, the figure is ridiculous, callous, senseless and highly insensitive to the reality facing the country as well as infective to Nigerians’ common goals and aspiration of laying a good foundation and good standard in the country. In a country where there are crises of underemployment and unemployment, hunger and anger, yet millions of wardrobe allowances earmarked to each soul, Nigerians reject this absurdity; they chorus NO to return, to wasteful era.
Even if it is their right, Nigerians on moral ground, say no to the allowance. This is the kind of recklessness that has for long dragged down the country and made her economy begging for help and remain in the present sorry state. It has been said unequivocally and repeatedly that Nigerian’s brand of democracy is the most expensive in the world.
For instance, the annual income of an average Nigerian Senator is N353, 756,980 ($1, 179,000); his total monthly salary stands at N29,479,749.00 ($149,500), with Basic Salary (BS) of N2,484,245.50 and hardship allowance (50 per cent of B.S) – N1,242,122.70! Whereas, the annual pay per lawmaker in Britain (UK) is $105,400; Germany, $119,500; Japan, $149,000; Saudi Arabia, the world largest oil producing nation, $64,000 and South Africa, $104,000 (The Change Group) among many other developed countries across the world. With this, Nigerians can now understand clearly why the Bruce of this world, would taunt a Governor that he would sacrifice half of his clothing allowance to pay another state’s workers unpaid salaries. Indirectly, the message the Delta Senator was passing was that such unthinkable and miserable figure for such purpose, is senseless and needless in the first place.
This issue (excess pay to political office holders, elective and those by appointment) should not be treated with levity by this government. It is an issue the government of change must look into and give it a thorough and an in-depth look for a drastic review and remarkable reversal. This is part of the change Nigerians demanded and voted for. It is one of the tasks and standard Nigerians wished President Buhari, given his background and pedigree of discipline and frugality to execute and lay for the future administrations in Nigeria. Nigerians definitely expect nothing less.
Finally, this government must really be proactive and productive as it has promised in her party’s campaign to engage teeming Nigerians youths and unemployed via direct labour, SMEs, employment, collaboration and other means. Ultimately, this is to take them out of the streets, and avoid making them nuisance to the politicians who hire, use and dump them with peanuts. It will also check the excuse of excess liability by an average Nigerian politician, as the reason for poor performance and failure to deliver on electoral promises.
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