Ekiti State Governor Kayode Fayemi and political appointees are making an unprecedented sacrifice of 50 per cent salary cut to keep the wheel of governance moving, amid fiscal challenges posed by COVID-19 pandemic. ODUNAYO OGUNMOLA examines the issues surrounding the salary reduction.
It was not an easy decision to take but it had to be taken in the overriding interests of about 2.5 million residents of Ekiti State majority of whose votes brought the All Progressives Congress (APC) government to power in 2018.
The Governor Kayode Fayemi, in a rather novel and unprecedented manner, ordered a 50 per cent reduction in the salaries of political appointees (including himself) owing to fiscal challenges posed by the menace of Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Before the first index case was reported on the state, Fayemi had taken some proactive steps to combat the virus which started with revving up public awareness and setting up of a Task Force which he personally chairs on March 2.
Enormous resources were committed to equipping the main State Isolation Centre in Ado Ekiti, mobilisation of personnel, purchase of equipment, among others and that explained why the first index case was well managed before being discharged.
Besides, another isolation centre was set up in Ido Ekiti while the state government also committed more resources to the purchase of food items with which the state Food Bank was activated to assist the vulnerable residents fight hunger during the lockdown period.
At the last count, over 40,000 households across the 16 local government areas had been reached with food packs and other forms of palliatives to give relief to indigent residents, the aged, the physically challenged, the sick, widows, the unemployed and those whose daily businesses were affected by the lockdown.
These unexpected financial commitments drained the coffers of a government that was irrevocably committed and determined to save the residents from a deadly pandemic.
When Fayemi presented the 2020 budget estimate to the House of Assembly last December, the scourge of COVID-19 was not envisaged and the budget was based on projection of 57 dollars per barrel.
It is an incontestable fact that the 57 dollars per barrel is no longer realistic in view of global slump in the international oil prices occasioned by COVID-19 pandemic, which was the immediate trigger of the slump.
The lockdown has also denied the state income from the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) with many businesses shut down while others, like banks and other essential services, were running skeletal services.
In recent broadcasts to the people of the state on the COVID-19 crisis, Fayemi had harped on the need to make some sacrifices but nobody knew that the gesture would start from the Governor himself by halving his own salary and those of other officials of his government.
Also affected by the salary slash is the Deputy Governor, Otunba Bisi Egbeyemi; Secretary to the State Government, Biodun Oyebanji; Chief of Staff, Biodun Omoleye; Commissioners, Special Advisers, Chairmen and Members of Commissions, Boards and Agencies, Senior Special Assistants, Special Assistants, Senior Technical Assistants, Technical Assistants, among others.
This was to first time political office holders will be slammed with a pay cut by a chief executive in the state and which would be announced as a state policy in an altruistic desire to get things done for the electorate.
According to a statement by the Commissioner, Ministry of Information and Values Orientation, Aare Muyiwa Olumilua, the pay cut which exempted civil servants will be channelled into the execution of developmental projects across the state.
He added that the action was to enable the Fayemi administration to fulfill promises made to the Ekiti people while seeking their mandate describing the decision as “a moral duty of political appointees at improving the welfare of Ekiti people.”
The decision was popular among many people in the state especially the electorate who voted Fayemi and his party into power and expect dividends of democracy in forms of capital projects and social investments.
The news dominated discourse on national televisions and radio stations based in Ekiti where residents called in to commend the Governor for laying good example in good governance.
During the phone-in programmes on radio stations like Voice 89.9 FM, Ado Ekiti, Ayoba 95.1FM, Ado Ekiti Ekiti 91. 5 FM, Ado Ekiti and New Cruse 92.7 FM, Ikere Ekiti, monitored by this writer, many of the callers heaped plaudits on Fayemi for “acting in line with the realities on ground and sacrificing the convenience of himself and political office holders for common good.”
One of the callers contended that reduction in allocations from the Federation Account occasioned by the dip in oil price should not put a halt to various developmental projects that are ongoing in various parts of the state.
A caller said: “Governor Fayemi has set an example in Nigeria by reducing the salaries of members of his cabinet and himself because we elected their government to serve us and they should be ready to make sacrifices for us.
“This COVID-19 period is a time to make difficult decisions and one of them is the slashing of salaries of our people in power because Ekiti people won’t listen to excuses for non-performance as another election is coming in which they will tell us what they have done and why we should still keep faith with them.”
