These are really disturbing times in Nigeria. Almost everywhere one goes, the stories are the same. Epileptic power supply, biting fuel scarcity, tanker explosions, intense Boko Haram bombings and attacks, petty agitations in the Niger-Delta, spiralling debts, economic downturn, naira depreciation to mention a few.
One does not need to live in Nigeria to feel the huge collective melancholia. The challenges Nigeria faces today would have been better imagined in pre-colonial times than now. Even the decade preceding independence was better off compared to the decade preceding our return to democratisation.
As a Nigerian, you have to develop a very thick skin to be able to endure the ensuing pain that comes with living in the country. The excruciating pain that comes with living in Nigeria and as a Nigerian seems worse when compared to living in a country like Sudan. Sudan can only promise you guns and bullets but in Nigeria, guns and bullets are little compared to what one faces on a second basis.
For those of us who were born in Nigeria and have had their being in the country would testify that Nigeria has not had it good in a very long time. When we compare how we started to where we are today, the picture can only be that of gloom. A country like ours has not only failed to move forward but also continue to grapple with challenges of the past. Even as this we speak, there is still no end in sight to the perennial problem of fuel scarcity not to talk of epileptic power.
As if that is not enough, those very people the vast majority of Nigerians had to pursue the much needed change the country desperately yearns for at this critical time are still engaged in a power struggle to get thing right or wrong, depending on whose side of the divide one belongs. They forget so soon that what was good for Tambuwal in the past should also be good for Saraki in the present.
Nothing could be more disturbing today in Nigeria, aside the usual listed above, than the inability of state governors across the country to pay workers. This writer finds it quite shocking that Nigeria has reached a level where we can no more pay salaries to its workers despite over six years of boom. More shocking is the fact that not one, not two, three, four, five or six but seven month salaries are owed workers in not more than 18 states today yet the governors of these states wake up every with the belief everything is fine.
In a country where more than half of its population, amidst lack of basic necessities of life and collapsed infrastructure, struggle to survive, the worst thing one could do to such people is to delay their earned wages. It is not only the height of irresponsibility but an act unbecoming of one with human conscience to owe workers for 7 months.
Nowhere has this ugly occurrence become a source of concern other than in the State of Osun where its Omoluabi governor was said to have declared few days back that its hands were tied. The State of Osun is being lampooned by a vast majority of people not because it is the only state that cannot pay its workers but because of the sheer arrogance displayed by the governor.
Despite the death of pensioners in the state and inability to pay salaries for more than half a year, the government boasted to the people that it had done creditably well. One would have assumed that the governor meant he had completed as many as six skyscrapers across the state’s geo-political zones, dualised completed the Gbongan/Osogbo road, constructed a 21st century railway station, turned the Osun groove into a foremost tourist destination in all of Africa, provided 24-hour water supply to the poorest communities in the state and through economic wizardry helped increase the IGR from what it used to be.
For the governor, all the above did not point as a sign of infrastructural developments to show he has done well. Rather, the provision of Opon Imo (Tablets of Knowledge), distribution of school uniforms to all public school students, welfare for old and vulnerable persons as well as support for farmers remain the yard stick for performance. While this writer is not in any way against the provision of some of these amenities, it is however, wrong for a government that owes its workers for a whole seven months to have openly declared to the people and the world that it had done creditably well.
There are quite a number of questions begging for answers as far as Osun state is concerned. But the pertinent question are: how did a state as poor as Osun spend its allocations in the last couple of years? What did the government spend the allocation received from the centre on in the last four to five years? Did the governor think of saving any excess amount accrued from the centre at any point? Didn’t the state generate revenue within the state in the last couple of years and if it did, how much was generated? Did the governor receive security votes? If he did, how much was accrued to the state and how was it spent? These are questions that are begging for serious answers and until few or all are given, we may likely get to nowhere.
However, Aregbesola should have known better. A governor who had to wait for seven months after so much outcry and criticism by a large section of the state population before openly admitting there was nothing he could do to pay workers, shows how a number of governors today care less about the welfare of their people. It is saddening though that despite his open confession that he could not pay workers because of dwindling allocation, he couldn’t do what people who had failed in their duties do – resign or bow out honourably when the ovation was loudest. People need to understand that honour and a good name are better than infamy.
Even as Aregbesola has returned to the federal government cap in hand for help, a task he had once vowed sometime in the past he would never embark upon, it is hoped amidst continued dwindling resources and revenue at the Centre that he would take bold, radical and drastic steps to free money within the state to be able to pay workers and bring life back to a state that has remained in coma for some time.
Based on the harsh economic realities that confront us today as a nation, Aregbesola needs to take a cue from many of the reforms taking place in Kaduna state recently and elsewhere. He should lead first by example by cutting his salaries and allowances by half. Same should be extended to his deputy governor. All aides that continue to be a drain to the lean resources of the state should be done away with while keeping just a few until the situation normalises. This should also extend to all local government political office holders and even the legislature. It is understood that the governor does not have commissioners for a long time. If this is true, it is a good development in this moment of economic downturn. All Permanent Secretaries should be mandated to act in both capacities until things change for the state. It is also understood that the state owns or “leased” a helicopter which it claims was procured as part of the administration’s comprehensive security measures to drive criminals from the state and assist in beefing up the Osun Swift Action Squad.
For whatever reasons the helicopter was bought which for a poor state as Osun is not necessary, the helicopter had outlived its usefulness, especially because Osun State in the last one to two years has not witnessed any form of threat to lives and properties. The governor should know that leasing a helicopter for surveillance purposes would cost the government huge sums of money to service or maintain which at the moment it does not have.
Therefore, the government should concentrate more on community policing and work hand in hand with the police to complement and further the reign of peace the state has been known for in the last few years. Furthermore, the governor should begin to scrap unwarranted agencies that add little or no value to the state and merge other ministries. Having a little less than 13 ministries at this time till things normalise would greatly help in freeing up funds to help the economy of the state.
It is a surprise that the state cannot give account of what it had generated internally in the last seven to eight months. This should be worked on in the overall interest of the state. An aggressive tax collection system should be put in place to get more revenues for the state. Policies that would fetch in more money for the state should be initiated and aggressively pursued. At a time like this, those in power should be able to think out of the box on how to solve the economic quagmire that has befallen us as a nation. The era of waste and profligate spending is over. If it is through tourism which it has in abundance the State of Osun can re-engineer, someone in the cabinet should be thinking deeply on how to get it done.
This is also the time where agriculture can bail the state out of its current economic woes. With vast but wasted lands across the state, the government can redefine its agricultural schemes that will enable farmers perform better. Lastly, the government should do away with lavish projects that won’t impact on the lives on the common man.
Constructing over-head bridges will never be appreciated by the same people such was built for under an empty stomach or lean salaries. Bridges will not put food in their stomach but the wages paid them.
The State of Osun has the capacity to transform itself into a hub of economic success. Being tagged a poor state doesn’t properly reflect who the people are and what the state have always represented. It is not rocket science to get things done properly. When workers are owed salaries for so long, it dampens their moral and also affects the sustainability of the economy because it is through their earned wages that demand and supply can co-exist.
Also, when salaries are not paid, it tends to place the society on a ticking time-bomb. Lack of money breeds insecurity, especially for those who having worked diligently are not paid their entitlements. It is hoped the State of Osun will not be embroiled in a conflagration.
The unfortunate situation where religious groups like CAN and both private and public citizens have suddenly become welfare providers doesn’t augur well for the state and the image of the government as a whole. Now is the time to show the true essence of the word Omoluabi.
Article written by Raheem Oluwafunminiyi