The governor of Kogi State and the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the November 21 election in the state, Idris Ichalla Wada, has accused the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele of working in collaboration with the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in the state, Abubakar Audu, to frustrate the bailout package for the state, thereby, compounding the woes of workers and pensioners in Kogi for political gains. He disclosed this in an interview, in his office in Lokoja, the state capital.
There are three categories of bailout out money. One is commercial bank exposure of the state governments debts over the years that is impacting on the revenue of the state governments and limiting their capacity to pay salaries. Mr. President approved the resolution of the National Economic Council to extend some funds to states to restructure their commercial bank debts.
Kogi is one of the lowest states in terms of commercial bank debt exposure in the country. Our debt at that time was N816 million, less than a billion naira. Even as at today, it is about N700 million, that has now been restructured by the FG.
The second category was salaries of workers. So, we compiled the outstanding salaries of our primary school teachers, local government employees and civil servants. Let us recognize that in Nigeria that there are three tiers of government, FG get their money directly from the Federation Account, state governments directly from the Federation Account and local governments directly from the account.
In our case, they are supposed to remit N1.32 billion local government money every month for the payment of teachers’ salaries, while the balance is used to pay their workers as well as develop their areas. The state government has no interference in this, we have total autonomy in the operation of our LG system. There is a joint allocation meeting chaired by the Commissioner for Local Government, but the key members are the LG chairmen.
What brought all this problem was the introduction of minimum wage. The FG agreed with the National Union of Teachers, the National Union of Local Government Employees and Nigerian Labour Congress to operate minimum wage. This minimum wage led to a phenomenal increase in Kogi salary liabilities. So when the money coming in could not meet the salary obligation, we reached an arrangement with our local unions that we couldn’t pay 100% but only 60%. So, since 2011, we have been paying 60% of the agreed minimum wage.
So when the FG brought out this bailout package, they said states could apply to pay over 20 years period at 9% interest rate. We aggregated all our exposure in the outstanding percentage payment to our local government workers and teachers and applied for the bailout to clean it all out and give confidence that, it is because the money coming was not enough, that we could not pay full salaries. Kogi was one of the first states to apply with complete documentation, but many states that applied after us, some of them even copied our presentation, they have been given. I have gone to see the CBN Governor three times and I went to the President to complain that are we being delayed.
We also applied for fund to cover pension liabilities and outstanding gratuities of our government. These liabilities are things I inherited, some of them existed from the creation of Kogi, but when this window was opened, the sensible thing to do is to use it to clean up the liabilities and move forward. We applied for the bailout and supplied all the documentation.
The CBN approved and advertised the entire amount they have approved for all states. They said they approved N50.8 billion for Kogi in the following structure: N 4.9 billion for civil servants, about N23 billion for LG employees and about N21 billion for our teachers. They advertised it in the newspapers. They didn’t call us to say this is what they had approved. They started releasing to various states and didn’t release to us. So I went to the CBN Governor and asked that what is going on, he said they will soon get to us. At a critical meeting, he committed that within the following week, they were going to release the money, but up till now they have not.
The next thing we know is for the APC governorship candidate in the state to be boasting in his campaign that they will not release the money until he becomes the governor; that he is going to win the next election and that APC is in charge of the Federal Government, that they have blocked the release of the money to Kogi.
This is shocking because this country belongs to all of us; whether you are in APC or PDP, the interest of the people is why we come to public service. So, if you say you want to be governor of a state, why will you block what will improve the lives of the workers of our state? It will improve the economy because everybody that collects salary will buy one thing or the other, and that is how the money circulates to improve the lives of the people.
I have done everything I can, which include seeing the President, who said he had no problem authorizing the release of the money, but why the CBN governor has refused to release the money is what I don’t know. They asked us to bring biometric verification of the teachers and local government employees. We have done it. They asked us to bring BVN verification of these people, we collected those that have done their and told them that others have not because the time frame for BVN registration has not elapsed. Immediately, we wrote a circular to our employees and unions that they should they get their BVN as they will not be able to receive their money without it. I challenge the CBN to tell Nigerians, which other state they put through this type of process? This is injustice, it is unfair.
