What goes around seems to be coming around in Kogi State concerning the bailout funds meant for payment of arrears of workers salary.
In 2015, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) led Government of former Governor Idris Wada was denied the N50.8bn Bailout fund approved by President Muhammadu Buhari some months to the governorship election.
The argument was that the PDP Government would use the funds to execute the election to its advantage.
The PDP had accused the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) of colluding with the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) at the centre to deny the state the funds.
The former Governor couldn’t get the bailout fund and the workers bore the brunt, as they were at the receiving end. They vented their anger against PDP, which lost the election.
Now almost four years after, with few months to the election, PDP is asking the Federal Government not to release the balance of N30.8bn to incumbent Governor Yahaya Bello, but to pay the balance directly into workers’ account.
According to the party, any money released to Bello would go down the drain, unaccounted for, leaving workers even more pauperised.
A statement signed by Prince Bode Ogunmola, Kogi PDP Publicity Secretary, last week, acknowledged the sufferings of Kogi workers, yet to receive 38 months salaries.
It read: “We are calling on the Federal government not to be moved by Gov. Yahaya Bello’s crocodile tears that the balance of N30.8bn would be used to offset workers salaries.
“The Federal Government should fashion out a process to directly pay into workers’ account. Aside the Bailout funds, the governor has accessed close to N70bn Paris Club refunds, as well as commercial loans. Despite all these, Gov. Bello has plunged the state into a debt of about N200bn since he assumed office.”
According to the party, Wada’s administration applied for N50bn, even though the state was not indebted to that amount, and knowing full well that all the requested money may not be approved. The funds were, however, not released for political reasons.
The PDP also lamented that the money released to Bello was not utilised for payment or backlog of salaries, as the money went into private pockets.
Saying it had no confidence in Bello, having squandered over N200bn loans outside statutory allocations, PDP advised workers not to join Bello’s cry in a bid to access the bailout balance, which he would characteristically squander.
After receiving the N20bn, the state government has been blaming the non-payment of salary on the balance. In another breath, it blamed the immediate past administration.
The statement added: “Despite all the monies accruing to the state under Bello’s administration, no single project or meaningful development can be pointed at.”
The PDP appealed to the Federal Government, through the CBN, to conduct an investigation into how the past Bailout, Paris Club refunds and other loans were spent, leaving the arrears to pile up astronomically.
Recently, the Speaker of Kogi State House of Assembly, Prince Matthew Kolawole, speaking on Government’s behalf, said one of the major obstacles to regular payment of salary was the issue of loans and debt servicing.
Kolawole, who made the disclosure during a media parley in Lokoja, indicated that the state government was servicing inherited loans with about N840m monthly from its statutory allocations.
This, he said, had adversely affected payment of workers salaries and general development in the state. He explained that the state inherited huge debts from loans obtained by previous administrations.
He said the state was initially paying about N700m monthly as service on loans accrued during Wada’s administration, but increased to N840m with loans obtained by the present administration.
The Speaker said while Bello’s administration inherited four months’ salary arrears owed state government workers, local government workers were owed about 34 months arrears.
He added that while the immediate past administration paid between 25 and 30 per cent of local government workers salaries, the current administration was paying 65 per cent.
He explained that the governor was currently working on plans to clear all outstanding salaries, even as he maintained that it was not easy to run a state, and that Bello had tried his best and would continue to do his best to uplift the state.
However, Wada’s recent outburst during an Abuja based radio programme may have revealed another dimension to Bello’s leadership style and the much-talked about bailout fund.
The former Governor was invited by the radio station to clear his name on some allegations against him, concerning his stewardship from 2011 and 2016. He was interrogated on the state’s debt profile, which has sky rocketed within the last three and a half years. Similar invitation was extended to Bello to state his side of the story, but he didn’t honour it.
On Bello’s claim that he couldn’t pay salaries because of the non- release of the N30.8bn bailout and the debt it has been servicing in excess of N800m monthly, Wada said: “Kogi was the least indebted state, as my administration owed less than N800m to Zenith Bank. We used it for building classrooms in primary schools.
