A former Head of Service (HoS) in Osun State, Mr Segun Akinwusi, in this interview by OLUWOLE IGE, speaks on the condition of retirees, the state’s indebtedness, corruption and other sundry issues.
As a former Head of Service in Osun State and a retiree, how would you say pensioners have been faring in the country?
I must tell you that I am one of the saddest people around because having served the government for a good part of one’s life, 35 years, and retiring with nothing to take home is disheartening. Even when such people were still in the active service, their monthly earnings were not sufficient for them. Before I became the HoS, I was always challenged when I saw people retire and discovered that the quality of their lives depreciated immediately after retirement. That was why I always encouraged civil servants to invest and plan for the future. Even there is nothing to write home about on investments today. What can they invest on? It is a very sad development and it is unfortunate that our governments are not doing anything to address it. It is a sign of irresponsibility on the part of the government. Our people are so irresponsible that they don’t obey the law. When you get the book of estimate of the government, there is a segment called Consolidated Revenue Charge Funds. It means that any money that comes into the coffers of government, it is the first charge that they have to take out and there are four items on that charge funds under the sub-head of expenditure.
The first item is the pension of the retirees, second is the salary of judges, the third one is the salary of the auditor-general and the fourth one is security votes of the governor or the president, as the case may be. Salary of workers is under another sub-head. But today what we see is that the first three items are not given reckoning. Those that made that regulation in the country’s constitution knew that retirees don’t have any source of income, judges cannot be begging around to do their job and the auditor-general has to perform his duty in a conducive condition. However, you will note that it is the security votes that attract their attention. It is a worrisome development to see retirees in pitiable condition and one begins to express fear for the future of public service. This kind of treatment of pensioners can encourage corruption among serving public officials when they see that their future is bleak. They will try as much as possible to amass illicit wealth while in service so that they can take care of the rainy days. When the contributory pension scheme came, I gave all my support to it, because you contribute part of your earnings and the government contributes their own. But what do you see today? A lot of people who retired about four or five years ago cannot collect their money. It is a criminal act on the part of the government. They deducted money from people’s earnings and never added their own and the money grew wings. Maybe this is happening because we are not taking up our government on those things that they do.
But the state government claims to be paying pensioners their entitlements regularly.
In fairness to the present government in Osun State, since they came on board, they have been paying. But aside from their entitlements, some pensioners have not collected their gratuities. For instance, somebody who is entitled to collect about N10 million or N12 million is being given N100,000 or N200,000. Some people who retired about seven years ago are being given N400,000. What can such people do with those amounts? Thank God that this current government is honouring payment in terms of pension, but they are owing some pensioners who retired in 2011 and 2012. These categories of pensioners have not collected their entitlements.
Recently the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission published revenues that accrued to states for January, February and March, which indicated that Osun expended about 80 per cent on debt servicing. What does this portend for the future of the state?
One does not need to be a soothsayer to know that the future of Osun State is bleak. A situation whereby all your financial resources are going into debt servicing, what concrete development can you achieve? Unfortunately, a lot of people who should speak up are not saying anything. I pity the government. The problem we are facing didn’t start today. It started about seven or eight years ago when the then governor was obtaining loans and that was why some of us were raising the alarm that the way things were going, the future of the state was at stake. The future generations have too much on their neck now because they will be servicing debts. They have stolen the future of these children. That is just the bottom line.
What do you mean by saying they have stolen the future of the children?
The salary they would earn in about 25 years from now, somebody has stolen it about eight years ago. What future do they have? It means they will just be going about servicing debts. If you start work today and you are encumbered by the debts you knew nothing about, your future has been mortgaged. Their future has been mortgaged through unbridled borrowing. There is nothing bad in borrowing, but when you want to borrow, it should be subject to your ability to pay. In the public service, there are what we call car loan, housing loan and others. What a level three officer takes differs from what a level seven officer takes in terms of loan. For example, the thinking is that if you are earning N100 and you are spending 90 per cent of it to service a loan you have taken, how do you feed your family and take care of other expenditures? It means they want you to steal or die. By the time they were borrowing, they were supposed to consider their ability to pay. Unfortunately, they never did that.
