Tongues are wagging over the high number of aides appointed by some state governors, Daily Trust on Sunday reports.
Against the backdrop of dwindling resources and high cost of governance, not a few critics have described the appointments as outrageous, even as others have called for a review
The states affected are Adamawa, Niger, Kano, Akwa Ibom, Plateau and Ebonyi.
In Adamawa State, the appointment of 46 media aides by Governor Ahmadu Umaru Fintiri, is generating criticism from stakeholders, with many describing it as extravagant.
Humwashi Wonosikou, the Chief Press Secretary to the governor, had issued a release announcing the list of 46 media aides.
They comprised two special advisers, 10 senior special assistants and 34 social media assistants.
“Governor Fintiri has approved the appointment of two special advisers, senior special assistants and special assistants to serve as media aides. The two special advisers are Dr John Ngamsa (communication and strategy) and Babayola Toungo (media and publicity).
“The appointments, which take effect immediately, include George Kushi, Senior Special Assistant Media and Publicity; Ijafiya Domiya, SSA Digital and Visual Communication; Sherif Alhassan, SSA Electronic Media; Muhammed Tukur, SSA, New Media; Nurudeen Kama, SSA New Media; Pius Iliya, SSA New Media; Auwal Hamza, SSA New Media; Thomas Terry, SSA Visuals photography), Sunday Wugirah, a lawyer, SSA Public Affairs, and Victor Dogo, SSA Social Mobilisation, while 34 others are to serve as special assistants, social media and content creation”, the statement reads.
Two months later, precisely on October 6, the governor’s spokesman rolled out another list of 103 aides, including 37 principal special assistants, 45 senior special assistants and 21 special assistants.
149 aides to gulp N28m
Sources revealed that the monthly salaries for principal special assistants is above N300,000, while senior special assistants and special assistants receive N240,000 and N180,000 respectively.
It implies that over N28 million will be spent to maintain the political aides appointed by the governor.
But it is not the first time a governor would appoint a huge number of aides. For example, Nyako ran a monthly financial assistance programme with thousands of beneficiaries known as special assistants who were placed on monthly stipends. However, what drew attention to Fintiri’s recent appointees is the fact that they were expected to carry out roles as aides to the governor.
Sallau Amada, a chieftain of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) in Yola, expressed reservation about the appointments, saying it was done to compensate loyalists and members of the ruling party in the state.
He questioned the governor’s recruitment of dozens of social media campaigners who are concerned with the posting of materials to please their paymasters rather than engage in meaningful conversation to help the state.
“Some are qualified, but many are not. Paid activists on the social media do not care about the condition of the people; they are like praise singers, so just give them what they need and don’t give them a responsibility,” he added.
However, the governor’s press secretary disagreed that the number was extravagant and that the social media assistants may have been recruited to work as foot soldiers to attack political opponents.
According to him, each of the media appointees had been assigned a designation defining their roles, adding that the appointments would also serve as a poverty alleviation measure in the state.
He said, “For the social media assistants, there is no cause for alarm. Their role is to push what is given to them that will promote government policies and programmes. Their engagement by the governor was borne out of the desire for poverty alleviation.”
One of the media aides who spoke to Daily Trust on Sunday on condition of anonymity said he believed he would not be redundant because his role was clearly defined. He noted that the employment of 34 social media assistants would help sanitise posts on various online platforms.
In Niger State, the appointment of aides by Governor Mohammed Umaru Bago has been greeted with mixed reactions among citizens, including some officials of the APC in the state.
The governor recently assigned portfolios to newly appointed 41 female coordinators of political mobilisation, media relations, community relations, maternal and child health, Government House counsel, women support group, and women empowerment.
In addition, 90 female senior special assistants were assigned similar portfolios for political mobilisation, among others.
Some residents who spoke with Daily Trust on Sunday said the money to be spent on the over-bloated political appointments should be used to fix critical sectors, especially health and education.
Fatima Muhammad, a mother of 3, said the health sector in the state was faced with dearth of doctors and nurses, and wondered how 131 women appointed as aides would translate into development.
“I took my son to Minna General Hospital but I was disappointed. Only one doctor was attending to the many children that were brought on various health challenges. The doctor rejected our folders, saying he was tired because he was the only one on call. Imagine that,” she lamented.
