A lawmaker from Kogi State, Sunday Karimi, has accused Governor Yahaya Bello of allegedly using an ongoing personnel revalidation exercise to inflict untold hardship on the people of the state.
In an interview published weekend by The Punch, Mr. Karimi, a member of the Peoples Democratic Party, said abject penury in Kogi had become so pronounced that the residents now turn to federal lawmakers like himself in droves for financial support in order to eke out a living.
“He has been doing screening repeatedly since he came to power, but not paying salaries,” Mr. Karimi told The Punch. “How do you tell people who served and have retired over 15 years that they were not properly recruited? Workers and pensioners are dying in Kogi State.”
The lawmaker said the Bello administration had not paid salaries for over 16 months, despite receiving billions in bailout from the federal government.
“That is part of the serious problems we are facing here,” he said.
As a fallout of Mr. Bello’s alleged draconian policies, Mr. Karimi said he and other colleagues in the National Assembly were now being inundated with requests for support from their respective constituents.
“I receive countless telephone calls and text messages from constituents. All they are asking is to assist them. There are many demands from such constituents, such as paying for hospital bills, school fees and feeding money.
“All these demands are transferred to us the lawmakers when people work for 16 months without salaries. I am neither a magician nor God; I can’t meet everybody’s needs.
“If these people are paid their entitlements, it will at least reduce the burden on people like us,” Mr. Karimi said.
Controversy over salaries for workers in Kogi State remains one of the most contentious issues Mr. Bello has grappled with since assuming office nearly a year and a half ago.
Shortly after his inauguration, the governor ordered a personnel revalidation exercise throughout the state civil service in a bid to eliminate ghost workers and save the state some funds it said were hitherto going to faceless employment racketeers.
The verification exercise took a bizarre turn when, in May 2016, Mr. Bello accused labour leader, Onuh Edoka, of being a ghost worker, after he criticised the policy and vowed to lead workers to resist it.
Weeks earlier, Mr. Bello had confirmed receipt of N20 billion in bailout from the federal government and promised to use a good chunk of it to offset staff salaries and arrears.
But the exercise had lingered for more than a year, prompting incessant allegations of ulterior motive against the administration from critics like Mr. Karimi.
While recalling that Mr. Bello emerged governor in one of the most unconventional circumstances in Nigerian political history, Mr. Karimi said the governor had “mismanaged his luck by turning himself into an enemy of the people,” adding that the Kogi State was allegedly being run “with an iron fist.”
But the state denied claims that the verification exercise brought hardship to residents, dragged for too long or even unnecessary, to begin with.
“The screening exercise is saving the state N1 billion per month,” Gbenga Olorunpomi, a media aide to the governor, told PREMIUM TIMES Monday afternoon.
Mr. Olorunpomi said his principal had prioritised workers’ welfare in a manner that was unrivalled since he assumed office, a decision he had implemented with utmost transparency.
“The governor had paid in excess of N41 billion in salaries and pensions since he came into office just over a year ago,” Mr. Olorunpomi said. “Of the N11 billion that the state had received from the Paris Club refund, N6.9 billion had been spent on salaries and pensions.
“Kogi publishes salaries and pensions payout in national dailies at the end of every month,” he added.
Mr. Olorunpomi said the administration recognised that a lot must still be done to improve living conditions of the residents, but added that the nationwide economic downtown also took a toll on the state.
“While we acknowledged that Kogi is not isolated from the country’s economic crisis, we strongly advise our people to be patient while the numerous policy moves we’ve initiated gradually yield desired results.
“Agricultural revolution is ongoing in Kogi State. It had seen many trucks bring in fertilisers to supply directly to farmers. Loan facilities are also available for the people to tap into.
Mr. Olorunpomi also highlighted government’s strides in security.
“We’ve had monthly average in reported cases of kidnap reduced to two from 41 that it was before this government came into office,” Mr. Olorunpomi said, while highlighting last month’s demolition an alleged criminal hideout near Okene.
While expressing his “respect for honourable representatives” from the state, the spokesperson admonished critics like Mr. Karimi to “familiarise themselves with latest happenings in Kogi State in order to avoid making utterances that would expose” their alleged “disconnect” with the grassroots.