MINISTER BATTLES GOVERNOR OVER USE OF STATE FUNDS
By Anthony Opara
In what can be described as the last days of this administration what is trending is the inability of several states to pay salaries of the work force even with all the funds from Paris Debt Refund. The issue was so critical in Osun State, an APC controlled state that the Federal Government released billions to enable Governor Rauf Aregbesola pay of 30 months salaries owed workers in the state. The payment didn’t cut much ice as the APC were more or less rejected at the polls though the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared the election inconclusive. The issue also played a large part in the decision of the people to reject the candidacy of the Peoples Democratic Party as the outgoing Governor also owed workers of unpaid salaries thus giving the election to former Governor Dr Kayode Fayemi.
From Imo where Governor Rochas Okorocha is said to be owing workers and pensioners several months of salaries and allowances to Bayelsa where the Governor Seriake Dickson is also owing salaries, it has become a battle. While mum has been the word from some federal officers from states, the Minister of State for Agriculture, Heineken Lokpobiri is not taking it lying low. He is confronting the Bayelsa Governor on the parlous economy of the state in spite of the huge allocations to the state from federal coffers. The Minister has accused the Governor of incurring a huge debt burden of about Eight Hundred Billion Naira (800,000,000,000) and $123 Million in external debt. Mr Lokpobri, a former Speaker of the Bayelsa House of Assembly has been asking the Governor to render an account of his stewardship.
In a recent statement issued by the Minister’s Media Aide, George Oji, he said that while the Governor was denying the huge debt profile and contesting the figures he wants the Governor to come clean on the figures. According to the statement issued in Abuja, Mr. Lopkobiri is glad that His Excellency has not denied that he has collected a whooping sum of over N1.2 trillion from the Federation Account from 2012 till last year, excluding this current year. According to the statement also, the minister is equally happy that the Governor has not denied that his administration is yet to account for billions of naira meant for the Local Government Councils in the State from the Federation Account, as well as all the accruals from Internally Generated Revenue of the State, running into billions of naira. The Minister notes that the only bone of contention by the Governor is the huge amount of debts said to be owed by the State.
The statement titled ‘Bayelsa’s Debt: More Questions for Dickson’ noted that for a State that has one of the least numbers of workers in its payroll in the country and ranks amongst the highest recipients from the Federation Account, the Minister is surprised that Bayelsa State falls within the hall of shame of the states that are unable to meet their financial obligations to workers. After all, the Holy Book is unequivocal that a worker deserves his wages. The Minister challenges the Governor to make public the monthly wage bill of the State to show why it has become difficult for a State like Bayelsa with the least number of workers to meet its wage obligations to the workers. He added that the payment of workers’ salary by an elected Governor should not amount to favour to the people but a statutory obligation. He said he was constrained to respond to an amorphous group from Bayelsa querying the figures of the debt profile that he had previously outlined.
In any case, the Minister maintains that the payment of workers’ salary by an elected Governor does not amount to favour to the people but a statutory obligation. In a statement signed by one pseudo Jasper Timiebi, General Secretary of the spurious ABP, the association queried the figure of N800 billion (domestic) and $216 million (foreign) debt claimed by the minister to be owed by the State Government.
In the statement signed by Jasper Timiebi, General Secretary of the ABP, the association queried the figure of N800 billion (domestic) and $216 million (foreign) debt claimed by the minister to be owed by the State Government.
Concerning the debt profile of Bayelsa State, the Minister reiterates that the State has accumulated the sum of N800 billion (domestic) and $216 million (foreign) debt without anything tangible to show for it. This figures, which are still contained in the website of the Debt Management Office (DMO) show that in 2012, the States domestic debt stood at N22billion, foreign $28 million, in 2013, it was N70 billion (domestic) and $29 million (foreign), in 2014, the amount was N92 billion (domestic) and $35 million (foreign) and in 2015, it was N103 billion (domestic) and $38 million (foreign). Similarly, in 2016 the domestic debt was N140 billion and $39 million (foreign) while in 2017, it was N129 billion (domestic) and $48 million (foreign).
The Minister insists that it does not matter that over the years, these debts have been reduced, the fact remains that the Governor owes the people of Bayelsa the obligation of showing and explaining how, and to what use, he deployed the borrowed funds.
N the coming days and months and as the election gets closer these issues will become front burner issues to be dealt with by aspirants to the different offices especially those for the positions of Chief Executive of states and these issues will crop up in the debates that will hold for these contestants. It was an issue in the last Osun State Gubernatorial election debates.
Commenting, Charles Chukwuma, an Owerri-based political analyst told The Difference Newspapers that whoever becomes the next Governor of Imo State would battle with the huge debt profile of the state and outstanding indebtedness to workers and pensioners.
It is the same situation in Osun, Ekiti and conting.
And even while all of these issues are being raised, there are also demands for a review of the national minimum wage as well as the ballooning population figures, poor national economic performance and expanding poverty levels in the land.
As a western media organisation had remarked a few years ago, based on the current situation, ‘who really wants the job of governing such a tough case as Nigeria?’ And we dare to add a sub-question: ‘and why?’
Osun State Governor, Rauf Aregbesola