Farouk Adejoh Audu, popularly called the Peoples General, is the chairman, Olamaboro Local Government Area of Kogi State. Audu is happy with the developmental strides of both President Goodluck Jonathan and Governor Idris Wada. To him the introduction of the Subsidy Reinvestment Programs (SURE-P) by President Jonathan has been a blessing not only to Kogi State, but the entire North Central. He also told GOWON EMAKPE in this interview why many local governments in the state are not doing much in developing their councils.
Some critics say that the government of Governor Idris Wada of Kogi State is not performing well enough to improve the life and wellbeing of the people of the state, as a local government chairman in the state, how will you react to that?
On this issue of none performance, is the cheapest criticism you can give anybody. They say President Goodluck Jonathan is not performing, but this is the government that introduced Subsidy Reinvestment Programs (SURE-P), for the development of every part of the country. SURE-P which is a Federal Government initiative has been of immense benefit to us in Kogi
State. If you pass through Abuja -Abaji- Lokoja expressway today, you will discover that for all the eight years of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, all effort was made to dualize the road but they never did so, in fact up to Gwagwalada, they never achieved dualization. But as we speak now, that project is almost ninety percent completed. Jonathan did all that but you
hear people saying Jonathan is not performing, Wada is not performing but they won’t tell you the indices they relied upon to judge these persons. What is the yardstick for measuring their performance? Anybody who doesn’t like you would say you are not performing.
So what is the state government doing?
I will first and foremost address the issues whether the state government is doing anything or not. It is very amusing for somebody to come up with such an attack. The government under Wada is less than two years and within this two years a lot has happened. Most of the on-going projects before he came in unlike most other people who seek personal glory, Wada
committed himself to completing every on -going project. There were 38 road projects embarked upon by Ibrahim Idris. Some of them not even an inch of work had been done. I will give you an example, there was Ogbonicha-Ikemu- Adumu -Ogugu road awarded by Ibrahim Idris. I think some percentage of the contract sum was paid but nothing whatsoever was done before Wada came to office. This is a road within my own local government and Ofu Local Government, as I talk to you, Wada has commenced that contract, it is progressing
steadily and by the grace of God, in at least six months time or thereabouts, that project would be completed. In the same vein, all the other roads have either been completed or they are nearing completion.
But is the governor only concentrating on roads?
Talk about the agricultural revolution in Kogi State, the Minister of Agriculture and several other people had to come to celebrate our governor for his leadership role in food production. Last year alone, Kogi produced enough rice driven by government initiative that can feed the entire country. It was accomplished through Fadama farming. The moment the rains were
over, the river path itself were converted to rice farms. Because Kogi is a riverine state, there was heavy rice production all through the track of river Niger and Benue and other riverine areas. All the state government did was to bring the rice, the machinery for the land preparation, the farm inputs, including expert and gave them to the farmers including unemployed youths and various co-operatives groups and asked everybody to go back to the land. The moment it was ready for harvest and it was harvested, the state government bought the rice
from the people, recovered the money it spent in the production and gave the balance to the people and the rice was processed and that is the rice we are selling in Kogi State today. If you go to any shop in lokoja and up to Abuja, you will find Kogi rice.
There are a lot of unemployed youths in your state, what is the governor doing about that?
There is a youth empowerment scheme initiated by Dr Wada. Most of the unemployed youths in the entire state are being mobilized via the youth advancement scheme (YAD) for Kogi. They keep the city clean and this is the scenario in every local government. It is a scheme that employs the youths, takes them for training to acquire skills in agriculture, carpentry, tailoring, and computer software, etcetera. Most of the trainees at the end of their programme are empowered with loan facility. And throughout the training period they are given
stipends to cater for themselves. You discover that rather than youths hang around during working hours to plot evil out of idleness, they eventually use the loan to develop their own place. So for anybody to say Wada is not doing anything; it is either the person is dishonest or the person is far removed from Kogi State.
But there was the issue of non-payment of workers’ salaries and retrenchment in Kogi State?
What happened was that the local governments complained about what we suspected to be anarchy in the management of primary education and teachers. We had a situation whereby for almost ten years, SUBEB was taking exactly the same amount of money from local government funds purportedly to pay local government teachers and yet there was no record of any school teacher that has died, the ones that had retired, resigned and there were no employment of teachers going on within this period. So why take the same money every day? Are they
saying no teacher died or retired, resigned or found better jobs or even fired within this period? So we raised these issues and it was agreed that a staff audit be done, although most of the education secretaries sabotaged the process because they were the beneficiaries of the fraud. You discover that in a lot of primary schools, there were four five teachers on ground, but on record in the local government education authorities, you found out that there are 25 -30 teachers on their record books. In my local government, I know of this but as chairman,
there is very little I could do about it, because I can’t fire education secretaries even though I can nominate them. So a scenario like this led to the staff audit and it took about one month to do that. So we decided to hold on to the payment of salaries to determine those who were legitimate or not. This staff audit also happened at the local government level where people
are on your pay roll but you don’t know them. When I came to Olamaboro, the staff strength I inherited was 1,902, in that tiny rural local government with a wage bill of N66 million. One day I decided to do table payment and the total number of people that appeared was 1,290 and the table payment lasted for two weeks. Out of this 1, 290 there were people who does not live in that place, because we gave two weeks grace, some of them live in Abuja and work in Abuja, some in Lokoja, in Port-Harcourt, yet every month the small money we were supposed
to use for developmental projects in this very small rural communities, somebody sits down somewhere and it would be entering his bank accounts. Some of them are in the civil defence, civil service and even private employment. I discovered that you cannot eliminate this fraud, but you can only minimise it.
