One Governor rules his State like the Greek King Sisyphus who was notorious for his imperious, self-aggrandizing, bullish style; the other governs his State like a Mujaheed, perpetually waging a Jihad in the quest to coerce more adherents to his religion. How did Oyo State Governor, Isiaka Ajimobi, get to the point where school children trooped out of their classrooms and unto the streets, carrying placards that read “Thief” and chanting “Ole, Ole, Ole”? When a dog that used to wag its tail upon seeing you starts to bark at you, then you need to examine what drove down your stock; what damaged your credibility; what erased your respect. And for Aregbesola, how in the world could he have sacrificed education at the altar of religion to the extent that both Christians and Muslims are now at his throat? The formally popular crooner, who people used to carry aloft when he sang, and for whom people danced at rallies, is now so unpopular that if he were to try singing in public, Osun people would shout him down. What led to the demystification of these two APC Governors?
The common denominators in Osun and Oyo States are that both Governors are members of APC; they are in their second and final terms, and they owe months of salary backlog. True, many Governors (including even Bayelsa Governor) owe salaries like it is the new fad among Governors. Not only do they owe salaries, they also owe local and foreign entities significant amounts of debts. Some of them shamelessly owe pensions! In essence, they have literally mortgaged the future of their citizenry. But what is giving the people of Osun and their cousins in Oyo a lot of angst is the embarrassment that their own States, with all the sophistication the people proudly flaunt as they strut around the Nigerian landscape, could elect (and reelect) Governors who cannot balance their States’ checkbook. If anybody ran his personal business or bank account the way these two Governors have run their States, they would be pauperized – which is the state in which these two States are right now.
Oyo State people could not believe that it would take their Governor a whole year to form a legitimate Executive Council, an act which required him to appoint Commissioners. Ajimobi’s excuse for not making those appointments was that since he owed salaries, he would not be able to defend such appointments before the people. And his excuse for owing salaries (as is the excuse proffered by Aregbesola and the rest of the other pedestrian Governors) is that there has been a significant reduction in the monthly subventions he receives in the form of Federal allocation from Abuja. Well, surprise, surprise! I’ll be damned! I’ll be damned if my undergraduate child who normally gets N100 feeding allowance is thrown into a quandary if I cut the allowance to N50 without warning. But I will forgive her for being a child and not understanding that things change and they can change for the worse unexpectedly.
I will not forgive a Governor though. And the people of Oyo and their cousins in Osun are not going to forgive Ajimobi and Aregbesola for not having the foresight to prepare for the rainy day that is upon their respective States today. They had the time. They cannot claim, like Buhari or a first-term Governor, that they met an empty treasury. Their treasuries have had at least five years of replenishment. And in Aregbesola’s case, he has had six years during which he could have laid a solid foundation for Osun State’s self-sustenance. Both of them could have done more to sever their respective States from near-complete dependency on nourishment from the Abuja umbilical cord. But they remained hooked and glued to Aso Rock’s doling out of stipends and they turned those stipends into their primary sources of income to the extent that their own States could not generate enough funds to carry their recurrent expenditures! If you call yourself a rich man and you hire a cook, a cleaner, a chauffeur, a maid and a personal assistant; and then you start owing them salaries, you are either just a pretend-rich man or an irresponsible person.
Ever since oil prices fell, capital projects have come to a grinding halt in both States. And salaries, which are legitimate earnings of civil servants, became goodies that the Governor gives out to civil servants whenever he feels like it. In the past, Aregbesola, once owing about eight months of salaries (chai!), justified paying half-salaries with the fact that he and his civil servants agreed it was better than sacking them. And borrowing a wilted leaf from Aregbesola, Ajimobi too is now claiming it is okay to owe salaries since he kept the leadership of the civil service informed of the dire situation in which the state’s finances had fallen. In his usually haughty mien, Ajimobi told the story of how he presented them with noble ideas of how best to solve the money problem. One such idea was to pay just the junior workers since they needed the money more than the senior folks. Another idea was to reduce the over-bloated workforce by sacking people since, in his own words, “we only need about 30% of them” to run the state anyway.
Of course, the civil servants balked at the two blackmails and opted for the “pay-us-whenever-you-can” system that has seen the State run an average of five months backlog of salaries. This is why the civil servants were reticent about going on strike. They “understood” why the government could not pay them. Oyo State’s civil servants, Osun State’s civil servants, and a whole bunch of other states’ civil servants have not gone on strike either because they are receiving a fraction of their salaries or they are threatened with mass retrenchment.
