Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State in this interview speaks on some burning issues in the state, especially on the spate of kidnapping and issues emanating from the staff screening exercise. Excerpts:
By Boluwaji Obahopo
What have you discovered from the staff screening exercise?
The screening exercise was very interesting as a lot of revelations; a lot of shoddy deals were unravelled. I took my time to visit the collation centre to have first-hand information about the exercise and after that, I visited some schools in Lokoja to see if what was collated at the collation centre tallied with the reality on the ground.
Having met with the NUT representatives and various head teachers in the state, I decided to visit some schools within the state capital particularly Army Day Primary School and two other primary schools.
As a result of the ghost workers discovered during the screening we said that should we pay salaries of local government workers immediately, we would pay billions of naira into the pocket of few individuals, and it would not be healthy for the state.
How true is it that the exercise could lead to the retrenchment of as much as 50% of the workforce?
There shouldn’t be any fear about the ongoing screening exercise. No single genuine worker of Kogi State will be sacked. If you are a genuine worker, you will be screened, paid whether you are in the service of the state or local government.
What is happening now where people are protesting comes from those who have been benefiting from the rotten system whereby one person had multiple names on the payroll, and those people will definitely be affected by the screening exercise, and they are the ones who don’t want it to succeed, and that was why they decided to send their cohorts to take to the streets.
There should be no tension because after the exercise if anybody is left out and has genuine complaint he or she can forward it and I want to make it clear that we are not retrenching, we are not downsizing, rightsizing or leftsizing because it is not our focus for now.
We cannot be intimidated to the point of abandoning the screening. I am particularly aware that the bailout fund that was computed earlier by the immediate past administration was heavily padded. The bailout fund is not a grant, it is not free money, Kogi State will pay back, and every kobo that is being paid will affect the economy of the state.
So the right thing must be done this time around, and I am not ready to renege on my promise to reform the civil service both at the state and local government levels, though this effort is taking our time, we have to painstakingly take our time to remove the ghost workers from the payroll.
What efforts are you putting in place to rid the state of criminals now terrorising the state?
Before I took over the mantle of leadership of the state in January this year, kidnapping and other criminal activities were at the highest level in some parts of the state.
The newly appointed local government administrators are already organising vigilante groups to assist in fishing out the hoodlums at the grassroots and with all these efforts put in place we will go after the criminals, we will hunt them down to their hideouts, we will pursue them into the bush, smoke them out until the state is free of all heinous crimes.
To restore hope in the youth of this state, we are planning agricultural programmes where they will be fully engaged to earn a living. Though there are some youths who are recalcitrant, and they don’t want to do anything meaningful that will add value to their lives, we are appealing to them so that they can be part of government gesture to enable them better their future.
Again, those who have been stealing Kogi wealth through over-bloated payroll, we will fish them out and recover the money they carted away. We will not stop at that; they will face prosecution to serve as a deterrent to others.
I am assuring the people of the state that there will be no sacred cow in this fight against fraudulent activities that retarded the development of the state.
What are your plans for the disbursement of the bailout fund?
To the best of my knowledge, the bailout fund was meant to pay the arrears of workers’ salaries and other allowances they were entitled to collect but not paid to them in the past.
The government does not need a committee to pay monthly salaries and as such we will follow all the processes that normally lead to payment of workers’ salaries using government machinery.
Involving a committee for that purpose will mean that we have to pay their allowance, and we don’t even have money for that. We have the list of genuine workers government owed salaries both at the state and local government level, the record of various unpaid salaries and the months are there, once the screening exercise is being completed, we will disburse the fund through government machinery the way and manner monthly salaries are paid to the workers through their various bank account.
I am also assuring the workers that no Kobo will be paid cash, it will be through bank transfer so that the disbursement can be audited by anybody.
We will make sure that the disbursement is properly done so that we can also access the balance of the bailout to put smile on the faces of Kogi workers especially the local government staff who for long have been collecting percentage salaries.
Also, I have said it often without numbers that this administration will not spend a kobo belonging to the state without recourse for accountability. This state has suffered enough in the hands of fraudsters who do not believe that Kogi State should grow.
Therefore, whoever that is willing to work with me should have it at the back of his mind that he is not coming to serve to siphon the state resources because such characters can never go on the same train with me.
Beside the screening exercise, what other things are you planning for the state in term of development?
First and foremost we met a state that was decayed in all sectors. The resources which ought to have been used to effect positive development were being carted away by few opportunistic individuals who do not have the interest of the state at heart.
We are ready to recover those stolen funds from all the projects that are executed in the past. We are not only concerned about the issue of salary; we will extend our tentacles beyond that, and that was why we will block all the loopholes that have been established in the past.
We have a cardinal point we will look into such as education, health, and agriculture among others. Even the civil service reform will not stop at the screening; we will also go into how these workers can be trained and retrained for effective service delivery.