BY ABIODUN KOMOLAFE
Mutatis mutandis, politics is not the same as repudiating the ethics of public administration. To say that the executive governor of a state has the right or power to stop the payment of workers’ salary – what they earn legitimately – is, to say the least, an evolutionary throwback. That the society could not be bothered, due to political reasons or factors, is also a tragedy.
The Governor of Osun, Ademola Adeleke, has done the unprecedented by withholding the November 2022 salary and allowances of public servants (political appointees) in the state. Not only that, he has also refused to pay the half-salary arrears of the same category of people. If those people were not entitled to the salaries and allowances in the first place, that would have been a different matter entirely.
Section 15 of the Labour Act states that “wages shall become due and payable at the end of each period for which the contract is expressed to subsist (daily, weekly or at such other period as may be agreed upon) provided that where the period is more than one month, the wages become due and payable at intervals not exceeding one month.” Without doubt, this and other relevant statutes are equally ingrained in various international human rights instruments to which Nigeria is a signatory.
Well, it’s not only Adeleke who’s guilty of this wrong act. The technocrats and the administrative staff working with and/or for him are also to be blamed! Give it to him! The public may be asking for too much if it assumed that the governor should be versed in public administration. But what about the paid professionals, who’re working for him? In sane climes, at least, one of them should have told him that doing such was against the norms of public service; and that, if the abnormality was allowed to stay, it’d become the norm. If, per adventure, Adeleke is booted out today, another governor that comes in will also do whatever pleases him, not necessarily according to the dictates of the ethics of public administration. So, somebody needs to tell the governor that withholding the people’s salary, illegitimately, is not a civilised way of flaunting power in the 21th century.
“Where did Adeleke get the arbitrary idea of withholding public servants’ salaries in a democracy?”
With the helpful service of hindsight, that members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the Osun State House of Assembly (OSHA), even with a clear majority in the House, failed woefully to stand for the people, is no longer news! Come to think of it, salaries of functional public servants – some of them apolitical – whose only crime was that they worked for former governors of the state from another political bent were withheld! Still, our Honourable Members kept mute! People who were previously employed by the state were also sacked but, instead of siding with the dispossessed and the distressed, OSHA members were busy fighting over Christmas gifts, with rumours of impeachment proceedings flying hither and thither like loose papers. Is it any wonder they were ramblingly using former Governor Rauf Aregbesola as a cover-up for their inadequacies? Well, the good news about Nigeria’s emerging democracy is that elected representatives, who fail to fulfill their election promises can now be booted out during elections. Thankfully too, the barometer of politics is now easier measured when one understands how to measure the street credibility profile of a candidate.
To say the least, Adeleke’s action casts a spell on the credibility of the administration of the state. How? Vehicles were allocated; and there were records to show who got what! Therefore, the onus lies on the relevant arms of government to deal with whosoever must have taken a car away illegitimately without making any noise about it. By the way, did those, whose half-salary arrears were also withheld by the governor, go away with official vehicles? Again, if there’s a working condition between Aregbesola and Adeleke, as some political gladiators are wont to make Nigerians believe, why didn’t the ‘Dancing Governor’ pay the arrears of those political appointees who also served under ‘Ogbeni’?
Apart from the fact that Adeleke lacks constitutional powers to withhold workers’ legitimate earnings, his action canvasses negative implications for the polity. Notable among them is a credible motivation for public servants to defraud the system, especially, since it (the system) is seen as having no empathy or well-being considerations for them. Unknown to ‘Mr. Governor’, a month’s salary for anybody who’s not a thief means a lot! For example, there were people who depended on that money for survival, many of whom would have died. In some cases, families, children, even older relatives also depended on that salary.
Therefore, was it right for somebody to have seized that money, thereby stifling a long list of Nigerians of such livelihood and causing them pain for political reasons? Have we forgotten that it can also lead to unornamented deprivation, psychological torture and allied corporeal challenges? If this human rights abuse also has the capacity to take away self-esteem, then those who live in glass houses must remember: ‘quid sit circuit est circa’ (what goes around comes around). In any case, Osun would have been saved from this messy pass, had former Governor Gboyega Oyetola been able to pay the state workforce before leaving office.
Without doubt, Adeleke’s action has again necessitated the call for a re-examination of the dynamics of the civil service in a political setting. For instance, at the announcement of a new incoming government, the key functionaries of the current administration will start falling over one another to present a favourable position so as to secure their positions in the new government. The Accountant General of the State will run away! The Head of Service will become more catholic than the pope in selling the incoming government’s programmes! And the Permanent Secretaries will start singing like a canary, to the extent that one begins to wonder if it’s not the same set of people working “diligently” with the outgoing government. The more reason the laws governing the civil service in the country need to be reviewed in line with current realities. For instance, if the Permanent Secretary understands that his job is tenured, he will understand the essence of the office. If he wants to steal the public till dry, let him do so while his tenure lasts. But he knows that he has to go with his boss; then face the music.
The state bureaucracy is also suspect in this mess! According to the Weberian ideal type, bureaucracy is supposed to be impersonal. It is also supposed to be a system based on rules! So, where did Adeleke get the arbitrary idea of withholding public servants’ salaries in a democracy? Of equal concern is the raging issue of boreholes, out of which 85 per cent were reported to have been sunk across the state and were awaiting commissioning. Ditto for the University of Ilesa, where the governor was alleged to have usurped the functions of the Governing Council; and the Cargo Airport at Iddo Osun! Well, I hope to dwell more on them in subsequent interventions!
In the final analysis, it behoves Adeleke to rectify this ugly situation to prevent the society from relapsing into the Dark Ages. That’s not all! The ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (Osun PDP) and its appendages shouldn’t rejoice too early because ‘the whip used in flogging the senior wife is in the wardrobe, awaiting the junior wife.’ Interestingly, something is currently working for Osun; and that’s the ability to vote out bad people and bad government. It is indeed a plus for democracy! May the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, grant us peace in Osun State.
Komolafe wrote from Ijebu-Jesa, Osun State.