GOVERNOR Yahaya Bello of Kogi State intends through the implementation of the State's New Direction Blueprint to lift at least 1,000,000 residents of the state, (about 25% of the populace) above the National Multi-dimensional Poverty Index.
The Kogi State New Direction Blueprint is a well-articulated roadmap that incorporates strategies for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in this well-endowed state in the North Central geo-political zone of Nigeria.
On his assumption of office on January 27, 2016, Governor Yahaya Bello promised that his administration considers the blueprint as a Marshall Plan for the rapid development of Kogi State and radical empowerment of its people.
However, before the Bello administration conceived the socio-economic blueprint designed for the actualisation of the SDGs, it had reviewed the implementation the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) under the immediate past administration of Idris Wada.
Appraisal of MDGs
The review of the MDGs under the administration of Wada, the immediate past governor of Kogi State took place in March 2016.
Abdulmumeen Ahmed Okara, Special Adviser to Governor Bello on SDGs, said it became imperative to review the projects under the MDGs so as to start the implementation of the SDGs on a sound footing. He said that the present administration took a cursory look at the MDGs projects and realised that most of them did not meet the needs of the communities they were cited in. He also noted that the non-involvement of the communities at the planning and execution stages had led to unattainable MDGs goals in the past.
Okara added that before the inception of the Bello administration, the office of the MDGs was operating at its lowest ebb due to the inability of the former administration to raise fund to meet the State and the Local Governments' counterpart funds for the year 2014 MDGs projects. Consequently, the MDGs did not execute any project in Kogi State in 2015.
To correct the perceived anomalies in the implementation of the MDGs, the first thing the Bello administration did was to embark on sensitization and SDGs Facility Tour across the 21 LGAs of Kogi State. This was done to enable the stakeholders examine the successes and the challenges of the MDGs in Kogi State and prepare for the smooth take-off of the SDGs.
Focus of the New Direction Blueprint
Basically, the Kogi State New Direction Blueprint focuses the following thematic areas:
- Job Creation, Youth Engagement (and New Ventures)
- Infrastructure and Utilities
- Public Sector and Pension Reforms
Outlining the 'Action Plans' for developing each of the sectors through the blueprint, Governor Bello said education will receive the desired boost while healthcare delivery will be accorded priority.
Below is the pie-chart of the anticipated yearly impact of the Kogi State blueprint which aligns with the SDGs.
To ensure food security, he said that the state government will invest heavily in agriculture. He also announced plans to harness the potential of the state in solid minerals and then reposition Kogi State as a preferred tourist destination.
The strides of SDGs Project Implementation Committee
On September 6, 2016 the Kogi State government inaugurated its SDGs Project Implementation Committee with Mr. Idris Asiru, Commissioner for Finance and Economic Development as its Chairman and Okara, Special Adviser to the Governor on SDGs as Secretary.
The committee handled its assignment with a high sense of responsibility and by January 27, 2017, it had completed the remodelling and furnishing of SDGs Office Structure to meet up with the accepted standard as befitting to the agency and it was commissioned by Governor Bello.
The state government also paid N 1.2 billion as Counterpart Fund for the 2014 CGS/SDGs Projects which was ignored by the previous administration.
The Kogi State government equally earmarked N5 billion as the budget for the SDGs. Okara, Special Adviser on SDGs said the fund would enable government close the infrastructural gap in the rural areas.
He noted that the SDGs Office had engaged 200 village health workers across the state, with monthly allowance of N 20,000 under the SDGs Social Intervention Scheme (Conditional Cash Transfer, CCT).
In the area of healthcare, the SDGs office constructed and equipped six new Primary Health Centres (PHCs) at the Ibaji , Ofu, Okene, Ijumu, Yagba West, and Lokoja LGAs. It awarded contract for the upgrading and equipping of comprehensive health centres to cottage hospitals in Agassa Okene and Gboloko in Bassa Local Government Areas respectively.
In addition, it initiated health care programmes and purchased drugs worth N63 million which were distributed free across the 21 LGAs.
In line with his pledge to effectively utilise the Kogi New Direction Blueprint as a vehicle for development and poverty alleviation in the state, Governor Bello is working round the clock to lift people out of poverty. He said that from general observations in Kogi State, people were being impoverished as a result of their lack of knowledge on how to harness their potential.