About seven years ago, one man from the Debt Management Office (DMO) came to Osogbo and said Osun’s debt was sustainable and some of us said no, the state’s debt was not sustainable. As of that time, our borrowing was about 300 per cent more than our ability to pay. How do we sustain it? This is a Pandora’s box that will continue to open every day. The people that are in government today are not seeing how we can get out of the quagmire. There is no way we can get out of the quagmire except they take certain actions. Even, before the advent of the coronavirus pandemic, what was their IGR and now that the pandemic is here, what can they generate? Some other sources where revenues ought to come for the government have been desecrated. I know a lot of Osun’s properties that could generate returns but which have been sold away. There were some blue chip investments that we inherited from the days of the old Western Region which have been sold away. These are some of the things that could have given us some cushion now.
Debt servicing is the biggest problem Osun State has today. When I see the government roll out lots of taxes, I just laugh. The ability to collect taxes or generate revenue is subject to the economy itself. The economy is not booming. Where do you expect people to pay taxes? The government needs to boost the economy to expand its revenue base. Most of the people in government today are architects of their own misfortune. The majority of the dramatis personae in government today were part of the immediate past administration. They were handicapped at that time because they were not in positions where final decisions were taken on critical issues. Civil servants can only give advice to their political boss, but when such advice is not taken, what can they do? Nothing. Our politicians have their minds set on what they want to do. Most of them have no concern for the public they want to serve. Essentially, public service is about protecting the interest of the people, not lining the pockets of politicians. But today, what we have are professional politicians who don’t have a second address. That is why they want to kill themselves to get into public office. When someone sells his two or three houses because he wants to win an election, what do you expect him to do after winning such election and getting into office? Our politics is too expensive. Today, people see serving the government either in elected or appointed capacity as a profession and they want to maximise whatever they can gain from there.
There is a widely held view that corruption in Nigeria is escalating despite the anti-graft mantra of President Muhammadu Buhari. What is your take on this?
Is anybody fighting corruption in Nigeria? Somebody needs to educate some of us about that. With what we are seeing today, I don’t think anyone is fighting corruption. No development can be achieved with the quantum of corruption that is taking place in this country. With the volume of financial scandals going on today, fingers are pointing at the people in government. When you say they are fighting corruption, most us want to disagree. Our system and the lifestyle of our politicians are encouraging corruption. Look at what is happening in the National Assembly.
Some time ago, a former Emir of Kano, who is also a former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, said 25 per cent of Nigeria’s resources was being cornered by less than 300 people in the National Assembly. Our country is a population of about 200 million people. When you add the salary of each federal legislator, which is about N13 million, to other allowances they collect, including what they collect on oversight functions, you will know the import of the huge expenditure in the National Assembly. When a lawmaker at the national level earns close to N30 million monthly and you look at our minimum wage, which is N33,000, which has not even been implemented in most states, you can see the contrast and absurdity. Does that portend any good thing for the future of this country? That is why politics has become a do-or-die affair. Except corruption is fought to a standstill, we cannot develop in Nigeria because what we need to develop with are being taken away by a privileged few.
What is even sadder is that most of the stolen money is stashed away in foreign countries. The stolen money is not within the economy. When the pandemic started, the United States of America reduced its lending rate to almost 0.25 per cent. If the lending rate is reduced to less than 10 per cent and agriculture is encouraged, things can begin to take shape in Nigeria. Money being taken outside the country doesn’t serve any purpose. I am not trying to encourage stealing but when people corner our common wealth and such fund is invested in the country, it can create jobs for the people. All the money the late General Sani Abacha stole and stashed away in the US and other countries is being recovered without any accruable interest. Corruption is still very much with us in Nigeria.
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