Twenty eight state governments in Nigeria owe their civil servants many months’ salary. The ramifications of this statistic are impossible to quantify. Any sketch belittles the full measure of the human suffering involved.
But the fact remains that breadwinners in the states’ employ have been rendered impotent. They face the threat of irrelevance, retaining their place as provider but restrained from playing the role. They are broke and broken, closer to destitution than the jobless.
They can’t guarantee the ritual of three square meals in their homes. They can’t pay the seasonal tuition fees of their wards. They can’t buy their kids toys that would have made the playground a happier heaven. They can’t be their indulgent selves, expressing their love in readiness to give cheerfully, as in halcyon days.
Daddies and mummies have to exonerate themselves by directing their children to the cause of the predicament. Government is the enemy taunting the famished to turn stones into bread. Government is the reason we can’t send money to your grandparents in the village. That’ some education that drains patriotism from the young; a seed that promises dreadful harvest.
The adolescents may will themselves into stoicism. But the children, too young to understand the times or make sense of the ban on money related requests, would sooner cry and nag for every denial. And yesterday’s indulgent parents have to hide their alien shame behind falsehood – wearing a permanent frown, a seemingly hostile look, a scary mask warning that demands that mock their empty pockets attracts instant corporeal punishment!
This sabotages the order of the home. It overturns the dynamics of the relationships within the family – husband and wife, father and children, mother and children. Husband and wife quarrel often over money matters. The children begin to review their adoration of a parent that suddenly became callous, stingy and aggressive.
Salary theft does more. It deflates the pride of the wage earner, makes one feel out of control. It commits the mind to anxiety. It makes the man seek escape from his bills through the route of cheap gin. It makes him hear suicide pitches in his head.
But Osun State tops the league table. She owes her workers seven months’ salary. The governor, Rauf Aregbesola, has publicly confessed that he can’t think up a solution. President Buhari says states have to clear their salary backlog to qualify for bailout. There is no remote hope for a turnaround.
At some Ramadan lecture – (Osun workers had a head start on the fasting: they began December last year!), Aregbesola confirmed that his state collapsed long ago, that he sustained the vital signs of the state by borrowing. He has now become so rich in debt he is a pariah in the lending world. He would have continued to borrow to finance the recurrent expenditures of his administration but nobody would lend him a kobo. He is just helpless.
Aregbesola, the proudly pious equivalent of Anambra’s historical Mbadinuju, didn’t make full disclosure, though. He didn’t inform the brethren that he has repeatedly spurned the sensible suggestion that he dispose the private jet he maintains in the name of the anemic state. His lament also missed the white elephant project he rhapsodized would be an airport.
Aregbesola is a disappointment, not only to Osun but to his original self. He had a fantastic beginning. He evinced new paradigm when he took office. He launched and distributed Opon Imo, a tablet that contained a proper library, to thousands of Osun states. He cast himself as an innovative thinker on a mission to give homegrown translation to twenty first century governance. He has shrunk from that promising giant to an annoying midget. He has metamorphosed into the irreducible minimum of failed gubernatorial leadership. I vote for his impeachment.
Aregbesola himself has articulated the strongest argument for his sack. He has pronounced that he has run the multimillion-human-entity called Osun State into bankruptcy and that he is incapable of improving the situation. His continued stay, by his own admission, is untenable. That’s an acknowledgment of reality. It is also a transparent resignation, except that it wasn’t penned to fulfill the standard protocol of abdication. It was uttered to galvanize sympathy, to divert pity from the hungry victims to the smug paymaster.
He invites us to do him the favor of refraining from piling up pressure on him. He cannot reverse the tragedy; he will preside over its degeneration!
Some members of Osun State House of Assembly are dropping hints that they have found their lost capacity for biological irritability. They are now open to retrieving the scrap of their failed state from an Aregbesola who has managed to devolve misgovernment into a humanitarian disaster.
There is still abundance of pussyfooting. One legislator has yet to muster the courage to detail Aregbesola’s failures and canvas for the requisite number signatures needed to complete the article of impeachment. They have only indicated that they would leverage the petition of a judge in the state judiciary, urging the lawmakers to impeach Aregbesola. The Speaker says the female judge has expressed willingness to come forward and substantiate her claims against the governor.
The cowardly legislators deem this petition a godsend. They want to build the case for the impeachment of Aregbesola around the judge’s charges. They suggest that before the judge jarred them back to consciousness; they had been oblivious of any situation that obligates them to consider the Governor’s impeachment. Their antenna had not picked the groaning of the workers, the paralysis of the mechanism of governance in Osun State and the admission of Aregbesola that the crisis he created has grown beyond his capacity to resolve or ameliorate.
The constitution provides that the process for the removal of the governor or the deputy governor may be initiated on the grounds of allegations of their gross misconduct. The reality has always been that the loophole which locates the import of ‘’gross misconduct’’ in the lexicon lawmakers – as ugliness lies in the eyes of the beholder!-makes the tool of impeachment pliable in some cases and redundant in others. For example, the deputy governor of my state was dismissed from office for the abomination…of rearing poultry! The same House of Assembly that moved with blinding speed to operate the guillotine upon sighting Onyebuchi’s chicken watched the Governor Sullivan Chime make captive of his wife for months. The ‘’legislators’’ rediscovered their impeachment bludgeon during the tail end of the last administration when Chime started to starve them.
In a perfect world, members of Osun House of Assembly would not have feigned sleep in the midst of the storm. They wouldn’t have played truant while the captain drove the ship to a kiss with the iceberg. Their oversight duty would have averted this slump into smithereens. They would have insisted on the prudent investment of parts of the windfall that accrued to the state when the price of crude oil shot above 100 dollars per barrel.
In a half-perfect world, Aregbesola would not be allowed to accumulate the debt of seven months’ salary. He would have been queried, evacuated from office and recommended for prosecution by anti-corruption agencies – at least three months ago.
But this is neither perfect world nor something more serious than the parody of democracy.
In all probability, this is not an equal opportunity famine. The lawmakers are not anywhere near hungry as the civil servants are. They would have dramatized their fury if they have been in deprivation as long as the commoners. Like the private jet, the ‘’honorable members’’ are a priority. They are the fragile last born that must be pampered even when the rest of the family is starving – or they would throw tantrums.
But it appears that the stream of funds that flows into the House of Assembly has dried. They are finally beginning to feel the pain of the cash starved community. They may be feeling even more cheated because they have to downgrade their high taste and lifestyle.
However, spectating for the seven months Aregbesola deprived the civil service workers of their wages makes members of Osun State House of Assembly complicit. Their loyalty, silence and support for a misanthrope that is apparently working hard to achieve genocide by mass starvation make them as culpable. They share responsibility for the incalculable loss of children claimed by minor curable diseases, because their civil servant parents couldn’t purchase life saving medicine.
Penance would be an apology for indolence and swiftly followed by concerted efforts to separate Rauf Aregbesola from Osun State as soon as constitutionally permissible. Every new day he spends in office is a lost opportunity to pivot the state away from the mess.
The cost of this infinite starvation will remain unknown. Unlike the blast of a bomb that produces instant death tolls and fodder for headline news, starvation kills in muted, slow-motion installment. During the Biafran civil war, someone sanctified state-sanctioned starvation as a legitimate weapon of extermination. Aregbesola is inflicting starvation on millions in peacetime.
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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