We decided to introduce the electronic clocking devices so that when you come to work in the morning, you clock it, when you close in the evening, you clock out and at the end of the month the computer will register those who came to work and those that didn’t come to work. For those who couldn’t come to work, they must obtain a leave permit. So if you are on
leave, it would indicate. Else, if you are not at work we take disciplinary action against you. If you are absent for say 15 out of 22 working days of the month, I know you are not my staff and so the next month, you get a sack letter for absconding from duty and then the staff strength would reduce. So those were the measures we have taken to reduce the staff strength. So it is not an issue that has to do with Wada, it is an initiative of the local government leaders.
How is your experience two years down the line as chairman of Olamaboro Council?
It is possibly the most challenging experience ever. This is because the local government system in Nigeria for a very long time, particularly since the era of military intervention is something else. Funding has been very inadequate; people’s attitude to work has been totally negative and even the general attitude to local government administration is also negative. The belief out there is that the local government is a center for sharing money; you pay salaries and then share the rest of the money and because of this belief out there, the kind of
pressure that is exerted on the local government is unmatched. Everybody comes along with one proposal or the other with the belief that there is money out there to be taken. But the truth of the matter is that funding is so poor. We have two sources of revenue – internally generated revenue and the statutory allocation from federation account. We all know that our
local government councils were not created based on economic viability perse. It had always been based on one sentiments or the other. Apart from local councils in the South-South and the urban local councils of the country, the rest are extremely poor.
We all depend on the federation account for survival and this depends on the whims and caprices of international trade and possibly Value Added Tax (VAT). As I speak to you, by the time this monies come, the States Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) which by legislation in most states would have to go and dip their hands in local council monies to pay
teachers salaries and this is understandable since in the history of local councils in the country we have discovered that they were not very successful in managing the payment of teachers salary. So after SUBEB takes their own share of the money, you use the rest to pay staff and do developmental projects.
But because SUBEB appears to be almost an outfit without control mechanism to check its activities, they lord it over the local councils. As I speak to you now, in Kogi State, nobody knows the exact population of teachers or the overhead of teachers. But almost half of our allocation is taken to SUBEB and then we are left with the rest to manage our local government areas.
Then on staff salary, when I came to Olamaboro Council, in my first month at the helm, my first allocation was about N53 million, but my salary was N66 million and the situation hasn’t really changed. You discover that in a whole year what you get will not be up to three months that you would get the allocation that would surpass the salary you are paying. Some feel the best thing to do is to negotiate and pay half of your staff salary, or pay part of the salary to be able to do other things. But in spite of this, pressures are coming from everywhere and
then we have a lot of responsibilities like working on our rural feeder roads. In a local government like my own, it is almost impossible to move from point A to point B, but by the grace of God we have been able to overcome that – at least almost all roads in my local government are motorable. We have the challenge of basic drinking water that people take for granted. In a lot of places, especially in local councils that are as poor as ours, people go to scoop water from the ground to drink; they pour the water in earthen pots and wait till the water settles
before they drink from it. But by the grace of God we are overcoming that too. As I talk to you, there are ten boreholes that we have put in place in my local government and then you now ask me how did we manage to do it? This takes us to the Federal Government. SURE- P deserves some credit here.
The funds we use for infrastructure now in a state like Kogi especially in the middle belt are funds coming from SURE -P. VAT and statutory allocations is not enough to pay salaries, but SURE -P has been dedicated to projects alone and this was why we have been able to do any projects at all.
So you mean all you do in the local council is about paying just salaries and sharing the rest of the money?
Well, I will not be hypocritical to speak for everybody. I can only speak for myself. Farouk Adejoh Audu of Olamaboro Council does not share his local government money. You can find that out from anybody. And I know that a lot of my colleagues in Kogi too are struggling. You see, let me tell you, they say when leadership is right, the followership substantially would
be right. When you are a council chairman in Kogi State where Captain Wada is governor and you are also in PDP that produced Captain Wada, in spite of the autonomy that we enjoy, we are cautious because Wada is very prudent with public resources; if he does not fritter it, why would you want to fritter your own? If you are in the good book of the governor, no matter the autonomy you enjoy, you would not be comfortable doing that. So if you don’t see your governor sharing money, why would you be sharing your local government money?