By Joseph Egbe
Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi state takes the oath of office at the new venue of Glass House in the state capital, Lokoja Monday January 27th to begin his second term in office. The challenge before him as indeed in the first term as he is sworn-in as the nation’s youngest state governor in the country remains the development challenges in Kogi state. Following various views expressed over his management of the state during the first term Governor Bello went to great lengths during his campaign to explain the efforts taken by his government to tackle several administrative challenges that he claims were inherited from previous governments.
Throughout the campaign, he focused on key successes his government recorded in the areas of administrative reforms, the provision of social and infrastructural development and a significant reduction in the state’s crime rate, even while he recognised that several issues remained to be tackled. It was the need to focus on these issues that his campaign team used as justification for his candidacy and the need for public support. Now that he has secured a second term, his ability to change the development narrative has come under focus once again.
A look at the areas of contention between the governor and his critics gives an insight into the government’s strategy for delivering on its development goals, and the tough task of navigating the rough terrain of public opinion in the state so far.
One important issue that has been raised by critics and the opposition is the delay in payments of salaries. According to reports, the government owed state workers several months in salary backlogs. Bello has insisted that even where salaries were owed, the state government has been able to structure payments to ensure that backlogs are significantly reduced, even as the state struggled with a financial crisis informed by slow national growth.
According to Bello’s team, when his government was first sworn-in in 2015, there was a need to clean up the state’s payrolls, which, it claimed, was loaded with ghost workers, a phenomenon for which Kogi and several other states were recognised under previous governments. The government insists that there is some stability now and the state public service structure has seen several administrative reforms that have improved service delivery.
Some civil servants admit that there have been improvements in the payment of salaries, and a growing number of reports suggest that the state’s public service has witnessed some key administrative and fiscal reforms. An example the governor’s supporters point to is the state’s tax reforms that has seen revenues move up from 350 million Naira previously to about 1.3 Billion Naira monthly now. This is likely to improve further with the state’s growing industrial profile.
Whether this is enough to convince critics that the state’s development trajectory is working will be seen in this new four year term, but the government insists that the state is on a path of reforms and it cannot be negotiated away. The government’s efforts in fighting crime in the state has also been an area of focus for many. Even with the steps taken to reduce kidnappings and armed robberies across the state, which saw a significant reduction in these activities, there were some indications of a rise in crime rates towards the end of 2019.
Though the numbers are comparatively much lower than before, there are still worrying indications of a growing menace. However, the government says it has drawn up a strategy to address the situation. With the successes it has recorded in this area in the past, very few would doubt the government’s assurances.
On the issue of infrastructural development Bello’s government has identified important road projects that were embarked. One such project is the Okene-Kurko-Ehika-Ikaturu-Itakpe road, which was commissioned in November, 2019. The government says several other projects have been earmarked for development in the coming years.
For observers in the state, these projects indicate that the government’s programme of development for the state has been mapped out with clear objectives. However, there is a general perception that achieving these objectives will be hindered by the state’s limited finances. This can only be remedied by a successful drive to increase investments in the state, which would increase revenue for the government.
This is already happening; with the establishment of several ceramic tiles making factories in the state, and the recent launch of the Confluence Rice project- a collaboration between the state government and Agri Integrated Services, Kogi state stands to reap the financial benefits of a new industrial drive.
With its rich iron ore deposits that will soon be in high demands again, due to the planned revival of the Ajaokuta steel plant, the already existing Dangote cement factory at Obajana and the immense potential in rice production, the indicators of an economic boom are evident, and governor Bello sits on a major opportunity to change the narrative of governance in Kogi state in the next four years. Across the nation’s landscape Yahaya Bello as the youngest governor now has to set his eyes on his legacy for second term just about to start. How will he succeed?
*Mr. Egbe sent this piece from Lokoja