A key member of the ruling APC who preferred anonymity said many of those who made the list of the 131 women appointed as aides were not qualified. He added that as a result of the appointments, cost of governance would be very high.
“Many of the appointments are merely patronage as most of them don’t have the capacity to contribute anything meaningful to the government,” he said.
Over N23.7m to be spent on 131 aides
Although the newly appointed senior special assistants and coordinators are said not to have done documentations to start collecting salaries, reliable sources told Daily Trust on Sunday that the salary of a senior special assistant is not below N150,000 after the deduction of taxes, while that of a coordinator is not below N250,000.
Special advisers, a position reportedly equivalent to that of commissioners, receive not below N350,000 as salary, while the salary of a special assistants is said not to be below N120,000.
Daily Trust on Sunday found that the Niger State Government would spend nothing less than N 10,250,000 to pay the salaries of the 41 female coordinators and N13,500,000 monthly to pay salaries of the 90 senior special assistants so far appointed.
Cumulatively, at least N23.7m will be spent to maintain the 131 female aides, aside the salaries of other appointees.
Sources said nothing less than N10,500,000 would be spent every month to pay the salaries of 30 special advisers.
However, the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Bologi Ibrahim, said the appointment of the 131 female coordinators and senior special assistants were in fulfillment of the governor’s campaign promise to carry women along in his administration.
In Kano, Governor Abba Kabir Yusuf has so far appointed 406 aides that are working for him.
This is besides commissioners, directors of ministries, departments and agencies and other appointees.
Among the appointees are personal assistants, special advisers, senior special assistants, senior special reporters and special reporters.
While personal assistants, special advisers and senior special assistants are familiar and common to every government, senior special reporters and special reporters are new and initiated by his administration.
The Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Sanusi Bature Dawakin Tofa, said the appointments were towards fulfilling the governor’s promise of a transparent government that would carry people along.
He said the appointments were also in line with the vision and mission of creating jobs, engaging youths in governance and transforming access to information.
He added that while the personal assistants and senior special advisers would serve their usual functions, the reporters would help in reporting activities and happenings among various agencies, parastatals, ministries and governmental bodies to the state government and the general public.
However, a civil society activist and renowned public commentator, Ibrahim Garba Maryam, said the appointments were not economically wise and would create unnecessary spending of public funds.
Maryam, who is the executive director of a civil society organisation, Gneder and Social Inclusive said, “The appointment of aides by state governors is a waste of resources. They are not doing anything but just receiving salaries.
“At a time when the economy needs to be improved they are busy spending unnecessarily,” he said.
The Commissioner for Information in the state, Baba Halilu Dantiye, said that considering the state’s population, the aides were not even enough.
He said the state government was doing that to ensure that the administration is transparent and always close to the people.
“If you look at our population, we need more that 406 appointees. We have 44 local governments and 447 wards; as such, we need assistants that will be reporting happenings in the nooks and crannies of the state for proper action,” he said.
251 aides to gulp N36.6m monthly
Findings by Daily Trust on Sunday revealed that the new aides are not aware of the amount they will be paid as their appointment letter did not contain their salary structure.
However, it was gathered that the immediate past administration paid N70,000 to senior special assistants as salary with an overhead of N50,000, making a total of N120,000 in a month.
Special advisers were said to have been paid N200,000 by the past administration.
If the present government will maintain the same payment, it will cost them N20,280, 000 in a month to settle the 169 senior special advisers the governor appointed.
It will also cost the government the sum of N16, 400,000 to settle the salaries of the 82 special assistants appointed by the governor.
The salaries of the 138 reporters deployed to ministries and agencies are not yet ascertained as they are new to the system. But there are reports that they will be paid stipends by the various agencies they are reporting from.
In Akwa Ibom State, Governor Umo Bassey Eno recently inaugurated 368 personal assistants drawn from each ward across the state to help the grassroots implementation of what he tagged his ARISE agenda.
Following grumblings that arose from some aggrieved members of the PDP who felt sidelined in the appointments, he promised 4,000 additional appointments, saying they would be used for the Neighborhood City Watch Programme.
This is in addition to 30 existing aides to the governor under different portfolios and the 23 commissioners and one special adviser sworn into office in July.
Dr Godwin Ntukudeh was appointed as his political adviser, as well as three honourary special advisers—Dr Henry Archibong, Sir Udo Kierian Akpan, Bishop Sam Akpan, representing Akwa Ibom North East, Akwa Ibom North West and Akwa Ibom South senatorial districts respectively.
