By Moses Alao
On Monday, 6th November, 2023, the Oyo State governor, ‘Seyi Makinde, did what he does best, he pulled another rabbit out of the hat by declaring that the state would give a monthly cash award to civil servants and pensioners in the state for six months to cushion the effects of the economic hardship in the country.
While workers would take home an additional N25,000, pensioners would pocket N15,000 monthly, the governor said, reckoning that this effort is in addition to the many interventions made by the government to cater to the welfare of the people at this trying period.
The governor was quick to add that the payment would be backdated to cover the month of October and that if the state’s purse is buoyant enough after an additional N2.2 billion, which the monthly cash award would add to the state’s wage bill, had been taken care of, the government might even do something for the month of September.
With the announcement of the cash award, what was started by Governor Makinde on June 9, 2023 as a wholesome approach towards mitigating the effects of the removal of fuel subsidy by the Federal Government, an approach that was later galvanised into what is now widely known as the Sustainable Action for Economic Recovery (SAfER) in Oyo State as announced in a state broadcast on 6th August, 2023, reached a crescendo.
In the weeks leading up to the Monday climax, which brought a huge relief to civil servants and pensioners in the state, the state government executed a number of plans aimed at cushioning the effects of the hardship being experienced by residents of the state following the removal of fuel subsidy. These plans, lined up under SAfER, included the transport support scheme for residents and workers. Under the scheme, the state government increased the number of Mass Transit Buses and their routes in Ibadan for workers and all residents, reduced the fares and also opened up inter-city routes across all the zones of the state, also at greatly discounted fares.
The action plans executed also included the flag-off of the distribution of food relief packages to 200,000 poorest of the poor households on 30th August, 2023. The food relief distribution has been going on in phases since then.
Earlier, between the first and the third weeks of August, the state government had embarked on distributions of farm inputs, including implements, seedlings, fertilizers, herbicides and feeds to residents across 12 local governments as part of the planned distribution of farm inputs to 10,000 smallholder farmers in the state also under the SAfER initiative. This has since been followed up with the distribution of poultry feeds and additional farm inputs in other councils.
Also on the timeline of activities, the state government put in place a N500 million loan scheme for agripreneurs as well as another N500 million for Small and Medium Scale Enterprises, with the processes for accessing both loans fast-tracked within the last few weeks. A symbolic presentation of cheques to beneficiaries of the SME support took place penultimate week, with residents already drawing benefits from the scheme.
Other components in the SAfER initiative, including the Health Insurance Scheme for 100,000 residents and 50,000 pensioners had also come in tow.
However, civil servants in the state had remained expectant that the governor would bring forth a magic with regards to issues of salary increase and the general welfare of the workforce beyond the intervention through the transportation support scheme.
By now, workers and residents of Oyo State have become accustomed to Makinde’s magic, the same magic he has brought to bear in the governance of the state in the last four years and six months as a composite administrator, erudite leader and a people-centric politician.
So, for a teeming population of workers, it was only a matter of when and not if.
But in the days and weeks leading up to the announcement of the N25,000 and N15,000 cash awards, many Oyo State civil servants had accosted me to ask when will ‘Oga do something.’ One of them, a neighbour and teacher at the St. Annes Secondary School, Molete (names withheld), had particularly pestered me on occasions, stating how Kwara, Ogun and other states had been giving N10,000 monthly to its civil servants. She once assumed the role of NLC chairman in the state, telling me that workers’ patience was thinning out and that they would go on strike.
But my responses to the workers, and particularly to the teacher, had always been straightforward: ‘Our governor does not rush to take decisions and whenever he does, it is always in the best interest of the people.’ I had also been quick to add that the state government already set up a committee to review the salary of workers and that Labour leaders were well-represented in it. I also informed her that all those states where the N10,000 pittances are paid to workers can never be set as models for Oyo, which has always been a pacesetter since Makinde’s assumption of office.
I reminded her that Ogun, Kwara and other states could never take the shine off Oyo, where Governor Makinde had been paying the 13th salary since he assumed office in 2019. No, they can’t. I was also quick to add that Makinde gave all pensioners in Oyo State a Christmas allowance in December 2022, way before the current hardship began and that I didn’t read any such news from the states she now adulates as being workers-friendly.
On all occasions when I interacted with my neighbour and other workers, my final shot had always been ‘E lo f’okan ba’le, Oga will do what is right!’ So, no one was more joyful than me on Monday, when the governor announced that the cash award will be N25,000 for workers and N15,000 for pensioners. Simply put, a pensioner’s cash award, which is an addition to his/her promptly paid monthly pension, is higher than the cash awards being given to workers in other states. And, wait for it; did even the Federal Government give the cash award to pensioners? I doubt, as I did not read that part in the news. Now, that is the ‘a ji se bi Oyo’ edge that GSM has returned to Oyo State since 2019.
Since Monday when the cash award was announced, I have been passing the frontage of my teacher-neighbour’s house, hoping to bump into her and gainsay her and give her an ‘I told you so’ grin, in fulfilment of the Yoruba proverb, ‘ti eegun eni ba mo o jo, ori a ma a ya atokun.’ [if a masquerade is versed in the art of dancing, its chaperon will no doubt be proud of it].
My principal and the governor of Oyo State has been hailed by many people as the pride of the South-West, face of good governance and all that, but his penchant for making people, especially the aged pensioners, happy has been legendary and so is his tendency to set the pace for other leaders across the country. For this trait, I’d like to hail him as the gift that keeps giving.
Alao is the Special Assistant (Print Media) to Governor ‘Seyi Makinde