By Sarafa Ibrahim
In the beginning, only few could be persuaded that the half-salary debt conundrum that had dogged Osun state for quite some years can be salvaged. Even when Governor Ademola Adeleke expressed sincere commitment to clear the mess, his opponents, particularly Gboyega Oyetola, the immediate past governor, pushed so hard to create a sense of impossibility.
And you can’t really blame him because we all saw how horrible his best was for the state. In fact, it was part of his inadequacies that created the mess that Governor Adeleke offered to clear, and so, he may find it so hard to see that it can be done.
It is worthy to note that the Adeleke administration inherited N20bn half salary debt as well as over N50bn in entitlements to retirees. Although, the figures are frightening, and capable of stirring concerns on how to go about it considering the economic situation of Osun state, but Governor Adeleke was unwavering, which is clearly the hallmark of true leadership.
Typical of a leader who meant well, Governor Adeleke accepted the challenge posed by the half-salary debt, and as a way out, released a template to follow in the payment of the owed salaries. In the template signed by the Head of Service, Mr. Samuel Aina, in February, the Adeleke administration committed to paying the salary debt every quarter.
Just as outlined, Governor Adeleke paid two months of the half-salary to workers and pensioners in the first quarter of the year. And only today, the Spokesperson to the governor, Mallam Olawale Rasheed, announced the approval of Governor Adeleke to pay another month of the half salary.
This will bring payments of the half-salary to three months, and even impressive, in line with the template put up by the government in February.
Shortly after the news of the approval, someone reached out to me to know how it was possible for Governor Adeleke to achieve what Oyetola claimed was impossible and could not attempt in the 48-months he was in office.
Well, this is not unexpected. For the four years that Oyetola was governor, he practically ignored series of pleas to see to the payment of the owed salaries. Even when he’s reminded of his promise to offsetting the debt, Oyetola cites the paucity of funds as an excuse to dodge off the question of responsibility.
In short, unlike his predecessor, Governor Adeleke is showing us what commitment can do. While Osun finances is in distress due to gross mismanagement of the past, Governor Adeleke has demonstrated fiscal discipline to ensure that the meagre available resources of the state truly serve the benefit of the people.
This is why Governor Adeleke could go on to implement the template to clear the half salary debts he inherited from the past administration. This is not so different from the cash backing of promotions of civil servants done by the past administration by Governor Adeleke. Oyetola had in 2019 approved promotion for civil servants but it was Governor Adeleke in May this year who made sure the benefit doesn’t end on paper but truly reflected in the salary of workers.
The impressive thing here is that, these kind of gestures is not limited to active workers but also senior citizens, who were also largely abandoned by the previous administration. Between November 27, 2022, and now, Governor Adeleke has released billions in bonds to clear entitlements of retired personnel of the state. Only recently, Governor Adeleke approved nearly half a billion to settle the pension claims of 734 pensioners on the old pension scheme in the state. This is in addition to the ambitious plan to enrol retirees on health insurance scheme to cater for their health needs at old age.
So far, Governor Adeleke has demonstrated genuine commitment to the welfare of workers and pensioners. In the midst of little, he strived so hard to make sure that people who laboured for the state are not ignored as their benefits are given priority. This is leadership that Osun state deserves, and just as we can clearly see, is making the difference, not just for the welfare of civil servants, but also senior citizens who gave the best of their lives in the service of the state.
•Sarafa Ibrahim is a Special Assistant to Osun Governor and writes from Osogbo, Osun State.