Rationalising the appointments, Governor Eno said, “We had promised to return power to the people in line with our party’s mantra. Power to the people really means power to the people at the grassroots. That’s what we are trying to do.
“We insisted that everyone that had been picked would live within their wards. And I hope this is the true situation. But let me warn that if there is any time we find out that you are not living in your ward, we will not hesitate to remove you. We want people that will give us reports on the ground in their various wards.
“So, if you take this appointment and we later find out that you are in Uyo, or you are not living within your ward, please note that the same way we appointed you today, we will disappoint you because the hands that appointed can also disappoint.”
Before now, the governor had justified his reappointment of all the commissioners who worked with him in the administration of immediate past governor, Mr Udom Emmanuel, saying he was fulfilling his promise to include them in his administration if they supported him to emerge as governor.
Daily Trust on Sunday reports that it will cost the Akwa Ibom State Government not less than N73.6 million to maintain 368 aides as each of them will not earn less than N200,000 monthly.
Ironically, the governor had, in his recent maiden media parley complained that a huge chunk of the state’s monthly allocation, which is the second highest among the 9 Niger Delta states, was expanded on recurrent expenditure, including salaries and payment of project debts, with little remaining for the execution of new projects.
Civil society organisations have condemned the development, saying employing almost 5,000 youths in the agricultural sector to generate income for the state would have been more productive than hiring them as political aides who would contribute nothing financially to the state but rather take from it.
The chairman of civil society organisations in the state, Mr Harry Udoh, who said Governor Eno was ill advised on the large political appointments, added that employing them into the civil service or engaging them in agriculture would have been most beneficial.
“This is not something we are quite comfortable with. He has appointed 368 with the argument that he wants them to work in the communities and give him feedback. If he stops at that, probably we would say it is okay because one of his ARISE agenda points is rural development because rural communities have been neglected by previous governments despite the annual budget for the rural development ministry, but nothing much is happening around rural roads and electricity and medical care.
“But we are quite taken aback to hear that 4,000 more would be employed by the state government. Why we think they should be employed, we don’t think having them as personal assistants to the governor, which often than not keeps them idle, making them political jobbers and tools in the hands of nefarious political holders to drive their agenda, is proper. It doesn’t bring development for the state.
“It is quite worrisome to hear political appointments that do not add value to the lives of people employed. They would constitute themselves into a mass of people that would subdue the will and intent of the masses during elections.
“Apart from being burdensome to the resources of the state, we have to look at the future. You cannot keep that number of people redundant, all in the name of personal assistants to the governor of the state. They need to be productive,” he said.
Efforts to get the Commissioner for Information, Mr Ini Ememobong and the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Mr Ekerete Udoh to speak was unsuccessful as they did not pick their calls at the time of filing this report.
In Plateau State, Governor Caleb Mutfwang has appointed over 200 persons, including, the secretary to the state government, commissioners, heads of agencies, parastatals, special advisers.
Peter Gad, who is the executive director of CLEEN Foundation, a civil society organization, while commenting on the appointment by state governors, described them as waste of resources. He added that the resources often spent on political appointees would have been better channeled to other critical sectors, such health, security, education etc.
He said, “We often appeal that, either at the federal, state or local level, there should be slim governments.
“Running a slim government is that appointment should be on essential and need basis. But when you wake up and appoint 150 special advisers or special assistants, for example, the question is: What are they going to be assisting with or what value are they adding?
“The appointment of these individuals is not benefitting anybody but the individuals themselves. If you appoint aids, you need to buy them cars and get them housing allowances. And the appointees would appoint other people as their aides.”
Musa Adams, the state commissioner for information could not respond to calls or messages to respond to the matter.
In Ebonyi State, the Governor Francis Nwifuru-led administration has appointed 35 commissioners and 40 special assistants since he assumed office in May.
Boniface Nwankwo, the Special Assistant to the Governor on Documentation, said the large executive was not a political patronage as thought in some quarters of the state but mark of a people-oriented government.
“On Wednesday, Governor Nwifuru appointed more 5 special assistants, bringing the total number to 40 and 35 for commissioners.
“I don’t see anything wrong with that because our governor has demonstrated that his administration is people-oriented,” he explained.