N5 billion Okowa’s Greek Gift to workers
By Jon Egie
The release of 5 billion naira by Governor Okowa to clear the backlog of local government workers’ salaries across the state laudable as the gesture postulates is however trailed by misgivings.
The Executive Assistant on Communications to the governor, Mr Latimore Fred Oghenesivbe has described Governor Okowa, by the gesture, as a consummate leader with uncommon passion for human capital development and a man who places top priority on the welfare and well being of workers in the state.
According to Latimore, Governor Okowa graciously and happily released the total sum of 5 billion naira being the amount required to pay the backlog of local government workers from May 29, 2015 till date and that the gesture has engraved Okowa’s name in gold as a reliable promise keeper.
He disclosed that there has been wild jubilation by the workers across the state since the news of the payment rocked the air waves and went on to mention ALGON chairman, Hon Constantine Ikpoko commending the governor for putting smile on the faces of the local government workers across Delta state.
Latimore by this development described Okowa as a righteous man whose occupation of the office of the governor of Delta state makes Deltans rejoice.
Without apology, he made case for Governor Okowa explaining that the delay of payment of the monies was due to APC national government’s induced economic recession and the drastic fall in price of crude oil at the international market. He added that the state IGR has improved alongside federal allocations to states prompting the governor to release the money to clear the backlog of salaries spanning over three years.
He called on APC propagandists to henceforth redirect their surplus energies towards productive ventures since the APC in Delta has within the period of holding the workers’ salaries, vexatiously lambasted and denigrated Governor Okowa over the salaries arrears owed to the workers.
Latimore projected that by the second tenure of Governor Okowa (if possible), more infrastructure and socioeconomic development shall be the measuring lines for Okowas’s success in governance.
Whereas, one could sufficiently absolve Latimore as attempting to earn his salaries by his narrative, the average Deltan does not align with his line of thought.
In the first place, his principal, Governor Okowa, in the heat of the cry out by local government workers across the state for the inhuman treatment meted on them, the governor vehemently denied that he was not responsible for the payment of local government workers. His claim received wide publicity and the workers including the generality of Deltans were confused as to who was responsible for the workers’ salaries. A case of amnesia must be playing out here. At that time, even the ALGON state chairman, Ikpoko, sided with the governor in an attempt to exonerate the governor from dereliction of duty. But suddenly, the governor came up with a gesture that in the eyes of Latimore, should earn Okowa the award of righteousness and make his name be engraved in gold.
Truth be told, Nigeria was in recession but Delta state was not the only state affected by the economic downturn. Neighbouring Niger Delta states had their turn in the hard times and that was why the Federal Government released tranches of Paris Club Debt Refund to the states to help state governments across the country pay off backlog of salaries owed to workers. Under the very nose of Deltans, with their eyes wide open, Okowa received those monies, running into billions of Naira and refused to release a kobo for payment of workers’ salaries when they needed the money most.
The effect of the economic situation on local government workers (council staff and public primary schools teachers) was apparent as they became exposed to so many social embarrassment and those who could not cope because they had no alternative source of income or external help from relatives and friends, which with the passage of time-three years- became dim, died. So many marriages were rocked, children educational pursuits were disrupted and parents lost their social status. The situation, especially from the hardy response from the Delta State Government under Okowa made survivors to adjust and adapt to the reality of the times as hope for thawing the ice cold heart of the governor to show passion for the suffering workers was forlorn.
It came to a point that the Bishop of Ughelli Diocese (Anglican Communion), the Rt Rev Cyril Odutemu PhD, made a passionate appeal to Governor Okowa at a public function in Ovwor-Olomu to make effort to pay the workers, in the name of God, even if he (Okowa) was not responsible to their salaries payment. But Okowa did not budge, Okowa is an Anglican, and the matter was left like that months after as the workers saw their fate sealed.
It is wrong and wickedly erroneous for Latimore to claim that the governo,r by the said release of 5 billion naira meant for the workers’ salaries, was an indication of the governor’s priority take on the welfare and well being of workers. The claim may actually, ironically presented, be correct because it is on record that the governor prioritizes prompt payment of his ubiquitous SAs but without care for the well being of local government workers and even his own state workers whom he prided as being pet kids soon joined the band wagon of pay delay courtesy of the governor’s excuses of downturn in the economy and when the pay came, unexplained deductions were made.
As at Sunday, Sept 23, a survey of cross section of local government workers in the state declared ignorance to the release of the said 5 billion naira and the claim of wild jubilation of the workers across the state became questionable.
A staff of Ughelli North council who spoke on the condition of anonymity was skeptical about the truism of the release. He said the state government owed staff of the local government council one month salary in 2015, three months in 2016, one month in 2017 and two months in 2018. In any case, he pouted that if the release was true, the workers will not get the salaries arrears in block but the payment will be staggered and paid in installments of two months, one month and if Okowa was really happy, he might pay another two months before the election next year.
Ordinarily, the workers needed to be happy if there was genuineness in the mind of the government by the gesture of the governor, but Deltans suspect that the said release is an attempt to score cheap political points ahead of the 2019 election which bares dangerous fangs at Okowa. And so, for the insincerity that has been boldly written on the face of the governor and clearly read by the workers, if the release of 5 billion became true, the workers were yet to conclude to take a dance step of happiness not to mention wild jubilation because, the lump sum, if paid once, would be swallowed by money lenders and other creditors.
Salaries earning is a source of capital formation for those who invest but the situation of the workers across the state for the past three years since Okowa assumed office as governor has been laden with despair and likened to a scenario of survival of the fittest in a snakes infested jungle. So how could they jubilate virtually over nothing?
One clear reason why the workers would take Okowa’s gesture as a Greek Gift is because even if the governor paid their salaries up to April 30, 2019 in October 2018, they have no assurance that given a second mandate, Okowa would not revert to the same attitude of owing salaries and therefore, in the face of such apprehension, the workers remain mute, cold and fixed in deep thoughts about their welfare for the days ahead.
Okowa’s name cannot be written in gold in the annals of governance in Delta state. His image makers should know that Deltans have evaluated Okowa’s indifferent attitude to the welfare of Deltans in general as his policies affect every economic sector of the state; ask the tomatoes seller, and hence they have consigned him to the ‘Books of the Mud’ and not a single letter of his name should be inscribed in gold.
As one of the local government staff said during the survey while responding to the governor’s gesture, “5billion naira released for salaries, good but tell it to the birds, and we shall meet the governor at the polls next year. We are not moved by that gesture, it is a gimmick that we will not buy” the worker said.