In the past days, there has been a very heavy public outcry on the agony of civil servants in the state of Osun, a southwestern state in Nigeria. The state governor Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola is currently owing the state workers about seven months salaries. And this has affected the general outlook of the state.
You need to be in the state right now and see how everywhere is dry; residents are complaining of serious hardship. In fact, there are reports that one or two pensioners have lost their lives due to this suffering. It is sad and pathetic! To further complicate the issue, the state chapter of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has embarked on an indefinite strike in order to press home the demands of the civil servants. This simply means that there is no more Internally Generated Revenue (the income that accrues to the state) as workers remain at home; students are away from school; health professionals can’t help those in dire need of medical care. No doubt, the state is in a real mess and quagmire.
I’m aware that about half of the states in Nigeria owe workers’ salary but that of Osun is more grievous because it’s a ‘civil-servant-state’ i.e. a large percentage of residents are government workers.
I’m even trying to imagine how our muslim brothers and sisters would cope considering the fact that this is the season of Ramadan. This period requires enough cash to make it more convenient. Is the governor saying anything about the situation on ground?
Last week, in a press statement issued through the media aide of the governor, he said: “This administration remains very sensitive to the welfare of Osun workers. The financial situation of the state that has made it unable for the state government to pay workers’ salary is disheartening and painful. However, no one can establish a single instance of recklessness on the part of this government.”
The current happenings have generated so much tension in the state. I have heard some people call the governor all sorts of names as “clueless”, “wicked” and “heartless”. I wouldn’t blame them anyway. This is because a hungry man is an angry man no doubt. The situation is very terrible but should we throw caution to the wind? Obviously, that’s not necessary. The PDP gubernatorial candidate during the August 9, 2014 governorship election, Senator Omisore recently criticized the governor in a meeting with journalists saying he borrowed over #480 billion to do projects and the burden led to his inability to pay salaries. However, Ogbeni Aregbesola debunked the allegations saying “the debt profile of the state is much lower than the figure Omisore gave.”
Permit me to take you back to November 27, 2010. On this day, Ogbeni Aregbesola was sworn in after he unseated the then governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola of the PDP. The new governor presented a remarkable blueprint which indeed proved that he was very ready to take the state to an enviable height. After listening to this great speech, I knew it was not going to be business as usual. It showed that the new government would be all about the people of Osun and not a few individuals who were ready to suck the state dry.
Lo and Behold, Ogbeni began to actualize his plans for the state. Good roads with proper drainage systems were constructed; beautiful schools with conducive environment were erected; primary school pupils were fed everyday; the stadium was upgraded; health facilities were developed; the security of the state was improved upon and the construction of a state airport was embarked on. Amidst other developmental projects, the senior secondary school students were given ‘Opon Imo’ (portable personal computer) for learning. The state had never witnessed such a great transformation. Little wonder, he became much endeared to the people of Osun from whom he enjoys great support.
In the course of delivering his campaign promises, a handful of his policies were unpopular and that’s expected of any government considering the fact that no government can be perfect. But something very key was missing and that’s a virile opposition. As far as I’m concerned, Osun is a one party state (APC). In democracy, a robust opposition helps to put existing government in check and therefore put those in government on their toes. Unfortunately, the opposition party (PDP) did not do well in that capacity. They could have improved the efficiency and effectiveness of governance of the state through constructive criticism. Perhaps if they did, the state could have avoided some of the mistakes made. A healthy opposition helps to deepen democracy. Is this quagmire a consequence of the weak opposition? Maybe.
I think the governor was consumed by the passion to see his state develop and rank among the best in Nigeria. But the state’s meager revenue restrained him. He’s a great political icon and visionary leader. I beg to disagree with those who say he is heartless and wicked. That’s not true! It’s just that he didn’t get his priorities right; he embarked on many projects at the same time not thinking that the revenue could someday diminish and spell doom for his administration. Sadly, we had a passive federal government which only started taking drastic measures when the price of crude oil had reached a record low at the international market. They could have prepared for this a long time ago.
So until the strike commenced, workers in the state of Osun only labored but didn’t get paid at the end of the month. Not bad enough, it’s for a whole seven months!
Even though we are aware that the state government is currently being run by the governor and just four officials who are reportedly not receiving salaries so as to reduce the cost of governance, the existing situation must be salvaged as a matter of emergency. I really want to believe that the workers would be paid soon as promised by the governor. In a press statement released few days ago, the workers were promised that their salaries would be paid before June 30, 2015. I’m very hopeful.
Ogbeni Aregbesola and the other governors must learn from this. Change is inevitable and those in one position of leadership or the other must note this. In as much as they want their vision translated into reality, provisions must be made for unforeseen circumstances that could come up at any time. The earlier they realise this, the better it is. God bless Nigeria!
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