To enable the people of Kogi State acquire the requisite knowledge, the government is working towards achieving a rapid and sustainable improvement in the educational sector from primary to tertiary levels. Governor Bello believes that through sound education, the youths of Kogi State would acquire skills that would transform their individual lives.
To ensure food security in Kogi State, the New Direction Blueprint has put in place workable actions that will integrate agricultural support services such as improved seedlings, tractor leasing arrangements, demonstration farms and extension services.
As part of measures to achieve the administration's food security goal, the state government had in January 2017 signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Federal Government for the allocation of land near the Omi dam for agricultural programmes.
The MoU was signed on behalf of Kogi State by Mrs Ayoade Folasade Arike, Secretary to the State government, while Mrs Adeniyi Aremu, Managing Director, Lower Niger River Basin Development Authority (LNRBDA), signed for the Federal Government. Mrs Arike reiterated the administration's determination to utilise the opportunity provided by Omi dam for large scale farming; to create employment for the teeming youths and also produce food for the people of the state.
Another concrete step taken by the Kogi State government to alleviate poverty was the training of over 2,000 youths on digital marketing and entrepreneurial skills. Okara, Special Adviser to the Governor on SDGs said that the training which was organised by the SDGs office in April 2017 to ensure that the youths were presented with opportunities to become self-reliant. “The number one goal of the Sustainable Development agenda is to eradicate poverty in all its forms and when you equip the youth with modern technology, you are surely moving them out of poverty,” Okara said.
In addition, the state government is trying to exploit all existing possibilities for partnerships with financial institutions like the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Bank of Industry (BoI), and Bank of Agriculture (BoA).
Kogi State Poverty level composite map
One important data which is assisting the Kogi State government in poverty alleviation is the composite map incorporated into the New Direction Blueprint. It shows a general picture of the poverty levels in the State. According to the map, Lokoja, Ibaji, Ofu, Ankpa, Dekina, Olamaboro have high levels of poverty while Yagba west, Mopa-muro, Okehi, Adavi, Ajaokuta, Okene and Ogori Mangongo have low levels of poverty. On the other hand Yagba East, Ijumu Kabba-Bunu, Kogi , Bassa, Omala, Igalamela-Odolu Local Government Areas have moderate levels of poverty. (See Table 1).
The Kogi State government recognises the importance of education in transforming people's lives. Governor Bello believes that with the right type of education, society can be transformed, moving the people from the bottom to the apogee of their aspirations. Against this background, his administration is prioritizing investment in education.
In the context of SDG-4, which focuses on Quality Education, the Kogi State New Direction Blueprint identifies the various challenges facing education in the state and emphasizes the need to build new school infrastructure of international standards, introduce modern methods of teaching and ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development (primary and secondary education) leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes.
The blueprint also outlines actionable plans to make provision for quality technical and vocational centres. This is to enable people equal access to affordable quality technical, vocational and tertiary education. The idea is to increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship.
Access to education
This is defined in the context of availability of either primary or secondary education or both. (See Table 2 Access to Education in Kogi State).
The New Direction Blueprint made the following recommendations for improving the quality of education in the state within the shortest possible period of time:
- Organize Education Summit
- Reform the teaching service commission
- Employ professional and well trained teachers
- Make teacher's salaries competitive
- Adopt the policy of continuous teachers training
- Properly equip existing government schools
- Safeguard teachers long term welfare
In order to achieve some of these lofty goals, the Kogi State government increased the allocation to the education sector from N7,697,444, 205 in 2016 to N24,058,149,936 in 2017. Despite the increase in the allocation to the education sector in the 2017 budget by the Kogi State government, from 7.7 percent in 2016 to 13.76 percent in 2017, stakeholders have flayed the government for its inability to move nearer the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's benchmark on education of 26 percent.
Brainstorming at the “Citizens Dialogue on the 2017 Approved Kogi State Education, Agriculture and Health Sector Budgets”, in Lokoja, in July 2017 they bemoaned the inability of governments at both the state and federal levels to do the needful, because of the important role of education in the development of any nation. Gift Owonipa, Executive Director of Participation Initiative for Behavioural Change in Development (PIBCID), who was one of the discussants, urged the state government to take heed of the 26 percent UNESCO allocation benchmark for the education sector in order to achieve a robust and sustainable development in Kogi State.
Although the Bello administration has been making efforts to address infrastructural decay in the educational system it inherited from the immediate past administration, the resources available appear inadequate to tackle the magnitude of the problems in the primary and post-primary schools.
