Kingsley Obinna Nwaigburu is the general manager, Abia State Debt Management Office/Ministry of Finance Incorporated. In this interview with GODFREY OFURUM in Umuahia, Abia State capital, he spoke on corruption in the State’s Local Government Education Authority and how the previous administration created fake jobs for election purposes. He also expressed confidence in the Alex Otti administration to turn things around for good. Excerpts:
What is the essence of this office- Abia State Debt Management Office/Ministry of Finance Incorporated?
Over the years, this office has been in existence, but had been sidelined in previous administrations in the state.
The coming of Alex Otti, as the 5th executive governor of Abia State, who I call a due process man, thorough, proactive and technical, decided that this office should be active and that is why he appointed the general manager, who will now oversee it.
Before now, the Accountant General (AG) and the Commissioner for Finance were supervising the office and that of their different designations or offices.
However, the governor, who is a due process man, said no and by law, this office is supposed to be independent. It is an agency of its own. It is supposed to have a general manager, head of department, statician, accountant, and other staff. This agency is supposed to have about nine staff and the Governor had made it so.
I am happy to be appointed to head the agency. I am a chartered fellow of the management accountant, I have my Higher National Diploma (HND) in Accounting, Post Graduate Diploma (PGD) in Accounting, Masters Degree in Accounting and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Accounting.
I also belong to so many professional Accounting bodies. So, by the grace of God, the reason why Governor Otti appointed a general manager to head this office is becoming clearer.
This office conducted an investigation, we called “Salary Payroll Compliance” in all the 17 Local Government Education Authorities in the State and we concluded that excercise two weeks ago.
It was therein that we discovered that there are some account heads of some Local Government Education Authorities who colluded with officers in charge of payrolls (OC Payrolls) to shoot up salary schedule and payment.
We observed that some of these account heads prepare two salary schedules. The one they prepare for Education Management Authority is different from the one they submit to Accountant General’s office.
So, the one they submit to the AGs office is higher. So, when they collect the higher bill, they reduce it and pay to the Local Government Education Authorities the real wage bill and this is creating huge problem for the present administration in the state.
They thought that Governor Otti will continue with that system, but the governor said no, that we are going to have a single unit payment and now their business is being exposed.
Another thing we found out was that immidiately the governor was sworn in on May 29, 2023, he announced that all the account heads, payroll officers, all finance directors, that are in charge of salary preparation should prepare June salary, using the December, 2022 salary payment schedule.
Why did the governor give that instruction?
He did this to ensure that people in the system that are receiving salary, would be uploaded with the present salary structure, because the immidiate past administration led by the People’s lDemocratic Party (PDP) observed that Otti of Labour Party had emerged as the winner, they started employing people into the civil service and that is why you hear about fake teachers and their fake employments.
How can an outgoing government start employing people immidiately they knew that they had lost election and that a new government was coming.
And if you carry out a good comparative analysis, you will believe with me that they did the same thing in 2019. They employed before the election and immidiately after the election they pushed the employees out and that was what they wanted to do, but it backfired this time around.
They didn’t know that Otti of LP would win the election, so, immidiately they observed that Otti has emerged, they now want to implement payment of salary.
And that is why the people they employed in October, November, 2022 and didn’t pay them in October, November, December, January and February salaries, but immidiately they observed that Otti and LP were taking over leadership of the state, they started to pay the new workers from March, 2023, just to create problem for the present administration.
So, the governor approved that I should carry out an inquiry of salary payroll compliance and we observed that they were fake teachers and the governor said that they should be off, because they were not in the payroll of the Local Government Education Authorities, because they were not properly employed.
The salary they received, some of them were paid by hand, some were paid by individuals, not from the system of Abia State Government, because we have gone through our system and there names were not on the payroll.
So, to this end, my office had found out those fake teachers and we have discovered about 712 fake teachers in the Abia State Local Government Education Authority. The affected LGAs where we found the fake teachers are Obingwa, Isialangwa North, Aba North, Umuneochi and Bende.
These are the LGAs that were involved in this payroll anomaly and we have fished them out.
Though they are claiming that it is the present government that wants to push them away, I told them no. They are not even in the system and payroll of the LG Education Authority.
The governor is maintaining every bit of his words. So, in 2024, when we are going to have a general employment as the governor has promised to employ about 5000 teachers and I have told them to go and prepare their papers ahead.
The affected people came to my office recently and I have addressed them and they are now convinced that the past administration tricked them.
Were you able to fish out those involved in the padding of salary schedule of the LG Education Authorities?
Yes, like I told you, the payroll officers of the affected LGAs colluded with their cashiers and after the excercise we intend to transfer them with the permission of the governor to stop the menace.
