By Danladi Danjuma
Prior to the 2011 governorship election in Kogi State, many were of the opinion that in that period of our democratic experiment, what the state needed was a man with sound vision, especially one that could drive the state on a sustained path of socio-economic growth The state needed somebody that was transparent and committed to good governance – simply put, one that was passionate about all-round good governance.
The consensus of opinion was that the state had suffered enough and was desirous of a man whose actions would be motivated by public good, and not a man who will stretch the purse of the state, not for public good but rather to satisfy selfish desires. In other words, the state was desirous of a man who would manage its meager resources prudently to meet the yearnings and aspirations of the electorate.
Tall order, you would say but even in these days when public morality has been sold to the dogs and corruption seems to be the order of the day, there are still a handful that place premium on integrity and good name. Oh yes, they are not easy to come by; not even in these days that corruption has eaten deep into our national fabric and almost every public office holder is eager to have a bite of the proverbial ‘national cake’.
In the midst of the scarcity of this type of people, the state was lucky, extremely lucky to have Captain Idris Wada, who in December 2011 stood for and won the governorship election on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Prior to the election, he wasn’t a much known face in the political circle but when he was unveiled; his credentials were too tempting to be ignored.
Looking at his pedigree, Captain Wada was considered a marketable product for the PDP. His strongest point remains his humility, couple with the fact that he has proven to be reliable and dependable-a man of doubtless integrity-indeed, he is an unusual politician; not the conventional politician who would do anything, including telling bare-face lies to sway people their way.
Captain Wada has this past three years, proved his openness. He doesn’t shy away from putting his cards on the table even if the odds would be against him. In spite of the continuous slide in what accrues to the state from the Federation Account, the governor has continued to resist the temptation to pay workers and pensioners a fraction of their salary. He has been particularly very consistent in the payment of pensions and gratuity.
The administration accords workers’ salaries and allowances, including the payment of leave bonuses priority attention, even when many other states with much higher allocations could hardly meet salary obligations to their workforce. Never in the history of the state, had a leader given so much priority to the well-being of retirees as Governor Wada has done. Not even the steady drop in the allocation would deter him from according the retirees premium attention. He had said it times without number that he would not stand by and watch elder statesmen being treated as rags. He has no doubt, dignified retirees.
The governor, these past three years, has placed service to the people far above the allure and comfort of the office of the governor. Each day, what is of topmost concern to him is seeking the greatest good of the electorate. For Governor Wada, governance is not a comfort zone; it is an opportunity to serve and make a difference. Making a difference in the case of retirees has been a sure test case.
Not one given to double-speak, Governor Wada is an uncommon Nigerian politician. He does not promise what he cannot fulfill. In other words, he isn’t the kind of politician who would look at people in their faces and tell them what he thinks they want to hear. That, for him, is dubious. Little wonder, he has kept to his promise to make life better for the state retirees. Over three years running, he has remained faithful to this pledge.
When he assumed office in January 2012, he made it clear that he would give the electorate a reason to smile, a reason to trust and believe in him and his administration. Of course, the initial reaction of the people was “we have heard this being said before.”
Three and a half years into his administration, the people of the state are seeing a new kind of leadership; a leadership devoid of flamboyance, deceit, and all the negative things that had held the state down in its over two decades of existence as a state.
Prior to his coming into office, successive governments were often quick to threaten the state workforce with sack, knowing fully well that pensions and gratuity were seldom paid. Little wonder, many retirees die almost as soon as they retire from service out of hunger and inability to meet family needs. No one trusted them enough to sell on credit to them because you could not actually tell when their next payday would come.
All of these, the governor was prepared to overturn. Senior citizens, who had labored for years to contribute to the development of the state, must not be treated like lepers; they deserve better deal and not even the leanness of the state’s coffers would deter him from giving them their well-deserved dues.
At inception in 2012, the administration met over N14 billion backlogs of pensions and gratuity dating back to 1991. He had hardly settled down as governor when he started to address the lingering problem of pensions and gratuities. The backlogs are being serviced with up to N450 million monthly, while gratuity payments were doubled to N50 million monthly. Currently all pension backlogs have been cleared.
Governor Wada has ensured the regular payment of pensions and gratuity. Interestingly, he has continued to do this without inflicting any pain on the retirees, who hitherto, are made to undergo endless screening exercises. Only one biometric data capturing exercise was embarked upon by the administration. Plans are underway to harmonise all pensions.
One recalls with nostalgia how in the past, retirees were screened repeatedly and, sometimes, in the process, lives were lost. Governor Wada does not want hardship for anyone, more so to the elderly. Like their counterparts still in service, retirees in the state get their bank credit alerts, confirming payment of their pensions promptly.
Last year, no fewer than 200 retirees in the 1994 set, in one fell swoop, got paid their gratuities that had been outstanding for almost 20 years and ever since then, the government earmarks substantial amount of money to pay outstanding gratuities. The intention of government is to liquidate all the outstanding soonest.
Today, state pensioners in Kogi State are no longer being treated as second-rated citizens. As a matter of fact there is a special committee in place headed by the secretary to the state government to looks into special cases that may require urgent attention. When such cases come up, they are given expeditiously treatment. This is to ensure that retirees do not go through unnecessary pain, not when their entitlements are outstanding.
Since assuming office in January, 2012, Governor Wada has left no one in doubt that his was a divine mandate that has a responsible to the people, especially the aged. Not even the poor finances of the state would make him shy away from this chosen path. It has indeed being a new beginning for retirees who now get their benefits as and when due.
There is no doubt that the governor has given this God-given mandate his best shot. From the policy thrust of his administration and programmes, his commitment to the people, the ordinary man on the street, has been unwavering. This is borne out of his belief that government must not be for one section of the society, but for all of the society. This has been the driving force behind the attention being given retirees in the state.
This philosophy of his, has clearly defined the vision and mission behind his leadership. Governor Wada is clearly on a mission to serve the people of the state with humility and to render transparent and accountable stewardship anchored on integrity and good governance.
Indeed since the coming on board of the governor, the pensioners now sing new songs-songs of fresh hope. They are obviously happy that they now have a man who can understand their language and feel their pain.
• Danjuma writes from Abuja.(firstname.lastname@example.org)
Culled from The Guardian