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By George Daniya

I read on the social media recently, particularly on Facebook, the outcry of some staff of local governments in Niger Statethat their salaries have been unpaid for the past four months. Some even went ahead to accuse the state government of lying that it has given money to the local governments to settle their outstanding wage bills. I was at a function sometimes towards the end oflast year, to be precise during the commissioning of the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) Bida Rice Mill, when Governor AbubakarSani Bello said that he had invited all LG chairmen to his office, and would give them bailout to settle their salary debts. Knowing the governor to be a man of his word, I was shocked at the outbursts by some LG workers, who insist they had been unpaid.  I didn’t understand what was happening, not until Thursday last week when the Commissioner of Local Government, Community Development and Chieftaincy Affiars, Hon. HaliruZakariJikantoro, disclosed that a total of N4, 449, 000, 000 has been given to 12 local government areas, including settlement of debt owed to ex-councillors. Hon Jikantoro, specifically, made it clear that the state government was not happy that even with the bailout some LGs were still complaining of nonpayment of salaries for four months. For the avoidance of doubt, if you are a staff in the following LGs,you are not supposed to go without salary; they are:Agaie, Bida, Bosso, Gbako, Katcha, Lapai, Lavun, Chanchaga, Mokwa, Paikoro, Shiroro, and Suleja.  These were the LGs that received bailout fund to settle salaries.

Dissatisfied that even after the bailout, salaries still remain unpaid,the governor has constituted a commission of enquiry to unravel the mysteries behind the matter. I think it is the right step in the right direction; I just heard that one local government had just paid July salary last week. Hmmmm… the fear of probe, I guess. For the records, the LGs received as follow: for the month of July a bailout of N748, 000, 000 was given to them; in August they collected N778, 000, 000 for August and N2, 190, 000, 000, the highest bailout fund. In December, they were given N587, 000, 000, while ex-councillors’ outstanding debt was N146, 000, 000. This bailout also took primary schools teachers, who are staff of the LGs into consideration. The body language of the commissioner was clear: the state government doest not owe LGs in the state and will not take it likely with any of the chairmen found wanting diverting funds.

 I am thinking of local government workers: how have they coped all these months? It is unimaginable the privation and destitution that they have had to pass through; including, of course, the embarrassments of children sent home from school for failing to pay school fees or even dying because there was no money to buy them drugs, when their health was failing. It was callous to receive money on their behalf and not to pay them. These workers have tried a lot, in patience and forbearance to endure corrupt LG administrations. It has become apparent that some of these leaders are not on the same page with the change agenda of Mr. Governor; thank God their tenure is just for two years, but, if they are not checked, before they run the full gamut of their tenure, they would have inflicted some irreversible damages on the people and the system. A stitch in time, they say, saves nine; that is what the state government is trying to do by constituting a probe committee to inquire into the ways that the bailout had been utilized. That would the fraud, before the fraud destroys the system. Well,Jinkantoro, the honorable commissioner, has clearly stated that the commission of enquiry will not spare anyone, nor entertain any excuse for diverting the salary bailout funds. Or what happened that the LGs accumulated such months of unpaid salary?The committee will unravel the facts. One thing for sure: a visit to some of these LGs affected with the salary saga will leave one thoroughly disappointed as one would not even see any practical development being carried out by them. I overheard that some of the LGs used the bailout funds for ‘security’ meetings. Well, whatever is the reason, if it were not for settlement of salaries, it is clearly misapplied, or misappropriated. But I hasten ahead of the commission of enquiry:  we await a disclosure of can of worms.