Another caller said: “In my own opinion, this is the best decision Fayemi has taken since coming to office because we the masses have been clamouring for reduction in salaries, allowances and other emoluments of political office holders.
“This shows that our Governor listens to what the people are saying because the politicians always tell us that the major reason why they are seeking our mandate is to serve and this is a good way to serve the masses.
“I believe this should be done at the federal level as well and we expect President Buhari to reduce the salaries of the people in Abuja including members of his cabinet and National Assembly members.”
Oyo State Governor Seyi Makinde, of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), has since followed Fayemi’s example by slashing the salaries of political appointees in his state.
One of the political appointees affected by the pay cut, Elder Kayode Oso, described the action as one of the burden true leaders should be ready to bear in difficult times.
Oso, who serves as SA on Values Orientation, in a post on one of the social media platforms, stressed that there is no price paid by present crop of office holders that was too much for the success of the administration.
He said: “The true worth of a great leader comes to play whenever there is need to make tough and decisive decision.
When a leader is ambitious with tall vision for his subject and passionate to make a huge difference, such leader will always challenge himself or herself to succeed at a reasonable cost while tough and win-win decisions become more commonly used weapons.
“The Ekiti State government has demonstrated having unbelievable level of beneficial programmes and projects for Ekiti people.
This government has been exploiting all decent avenues to make funds available for the smooth executions of these programmes and projects, but it has been tough and uneasy to have smooth sailing right from the start of the administration due to the economic strength of our dear state.
“It is not easy to get good things done especially when fund is a constraint without tough decisions that may at times distort private and public existing cash flows. Then comes the issue of love and sacrifice in politics and to the success of this administration.
“This is our government, its smooth delivery of dividends of democracy through provision of viable and sustainable development in life-impacting programmes and projects required our support in cash and kind.
“There is no price paid by aides of the governor to the success of this administration that’s too much. It is not where we stand when the sailing is smooth that counts but our ability to stay calm and do the right thing in a tough period like now.
“The financial storm is made worse with the Covid-19 epidemic which has paralysed all sectors of our national life and cash remains the only oil that makes government functional.
“All activities that create incomes for our state are suspended. Monthly allocation is thinner than ever while the responsibilities of the state government become enlarged.
“It’s time to truly demonstrate our loyalty by accepting the pay cut for now in good faith if indeed we are loyal, so that our government can stay afloat and more responsive to the people’s needs in this turbulent time.
“A time to celebrate and to truly feel fulfilled will come only if we take active part and pay all our dues handsomely to make our government functional now. Like every previous challenges, Covid-19 too will pass and we shall come together to celebrate our roles in the ensuing victory.
“I appreciate our governor, Dr. John Kayode Fayemi, for his doggedness and large heart to have succeeded this far in spite of inadequate funds. I learned from his administrative style that everything is possible when you continue to improvise and think differently.
“The governor has been wonderful! At times, I take joy on the fact that God wants to bring out Governor Kayode Fayemi ingenuity and that was the only reason he was born in Ekiti and not Lagos where there is more than enough resources.”
As the Governor and his aides adjust to the pay cut for as long as COVID-19 lasts, the people of Ekiti State will be interested in seeing the pace of work in the key capital projects that are going on in the state.
Luckily for Fayemi, a good number of his signature projects were brought about with collaboration with development partners and multilateral agencies which he wooed to the state since staging a comeback to power in October 2018.
Development partners like the World Bank, African Development Bank (AfDB), European Union (EU), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) are presently involved in the execution of key capital projects in many parts of Ekiti.
The projects include the Ekiti Agro Cargo Airport, the new Ado-Iyin Road, revitalisation of Ikun Dam, Egbe Damand Ureje Dam, Urban Water Projects, Water, Sanitation Projects to end Open Defecation are being done in collaboration with these agencies.
Dairy giants, Promasidor, is reviving the Ikun Dairy Farm while Dangote Group Stallion Group and the Embassy of Japan are also investing in making Ekiti a major rice producer through establishment of rice mills in the state.
The Governor’s efforts in bringing more development partners would soon materialise as arrangements with a good number of them had reached advanced stages.
All indications point to the fact that Fayemi is working hard to leave Ekiti better than he met it and is ready to tackle challenges that may want to truncate the dream.
He has demonstrated the traits of a selfless leader with the pay cut which all his appointees have bought into to make a greater Ekiti possible.
History will be kind to Fayemi whenever the story of COVID-19 will be relived in the future for choosing to identify with the people by making sacrifices to make their lives better at a very difficult period.