In the tertiary level, the government has not fared better as Kogi State University (KSU), Ayingba, has been crisis-ridden owing to the protracted strike by lecturers of the institution. The crisis reached its peak in July 2017, when the Kogi State government proscribed activities of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in the university. Governor Bello said that the state government was forced to take the decision following the refusal of the lecturers to call off its seven-month old strike. According to him, ASUU rebuffed all government’s efforts to persuade it to end the strike, including meeting over 90 per cent of the union's demands. The governor ordered the striking lecturers to go back to work immediately or lose their jobs.
Dr. Daniel Aina, Chairman of ASUU in the university said the proscription was illegal, describing it as an infringement on members' right to associate.
In August 2017, Bello sacked 120 lecturers of the University for refusing to return to work as he directed. The sacked lecturers were sympathetic to the ASUU leadership, which insisted that the government must pay all arrears owed workers before the school would be re-opened. It was gathered that the lecturers, who received their letters of dismissal on August 14, refused to sign the attendance registers opened in all faculties.
Worried by the drastic actions of Governor Bello, ASUU had in October 2017 dragged the state government to court challenging the proscription of the union; and the sack of 120 academic staff of the institution. Dr. Aina, ASUU Chairman said the union resorted to legal action after every attempt at reconciliation was rebuffed by the state government. He explained that the state government was adamant and openly rejected the avenues for reconciliation, saying that attempts by Dr. Chris Ngige, Minister of Labour and Productivity and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to wade into the crisis were rebuffed.
In accordance with the SDG-5, which focuses on gender equality, Governor Bello has expressed his administration's interest in formulating and implementing policies that will improve the quality of life for the girl-child and women in the state. He noted that women contribute significantly to the growth and development of the society, emphasizing that ensuring gender parity was not an option but a necessity.
The state legislature is also supporting the executive in eliminating all forms of gender barriers and empowering women. Matthew Kolawole, Speaker of Kogi State House of Assembly, said that the legislators would make good laws that will promote girl-child education in the state.
As the executive and the legislature work harmoniously to balance the gender equation, Mrs Rasheedat Bello, wife of the Governor is complementing their efforts through Kogi Women and Youth Advancement Foundation (KOWYAF), a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) she set up to empower the less privileged women and youths. Since KOWYAF was launched in 2016 , it has trained many women on how to grow micro business, business ethics and etiquette, and how to form corporative societies to enable them access micro loans from Microfinance Banks.
During an advocacy meeting with stakeholders as part of activities marking the 2017 International Women's Day in March 2017, Mrs Bello called for urgent domestication of the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill and Violence Against Persons Prohibition Bill in the state. She noted that women “constituted a very important fraction of the human population” but had been sidelined for too long with their rights often violated at will.
Mrs Gift Owonipa, Executive Director of Participation Initiative for Behavioural Change in Development (PIBCID) lamented that in spite of efforts at addressing gender issues, the rights of women and children were still being trampled upon. “It is disheartening to note that the rights of Nigerian women and by extension Kogi women are still being violated and women are still subjugated to different forms of violence, discrimination and harmful practices. What we are asking for is protection and equal opportunity when it comes to marriage, business, employments, politics and inheritance amongst others. With these, our families, communities and state will prosper,” she said.
Owonipa called on Governor Bello to as a matter of urgency; institute a gender audit to identify gaps and areas where gender equality can be strengthened in terms of recruitments, appointive positions, promotion and remuneration for public and political offices.
Mrs Bolanle Amupitan, Kogi State commissioner for Women Affairs said that government is working hard to alleviate poverty among women through economic empowerment.
Decent work and economic growth
The Bello administration had from the onset noted that the Civil Service is usually poorly remunerated, resulting in poor service delivery. The government further observed that weak management systems had often led to problems with ghost workers on the government payroll; while personnel and pension registers were unreliable.
In terms of job creation and youth engagement, the administration noted that Kogi State has a teeming youthful population of about 1.8 million, with the downside being that most of these youths are either underemployed, or out rightly unemployed. The administration explained that given the positive correlation between youth unemployment, restiveness and diverse crimes, this development is not only very undesirable, but also does not bode well for the future of the state, given the understanding that the youths are the leaders of tomorrow.