Do you think this is political?
It is political and unfortunate, Nobody has taken the trouble that I have taken to get this money for our state. This is not the money that can be mismanaged or misappropriated because the names of people, with the amount due to them, their account numbers and their BVN are there with biometric verification so how can you take out of the money except someone willingly gives you his own money?
I am confident it is not the intention of Mr. President. The clear intent of President Buhari was to help Nigerian workers; so I don’t want anybody to drag him into it. This mischief is between some APC leaders, especially from Kogi and the CBN Governor, who should explain to Nigerians why he (CBN Governor, Emefiele) is holding the money due to Kogi. Honourably, the CBN Governor should come out and tell the world what we have done wrong so that we can correct it; we are not infallible. But to tie it to election is bad for the democracy of this country.
We have been meticulous here. All outstanding pension and gratuities have been paid. We are also paying all current pensioners in the state. All these we are dealing with are historic, they are things we inherited.
Improving IGR and infrastructure development
When I came into office, the state was generating between N150 and N180 million a month because Kogi is a civil service state with two major companies- Dangote Cement and Ajaokuta Steel. Ajaokuta Steel has been dead for 30 years; so Dangote is the main industry we have. We are encouraging people and other new industries are coming up; hopefully, in the next five to ten years, we will be able to leverage on solid minerals.
When we came in, we said we needed ways to survive as a state without federal allocation and we started taking steps. One was to clean up manual tax clearance. We decided to digitalize the process to manage our revenue generation; so, now, we are generating between N550 and N600 million a month, which is about 300 percent increase of what we met. We have blocked many of the loopholes where people were stealing money and we are continuing to improve. We have also widened the tax net; so it is ongoing reform which is improving our IGR strength.
Some of the infrastructure projects our government is doing is also tailored to improve the IGR of the state. We are building an 11-storey Kogi House in Abuja right in the Central Business District which will be a major income earner for the state. By next year, the building will be completed because they are on the 11th floor.
We are rebuilding what we called Kogi Hotel which will be a major comfort centre for tourists and visitors to the state. It will also serve as a revenue earner. We are also building a mega motor park, the first of its kind in northern Nigeria to tidy road transportation in the state. The terminal looks like an airport and our estimate is that about 10,000 people will go through that terminal and that will generate revenue for Kogi. It will be private sector driven so that it can survive. We are building a modern abattoir to also generate revenue.
We are building a golf course and renovating our Confluence Beach Hotel, to boost tourism in the state. We are building 500 housing units which we are going to sell and generate revenue to build more. So, many of the projects we are doing are to improve the income generation of the state, and we are not engaging in white elephant projects to impress anybody. We are doing practical projects that add meaning to the lives of the people.
We are building a modern diagnostic centre, a four-storey building close to our specialist hospital with modern and sophisticated equipment along with a laboratory, that will make this place a centre of excellence in medical care and diagnosis of illness; so instead of people rushing to Ilorin, Abuja, Enugu, Lagos, our people will be willing to come here, thereby generating medical tourists into the state once the facilities are launched.
Attacks from opposition
You will not expect the opposition to praise us, even if we paint everywhere in Kogi with gold. It is normal in politics.
Prudent management of meager resources
We have done a lot and you have to compare what we have done to the resources available. Our average income per month over the last two years is about N3.5 billion; the salary of the state is about N2.6 billion. The money we need to pay pension, support our tertiary institutions, subventions to ministries is about N500 to 600 million a month. Pension alone is about N467 million because it is from 1991 till date, so what is left? Every month, I have maybe N200 million, sometimes N400 million or N500 million to execute projects. I also inherited about 30 projects ongoing which I am committed to completing for the benefit of the people because, once your predecessors have put money in a project, if you abandon it; it is the people who will lose. So we made a policy that we will complete ongoing projects and we have completed several.