By Rauf Aregbesola
It occurred to me in Ilesa during the turning of the sod of Ilesa water project on Monday December 18, 2017, that after I had prayed in the Islamic way to also pray with my favourite Bible verses. This is Psalm 24. I am particular about verses 7-10 which say: Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.
8 Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.
9 Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.
10 Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah.
The year is coming to an end and we must salute you for your perseverance, patience, sacrifice, dedication and labour of love. There is no better time to acknowledge and tell you this than now. You have done well so far. What is left is just to thank you, particularly the 28 per cent of you who have endured modulated salaries. These are the 20 per cent who earn 75 per cent of their monthly pay and the eight per cent who collect 50 per cent of their salary. The remaining 72 per cent, as you all know, have been earning their full pay and are not being owed any outstanding salaries, irrespective of the spin being given to this by our traducers. Even at that, we must thank everyone for the sacrifice you have all made in other areas. This is because your relationship as workers is contractual and I want to assure you that everyone will get his or her full pay when this is over.
We are unfortunate to be in this situation because we are in strange and difficult times. Most of you do not know that what we are in today is the equivalent of a state of war. In a state of war, beyond the destruction of lives and property, there is also shortage of resources to live on. If you remove the destruction and physical devastations, the acute financial constraint is the equivalent of a war condition. We are therefore in an economic war situation.
Interestingly, I never shied from telling anyone this. As far back as February 14, 2014, I told the world that we were in economic war situation. This was reported by The Vanguard newspaper on the front page. Nobody even remembered that I said this then. Even at that, I was struggling to pay salaries then. But before then, in 2011, when salaries was being increased, I had warned that it would be unsustainable. Nobody knew then that there would be theft of over 600,000 barrels of crude oil per day for 24 months or the glutting of the international oil market that would later crash oil price and cut Nigeria’s revenue by more than 60 per cent.
Notwithstanding what we are going through now, as painful as it is, the reality is that it is impossible to do beyond what we are doing. If anyone is in doubt, consider these figures.
From July 2015 – when we started paying modulated salaries, our income from all sources, including gross allocation from the federation account, internally generated revenue and two tranches of Paris Club Refund – to November 2017, is N121.6 billion. Meanwhile, our total personnel cost (excluding gratuities) within the same period would have been N104.4 billion if we had paid the full salaries of N3.6 billion every month. Our personnel cost therefore is 85.8 per cent of our total revenues from all sources. However, this is an academic exercise because before the allocations get to us, some deductions would have been made on commitments already made since as far back as the 1970s, up till now; and we are also paying modulated salaries.
The reality, however, is that our net income is N61.7 billion while our real total personnel cost is N63.98 billion. This stands at 103.6 per cent of our total net revenue. I obtained these figures from the Accountant General of the State and you can individually verify them in his office. The implication of this grim statistic is that we have spent more on salaries and emoluments than our revenues from all sources. The question to ask then is how have I been able to pay salaries and other emoluments more than the government has received? If you want to be fair to me, that is the question to ask. It has been very difficult, yet we keep begging and appealing. Beyond paying government workers, we still have a government to run and a popular mandate of good and progressive governance to meet. We made campaign promises and we must also deliver on them.
We know some of our opponents and traducers are hiding behind the salary issue and have been instigating the workers against us. But again, what more can we ask from a government that, without prompting, between December 2010 to December 2013 paid workers 13th month bonus salaries; which restructured leave bonus to be paid on a worker’s birthday or service engagement date; which without prompting quadrupled and gave car and housing allowances to workers? How could we in all honesty categorise such government as being insensitive and anti-worker?
It should go without saying that if we have the resources, we will provide flying cars for the workers. We will put our lives on the line to achieve that. Nobody should therefore fail to understand the circumstance that prompted us to pay modulated salaries to 28 per cent of our workforce. When this problem began, we had to keep taking loans, up to N25 billion, in order to pay salaries. But we must face reality; we cannot continue to give what we don’t have. I have extrapolated from the statistics I gave you earlier, that should we even want to give workers everything we have, it is still not adequate. Yet we must do other things.
These figures show we are in a quandary. It is beyond the sentimental and emotional. The truth is: our state requires an extraordinary push to overcome the financial challenges we face currently. The infrastructure we are putting in place is part of this extraordinary push. The roads, for instance, are to open up the state for business and wealth creation. The schools are to provide the infrastructure of the mind needed for development. The social protection programmes we put in place are to lift the vulnerable portion of our population and prevent tension and crime.
None of the roads leads to my house. They are to jumpstart the economy of the state. The Gbongan to Akoda Road, Oba Adesoji Aderemi East Bypass and Osogbo Old Garage to Ila-Odo Road will open up the corridors along which they passed and it will be amazing what turnaround these will bring to the economy of the state. Whatever we are getting as IGR today will be quadrupled. That is our vision and target.
We are grateful that to a large extent, you have collaborated with us and supported us. We are simply asking for further perseverance, understanding, patience and sacrifice. You must not fail to recognise, as Chief Obafemi Awolowo admonished us, that the darkest part of the night is just before the dawn.
I told labour leaders in my recent meeting with them what Comrade Hassan Sunmonu said in a public occasion, that something told him that we will be out of these difficulties by March of next year. I agree with him. It will come to pass Insha Allah!
I may not figure out how this will happen now but I am reminded of the passage in the Bible where Prophet Elisha, at the height of a terrible famine his nation faced, prophesied that by the next day food would be abundantly available and for cheap, but an unbelieving nobleman guffawed and quipped that even if the heavens were to be opened, the prophecy would be impossible to come to pass. The Prophet replied him that he would see it but he would not be part of it.
True to God, it happened but he was trampled to death under the feet of the exultant people in their most joyous moment. I believe it will happen and you will all be part of it. Our own season of famine will be over by March of 2018. Aamin!
I am pleading with you; don’t let the enemy of our race deceive you. You have patiently borne the brunt of this situation to be able to patiently wait for another three months. Don’t be persuaded to change course.
Remember that we have other options, which include rightsizing the workforce and living within our means. We have not done this, but have decided to weather the storm together until we dock at safe harbour. Let us keep it at that. I thank you.
Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, Osun State Governor, delivered this address during the Civil Service week