The major culprits of this impunity are the Account Heads and the OC payrolls of the LGA Education Authorities. They are the major actors and to this end, I have written to the governor to give approval to change and transfer these people.
I have complained to the governor to give approval to let all these people, who are now the orange, but now want to answer apple to be transferred to other areas.
Can you quantify the implication of this on Abia revenue loss?
It is terrible, my brother, because now that we are ensuring that the people get their actual salaries, we found out that some people are now getting ₦30,000 above what they were receiving before and this happened over 24 years. Some principal officers are now receiving about ₦40,000 extra on their salaries .
Apart from LG Education Authority, are there other sectors that you discovered fake workers?
I have just secured approval to investigate Local Government Councils and from there we will now come to the state civil service and I know that we will discover a lot.
Has this revelation of padding of salary schedule at the LG Education Authorities in any way reduced the wage bill of the state?
Do you know that in our observation that some stakeholders in the state have been collecting salaries of some retirees and dead civil servants?
My office has observed that some of these stakeholders have been collecting millions from the state every month.
So, what we are doing will create jobs rather than lay off people. People may not understand what we are doing now, but I believe that they will soon understand what we are doing, because what we are doing is to remove sycophants in the system and that will give room to create employment.
The governor said he will employ 5000 workers, by the time we complete the excercise, the governor will see reasons to increase the number.
So, this excercise will help the public. By the time we fish out those, who have retired for over 20 years and their full salaries are still running; by the time we fish out the stakeholders that are taking salaries of pensioners and dead retirees that their salaries are still running, by the time we fish out ghost workers, the state will save money to employ people.
For instance, there is an LG in the State, I don’t want to mention the name now, that about 95 staff, who are yet to be discovered are taking salary every month. You don’t see them, you only hear their names.
Could you believe that in the inquiry that we conducted, we found out 148 repeated names that are somewhere taking salary in some other LGAs.
It is not that same person mentioned is the one taking those salaries, another invisible person is taking the salary in another location. For instance, I am Kingsley Nwaigburu and I am in Umuahia and same name is in the payroll of for instance Bende LG, the same name is also receiving salary in Isiala-Ngwa South.
My office had found out all these anomalies and I thank our governor for giving us this assignment.
What you are doing is life saving for Abia State. Are you really ready for this assignment?
Infact, I and my team are ready for it. We are prepared for it and we will do it without fear or favour.
Let us look at what the governor is doing so far. Do you think he has started well and in what areas has he done well,?
Without consulting an oracle, Otti in the meantime has done extremely well and we are hoping that he will do more. At the rate he started, instead of slowing down, he will be speeding. The rate cannot come down until Abia is revived. I know that Abians will want him to do another 4 years after his first term. He has started well and will end well.
The governor promised to clear arrears of salaries owed to workers by previous administration’s, how far has he gone with that?
He is doing that gradually. Staff in some ministries and LGs have received up to 5 months salaries in advance. What happened is that some sectors are not complying in raising their valcher and submitting same to the Government. Some think that it is business as usual, while some that took it serious and complied with the requirements have taken up to 5 to 6 month arrears of salaries. The Governor has started paying backlog of salary arrears of Abia State Government workers.
On road infrastructure, most of the rural roads in Abia are in bad condition, what do you expect him to do to make such roads motorable?
Governor Otti promised to rehabilitate roads in Aba, Umuahia and other major urban areas of the state and that was why he had started reconstruction of Port Harcourt Road and other roads in Aba. Recently, he inaugurated the Mayors of the 17 LGAs, because his plan is to push LG funds in the care of these Mayors for them to provide infrastructure in the rural areas.
He said that he is going to handle Aba and other major cities, while the LG Chairmen would handle their localities.
I wish that these Transition Committee Chairmen will follow the footsteps of the governor, and if they do, Abia will be better for it.
What do you expect from Elelenta Nwambuisi Elele, who was chosen as the Mayor of Isialangwa South, your LGA?
He is a superman. I believe in him and I know that he will perform wonderfully well. He is another infrastructure capacity leader, just like Governor Otti. He was already a leader before his appointment and he has promised to do more for his people. And I am ready to work with him to succeed
What is your message to Abians at this point?
I want all Abians to be ambassadors of the State. They should be patient with the present administration, because it is not going to be easy to write the wrongs of 24 years in just 6 months. They should have faith in Governor Otti, because I know he has capacity to change Abia for good.
Otti is planning to support farmers, artisans and micro, small and medium enterprenuers (MSMEs) and civil servants to get their salaries regularly.