FROM CITIZENS TO SLAVES: THE IRONY OF THE RESTORATION ADMINISTRATION IN BAYELSA STATE
|Aluzu Ebikebuna Augustine|
Your Principal would have been better for Bayelsa state! Your principal would have been better for Bayelsa state! Your principal would have been better for Bayelsa state! He cried to me persistently till he lost his voice to the bitterness he feels within. At first, it looked like just one of these feckless protests, the type we see across Nigeria in print and social medias, where a group of enthusiast carry placards to show their discontent with the status quo but not inconvenience themselves enough to get the desired result.
But this was different, he was not an activist, neither have I known this man to be least concerned with state politics. He has just come to realize social interdependent theory first hand by experience. He now manages a kiosk at Akenfa. He looked like a family man, a loving husband and a responsible father. But you can see how broken his spirit is by the grimace on his face. He looked like one of those who will always see light at the end of every tunnel. "This is no commoner", I said to myself. He is not a man of little income, at least you can tell he was not. The Mercedes parked behind his shop and the well ironed suit he was putting on hinted me of his station in life, he nevertheless wore the look of a poor man on his face.
If there is a class of citizens perennially marginalized, deeply insulted and greatly dehumanized, it is civil servants in Bayelsa state from all walks of life. Their story is a reminiscent of the slave trade dealings in the feudal system era who devoted the totality of their life in servitude of the owners and society but was never appreciated in any way.
Unlike their counterparts in other states such as Cross-Rivers state, Ekiti state and Anambra state, civil servants in Bayelsa state are relegated to a point where silence is no longer golden even if you do not have an enviable track record of your own. It breeds cowardice of men to keep silent in the face of injustice in the society. Their predicament is as if, these lots have sinned against God or humanity. Their painful exertion and their travails cannot be exhaustively addressed in this piece. It will require writing a seasonal book for one to fully capture the severity of unmanageable situation. But for the purpose of work, few examples and recitals will suffice.
How do I begin to explain that till now, the third week of June 2016, Local Government workers are being owed 14 to 17 months salaries, since 2015? How do I explain the fact that Niger Delta University, the only state University we have in Bayelsa state, founded on a strong belief of nationhood and making the Ijaw race a knowledgeable race is closed down sine dine and would be privatized due to the state government's refusal to pay its academic and non-academic workers for the past 5 months? How do I even explain that our hospitals are choke full with old pensioneers who have been abandoned and left to die by the state government in refusing to pay them their pensions for more that 7 months now? How can I explain the fact that primary and secondary school teachers are not paid too? How do I even explain that this innocent article that seeks to speak for the impoverished citizens will come under baseless and exasperating attacks by the Restoration social media team? How can the government make excuses for owing these people tasked with the responsibility of laying good foundation for our children ad continuum? How can a government that prides itself as pro Ijaw, contravene section 34 of the Nigerian Constitution and subject the people of ijaw to slavery and require them to perform forced or compulsory labour? These are people with families to cater for and responsibilities to shoulder with no other veritable serious source of income.
The Seriake Dickson led second term administration in an attempt to shift blame and not owing up to responsibilities has rendered untenable and arbitrary reasons among which is the drop in the state monthly allocation which began at the beginning of this year, despite the state government receiving N1.24billion as bailout funds. It is a sad thing that the Governor has nefariously not commissioned any project which he solely financed with the state fund in his 5 years in office. Yet one wonders where the money have been going to. The government has advance an irresponsible alibi by shifting the blame to federal government and Timipre Sylva led administration.
On February 15, 2016 the Governor was credited with saying “I have not seen anything like what has just been reported to me by the finance team. For this month, what has come into our state is N2.9 billion; it has never been this bad. Meanwhile, our salary obligation for civil servants alone, is about N4 billion, so you can see where we are, as a state." He also went further to say “Four years ago, when this government started, the first allocation we received was about N16 billion. At some point, it climbed to N18 and even N19 billion."
On May 16, 2016 the Governor also claimed in a live NTA interview that N100billion have gone to servicing bonds of his predecessor for the past four years, with N1.3billion being deducted monthly for that purpose. This excuse on the face of it look sensible, but a critical appraisal of the situation shows that the state government is being economical with the truth. This recent claim by the government is conflicting with its earlier claim through its Chief Press Secretary Daniel Iworiso-Markson on August 20, 2015 earlier that the administration was servicing N330billion debt inherited from its predecessor and at the time of that statement, the bond was successfully reduced to N90billion.
Also, the state government has been hiding under the notorious veil of endless “verification exercise” as the reason for delay in payment of its workers. This is itself ludicrous. What is the government always verifying year in, year out? Presently, the state government is hiding under yet another nebulous verification exercise (this time biometric) as the reason for not paying these poor servants their salaries for months now. The last time the state government embarked on verification exercise was the bursary payment scam in 2014. Is this a way of telling these civil servants "the government can no longer afford to pay you"?
Contrary to news that has inundated the media over the years by the social media team of the restoration administration, the declaration of state of emergency in the education sector of Bayelsa state is the greatest scam of the 21st century.
Worse still is that there is nothing in the state to credit these imaginary laudable projects the Governor claims to have embarked on. Bayelsa state is suffering from infrastructural, intellectual and moral decay. You cannot afford to be paying yourself while your people cringe on their bed every night on hungry stomach not knowing what to eat the ensuing day. When the history books will be written, this administration will go down as the worst ever in Bayelsa state, before any other administration.
Aluzu Ebikebuna Augustine
Faculty of Law,
University of Uyo,