To address these problems, the Bello administration said that reforms were needed to professionalise the civil service and the pension management system.
However, the efforts of his administration to institute the reforms have been impinged by the fact that it inherited unpaid salary arrears and pension from the immediate past administration.
In terms of the contributory pension scheme, the Kogi State Auditor General who doubles as the Chairman, Technical Committee on the implementation of the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) said the new pension scheme was introduced against the backdrop of the Old Pension Scheme Pay-As-You-Go, which according to him was inefficient and marred by mal-administration.
But the state government has not lived up to expectation in terms of payment of salary arrears. A recent survey by BudgIT, a civic technology organisation with a focus on raising the standards of transparency, citizen engagement and accountability, indicated that Kogi was one of the states in Nigeria which have defaulted in the payments of salaries, pensions and gratuities. According to the survey, Kogi State owed at least four months' salary arrears despite the fact that it received bailout funds from the Paris Club refund from the Federal Government.
This has led to persistent labour crisis as the organised labour has continued to protest the non-payment of workers' salaries. In October 2017, the workers threatened to embark on mass action if their present condition persists. A statement signed by Secretaries of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Olakunle Faniyi, Trade Union Congress (TUC), James Kolawole and their Joint Public Service Negotiating Council (JPSNC) counterpart, Isa Abubakar, said workers could no longer tolerate the insensitiveness and callous attitude of the government against its members.
The unions described the Bello administration as the “most insensitive government in the history of Nigeria,” particularly with the recent directive issued by the state Commissioner of Education, Dr. Sunday Tolorunleke ordering striking workers to resume or be sacked.
The organised labour said the insensitivity of the government was evident as the sack threats came shortly after the death of Edward Soje, a Director with the Kogi State Teaching Service Commission, who committed suicide in October 2017 for failure to meet financial challenges. It stated that many other workers have been dying silently due to non-payment of salary. Soje committed suicide after his wife gave birth to a set of triplets, ostensibly for the fear of how to maintain the family as he was owed salary arrears.
But Deaconess Deborah Ogunmola, the state Head of Service in a statement claimed that the late Soje continued to receive his salaries till December, 2016 when proof emerged that he falsified his age records, stressing that government after engagements with Labour which spanned several months, decided to commute the disciplinary action against him to pardon. “The Kogi State Teaching Service Commission where he works has forwarded a template for payment to Government and Mr. Soje was aware that he was listed to receive 6 months back pay, leaving only 2 months (August and September) outstanding,” Ogunmola said.
However, the organised labour described the Head of Service's statement as a confirmation that the deceased was owed nine months salary arrears.
The organised labour had earlier called on the Federal Government to treat Kogi workers as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and send relief materials to them based on their deplorable condition as a result of non-payment of their salaries.
But Kingsley Fanwo, a media aide to Governor Bello, faulted labour's claim on salary arrears, saying that they were out to misinform the public for selfish reasons.
Kogi State, which prides itself as the 'Confluence State' has been working to strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters.
In August 2017 when officials of Ecological Fund Office, under the aegis of Office of Secretary to the Government of the Federation, visited Lokoja, the Kogi State capital for an assessment of flood and erosion sites, Mr. Simon Achuba, Deputy Governor of the state said that the Bello administration had declared a state of emergency on the environment. He explained that the action is a reflection of the priority which the government had given to environmental issues.
Mrs Rosemary Osikoya, Commissioner for Environment and Natural Resources, had during the visit presented the ecological reports on 19 local government areas in the state to the team. She said the ministry had met with the team and catalogued 194 flood and erosion sites in the 19 local government areas with the help of some experts, which represented 50 per cent of the total areas that were supposed to be covered. She noted the state government has been organising workshops on climate change and afforestation, to create awareness on how to prevent such ecological disasters in future.
Peace, justice and strong institutions
The Bello administration is committed to the promotion of peace, justice and strong institutions by 2030. This is why it has made conscious efforts to ensure security of lives and property, provide access to justice for all and build accountable and inclusive institutions in Kogi State.
The state government has been supporting the police and other law enforcement agencies to check the criminal activities of kidnappers, assassins, cultists and armed robbers in the state. The Kogi State government is also making efforts to create a good working environment for judicial officers so that they will always ensure that the rule of law takes pre-eminence over and above the rule of man.
From all indications, the Kogi State government has very laudable action plans for the SDGs but implementation has not been quite smooth-sailing.