The staff screening/ verification exercise and probe of some former Governors by the administration of Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State may be a wild goose chase
Richard Elesho/ Lokoja
The Kogi State Government has brought its nearly one year old Staff Screening and Verification exercise into a hiatus. Recently, Governor Yahaya Bello led government came up with two broad lists namely cleared and uncleared lists. Those on the cleared list heaved a sigh of relieve as they are said to be the one recognized as genuine civil servants, spotless and without blemish. For those on the uncleared list it was sorrows, tears and fears as they are believed to be ghost workers which the government is determined to give final burial and bar permanently from activities exclusive to the living, notably being on the pay role of government. But trouble is, the said uncleared list also contain many names among the living.
One of such is Olu Onietan, a retired teacher who said he was last paid his meager pension in December 2015. The offense listed against his name is that he has been receiving over payment as a pensioner and should come and refund same. For many of the people on the uncleared list, their problem is summarized as “unsually high cash flow in salary account that cannot be explained…” Others are accused of discrepancies in Dates of Birth, DOB, falsification of academic records/ certificates, lack of Bank Verification Number, BVN and underage employment.
The result of the exercise has been long overdue. On Friday 23rd Dec. the Screening Review and Complaint Committee headed by the State auditor General Yakubu Yusufu Okala presented its report to the Governor without fun-fare, in fact almost in camera as it lacked the razzmatazz and the propaganda of the previous exercise which was given live coverage on national television. During the unadvertised presentation according to figures released by Madam Petra Akinti, the committee told the governor it has cleared 43,522 workers out of a total 76,275 that appeared before it. According to the report, uncleared workers as at December 1, were 32,753 across the state.
Although the govt has said repeatedly in the past that the exercise was to bring sanity and efficiency into the civil service without witch hunting anybody, the final outcome has thrown many families into fear and agony. This first year anniversary gift to the workers may have further plummeted whatever is left of the Yayah Bello led administration’s approval rating.
Mid January, both academic and non academic staff of tertiary institutions owned by the state took to the streets to protest the irregular, lopsided and haphazard payment of salaries which have been the flagship of the Bello leadership. The workers gathered at Kogi State Polytechnic and called on Bello to suspend the mass sack of their members which the screening portends and pay their arrears of salaries ranging variously from one, three, six, eight and twelve months depending on the peculiarity of each case, failure which they threatened to embark on industrial action. As at the time of this report, the workers are on “warning strike” in the state Polytechnic, University and Colleges of Education.
Senior citizens have particularly been bearing the brunt of the Bello government. Most of them have not been paid their monthly stipends since the Governor came to office last year January and undenied reports say Bello had complained about the number of retirees in the state. In fact, the traumatized and helpless pensioners rose from an emergency meeting last week where they handed Bello a 14- ultimatum to pay their gratuities and pension arrears of between three to thirteen months or witness their wrath. That is not all. Staff of some Local Governments went on sporadic demonstrations across the state as they were seriously affected by the report. For instance out of 703 staff of Mopamuro LG, only 199 are said to be cleared leaving 604 others hanging in the balance and living in the wilderness of ennui. Out of about 300 education staff, only 77 were cleared and more than 90 pensioners are on the uncleared list in the Local Government. The situation is not different in other local governments.
Members of the State House of Assembly last week stepped into the matter. Member representing Igalamela Odolu Elder Friday Sani called attention of his colleagues to the issue in a motion he brought under matter of urgent public importance. The House gave the Screening committee a 24-hour ultimatum to bring its controversial report to the House. That request is yet to be granted, as at the time of this report. It is not clear what further steps the Lawmakers may take to enforce compliance.
On 27th January when he was inaugurated without a Deputy, Gov.Bello did not leave any one in doubts about his desire to sanitise governance in the State. “To enforce our commitment to accountability.,” he started “the incoming administration will employ technology and a multilayered system of checks and balances to block all leakages in our financial processes and improve our wealth creation and retention capabilities…we will run this blueprint along with civil service reforms to change the orientation of our workers and improve their productivity”
Given the advantage of his young age, not a few people believed the Governor would hit the ground running. They were not disappointed. Within weeks of assuming power, Bello began to give flesh to the skeletons of his earlier remarks about checking the financial books of the State. The first step was taken on Monday, Feb 22nd when he inaugurated a Staff Screening and Verification Committee. It was headed by a retired army General, Paul Olushola Okuntimo of the infamous military joint task force in Ogoniland in the 1990s when the late despot, Sani Abacha held the country by the jugular.
The Okuntimo committee’s mandate was to screen out ghost workers from government pay rolls in the State. From that inauguration till date, the Committee has bent round many corners and even given birth to other amorphous committees, but its main mandate has been left largely unfulfilled.
Once it was inaugurated, the Okuntimo Committee went about its assignment with military high handedness. Soon allegations of indiscipline, fraud and inordinate mass sack made the rounds against it. Labour became apprehensive and demanded for its sack.
Thus, in order to salvage his intentions of repositioning the civil service, Bello sacrificed Okuntimo and replaced him with Dr. Jerry Agbaji, a nominee of the NLC state chairman Com. Johnson Onu Edoka. On Tuesday, 24th June, Bello inaugurated a back up committee headed by Okala, the State Auditor General, to work with the existing committee.
Things were on the fast lane. On Wednesday June 22nd when Agbaji submitted its report, it was marred beyond redemption. So bad was the report that out of its 29 members, 12 who represented NLC affiliate unions declined to append their signatures. Okala in a remark said the field work of the Agbaji group was excellent, but it’s desk work was “marred by substantial fraud and high level of irregularities.”
Enraged by the shoddy job, Bello immediately disbanded it and upgraded the back up committee to assume responsibilities for full fledged Staff Screening and Verifications.The reformed committee submitted its report on 26th July. The presentation was celebrated as a major achievement and covered live on national television.
The committee gave a detailed presentation of its findings. It disclosed that out of the 88,973 people it screened at the State and local governments, 18,211 were classified as ghost workers and unintended beneficiaries. It announced a monthly saving of 1.3 billion for the state from the exercise.
The Goveernor was impressed, but not done. The genuine workers who were affected by the screening cried blue murder. Subsequently on 8th August, Bello inaugurated a 23-member review committee, headed by Okala. Although the review committee was given six weeks to tidy up and submit its work, it has already spent about five months before Bello smelled its submissions last week.
Worse still the Governor received knocks for the level of inconvenience, discomfort and occasional deaths that attended its operations. For example, workers and pensioners from the 21 Local Governments were forced to come to Lokoja for screening. In the course of the migrations, many of them were robbed while others were involved in accidents that killed them.
That is not all. It was a common sight to find senior citizens enduring hunger and extremely poor conditions around the Government House just to be screened by the almighty review committee. Worse still, many of the civil servants and retirees were clamped in police cells for inabilities to explain certain discrepancies in their official records. Once apprehended, a detainee could only regain freedom after payment of N20,000 bail fine.