So, for the rest of us who are not civil servants but who still find it hard to meet our financial responsibilities, we are bound to ask the following questions: How are these workers getting by without salaries for several months? Haven’t they been paying rents? Haven’t they been paying school fees of their children? Didn’t they buy petrol at N250 per liter at some point? Aren’t they buying petrol at N145 per liter right now? How have they been getting money to buy food? Do these unpaid workers go to work on time and regularly? Do they do their jobs with the dedication and diligence required of them? What about couples who are both employed by the same State? How do they keep their sanity? And you can go on ad infinitum with questions about how grown men and women survive without salaries. I consider myself relatively well-paid; yet, I do not see how I would survive, let alone maintain my dignity if I am owed two months salaries. I do not know how I could keep showing up for work, let alone do my job diligently if my employers owe me two months salaries.
It is one thing for an employer to owe salaries due to some unforeseen circumstances; it is another for the same employer to not have a concrete solution for remedying the unforeseen circumstances and, therefore, no assurances of when exactly the salaries would be paid. The despair, the despondency, the desperation and the disillusionment wrought on a worker by the lack of confidence that his hard work would be promptly remunerated could compromise his integrity. The Pope, the Imam and the Archbishop could all be tested beyond the limits of piety when they cannot feed their families; how much more people with less faith in religion.
We all have one or two family members and friends in the civil service and we know the depth to which their commitment and loyalty to the State have fallen now that they are not being paid. And if the government catches any of them demanding and or taking bribes, could it, in good conscience, prosecute them?
So, I ask myself: what is the difference between an APC governor and a PDP or Labor party Governor who all cannot pay salaries on time? None. The PDP governor in Bayelsa State who collects 10-fold what Ajimobi collects in Federal allocation and still owes salary is no worse than Ajimobi. I reject Ajimobi’s not-so-veiled justification for being a salaries deadbeat Governor in his comparison of the disparity in Bayelsa and Oyo Federal allocation. If my APC governor lacks the creativity, foresight, courage and political will to do what is right, why should I not try a PDP governor the next time…perhaps the one that may not be as arrogant or as narcissistic? What has Governor Rauf Aregbesola done in Osun State that Iyiola Omisore (God forbid bad thing o) would not have done if he were in charge? How much deeper could anybody run Osun or Oyo into ignominy? What has Ajimobi done in Oyo with Federal allocation that is so special? I am sick and tired of governors blaming their poor managerial skills on the shortfall in Federal allocation. In five years, how come an APC Governor cannot generate enough funds within his own State to cover salaries of his own employees and then plan on spending Federal allocations on Capital projects? How come? Why have they become ordinary “glorified resource allocators” bereft of any constructive ideas about making their States viable? How hard is it for anybody to receive money from Abuja and just allocate? My three-year-old could do that!
And don’t ask me to tell you how to do it, Governor; you are the Governor, not me. You figure it out. You are the one riding around in siren-blaring motorcades. You are the one for whom we all stand when you enter the room. You are the one with the “Excellency” prefixed to your name. It is the job for which you campaigned. Leadership is not a popularity contest. In my line of work, leadership is defined as the provision of purpose, motivation and direction to your subordinates. I dare add that it is the exemplification of bravery in scary moments, strength of character in tough times and unwavering candor when the truth is unpalatable. Rather than ask workers to either sacrifice their salaries or lose their jobs because the State only needs 30% of its workforce, a responsible leader who craves the respect and trust of the populace would have cut the workforce by 30%. But when the leader is living in obscene opulence, with what mouth would he convince the hewer of wood and the drawer of water that they should pay N1000 for each of their children in secondary schools as fees?
Yes, if Ajimobi cut the workforce to 30%, the backlash would have been severe. The 70% retrenched would have joined the long unemployment queues. But he would have gotten away with it if he got off his high horse and explained to his employers (the people) why he had to do it. And if he lost re-election because of that, he would have satisfied his conscience that he did what he believed to have been the right thing for his people. A true leader does not lead by blackmail but by conviction. No! Not by consensus; not by being dictatorial; but by conviction. Government is a continuum…or rather, should be a continuum. If Ajimobi bequeaths unto the next governor a civil service that is 70% over-strength, hasn’t he just kicked the can of retrenchment down the road? Wouldn’t the State still have to sack people?
But Aregbesola’s problems are compounded by his not-so-subtle incitement of religious battles in his own State. I have never known a Governor who willy-nilly wakes up a sleeping, rabid dog when he does not have an antidote for rabies. I won’t be surprised if he introduces Sharia Law in Osun before he leaves office.
Ajimobi may spend the rest of his second term dealing with his self-inflicted Sisyphean task. And Aregbesola may spend the rest of his second term dealing with the anti-Jihadist elements he has created. Somebody close to them should tell them that they are disconnected from the people they are governing. If gubernatorial elections were held today in Oyo and Osun States, it would be safe to bet that neither Governor would be reelected. If they care about their legacies, they better retrace their steps.