“So, because other states were owing between N400bn and N500bn, when we applied for the bailout to the tune of N50.8b after calculating the shortfall in payment from 2011 to 2014, with each person’s name listed, it came to N50.8bn as approved by President Muhammadu Buhari.
“Out of the 50.8bn, N45b was for local government. We have 21 local governments, so if you divide that, it is about N2bn per local government to be paid over 20 years at nine percent.
“I saw it as a golden opportunity to clear these problems, reflate Kogi State economy and get our state moving forward again. Unfortunately, the money was not released to me. The CBN Governor was supposed to release the bailout funds.
“I met him four times to let him know the bailout had been approved by the President. I met the President and showed him the tabulations, that the amount was not concocted. Meanwhile, the state had a historic problem of non-payment of full salary to Local Governments.
“Local Governments had full autonomy under my administration. I never touched a kobo of Local Government money. This autonomy they are talking about now, I implemented it 100 percent in Kogi. Since I came to power through God’s grace, I swore to do my best humanly possible to govern the state with justice and equity.
“During my tenure, the people were safe, and we attended to their needs…”
He said the idea of not paying salaries because the bailout balance has not been fully paid was plain misinformation and dishonesty, as bailout had nothing to do with current salaries, which are supposed to be paid by current allocation and Internally Generated Revenue (IGR).
He said: “President Buhari granted us the bailout to clear past problems, so we could have a clean slate. And even the current administration conducted staff verification before accessing the bailout fund. If my government owed N100bn, the Federal Government would not have approved N50bn for Kogi.
“How do you pay back that kind of money? It comes out of your allocation because you sign an ISPO that they should deduct at source. So, we ensured we lived within our means. There was no issue of non-payment of salary during my time. We only owed two months, which we projected, would be paid, but the money was not released.
“So, when they (Yahaya Bello) came and accessed the money, they didn’t know how it was calculated. They didn’t call on any of my people to explain to them. They just started blaming Wada. It is not Wada, but a historical problem from 2011 to 2014.”
On why he did not call a press conference to explain all these, he said a Governor’s position is a highly respected one.
“There is a culture and a way of doing things,” he explained. “You don’t have to go and shout to the press, when you have a systemic problem between you and the Federal Government.
“The President was aware, and even during campaigns, I told the people we had not paid the one month to two months salary because the bailout was not released to us.
“I did my best. I met the President and went to the CBN. I asked other Governors to help me talk to them to release the bailout fund, but because we were not in the ruling party, this was not done.
“As a mature leader, you have to accept these things and move on, but the reality and the truth are constant. They are there and that is what happened.
“So, salary problem in Kogi today has nothing to do with me. I laid a solid foundation, and all the incumbent Governor needed do was to continue building on it. Government is a continuum. I built on my predecessors’ achievement 100 percent…
“I am very proud of the former Governor because he did his best for the state. The foundation upon which I built was laid by him and what I expected the new Governor to also do was build on the foundation I laid…”
The PDP also accused Bello of making mockery of salary payment, as workers receive alerts without money in the accounts.
In a statement, PDP lamented that Bello’s administration has turned salary payment into the defunct MMM, where salaries are selective, creating the impression that workers owed between eight and 18 months had been paid, without their getting alert.
The statement said: “How could bulk SMS alert be sent to workers without cash backing, after much celebration by government for paying December salaries in May, yet majority of the workers have still not received alert?”
Ahead full implementation of Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) policy on new financial regulations on states, local government joint accounts, the state PDP has accused Bello’s Government of deliberate attempt, in collaboration with the United Bank for Africa (UBA) to allegedly circumvent the policy.
This was made known in a press statement issued by Prince Bode Ogunmola in Lokoja, just as it accused Government of allegedly directing eight local government councils to obtain N3bn loan from UBA.
Alleging that the local governments were directed to take the loan for a project to be advertised immediately, the party warned against further indebtedness of the state and councils.