The Governor of Niger State, Alhaji Abubakar Bello, on Wednesday painted a gloomy picture of his state’s economy, saying it had become impossible for him to pay salaries.
Bello spoke with State House correspondents shortly after meeting President Muhammadu Buhari behind closed doors at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
“We have laid the cards on the table; we are not hiding anything. We are very transparent as much as we can but the truth of the matter is that I cannot give what we don’t have. I wish I had; personally if I had, I would have paid (salaries) from my pocket but I can’t,” the governor told reporters.
He said his government had been borrowing from banks since January to augment whatever came to the state in form of federal allocation. He said as of May ending, his government was in debt to the tune of N3bn.
According to Bello, if the trend continues till December, his state’s debt profile will have risen to N10bn. He said his government decided to sit with labour leaders and discuss the issue because it could not offer what it did not have.
While saying it was not healthy to continue borrowing to pay salaries, the governor said there were other pressing issues that needed his government’s attention apart from salaries.
“I think we should go back to the table. Of course, we can’t give what we don’t have. We are facing difficult times now, so let us sit down and see what we can do.
“I really think it is unhealthy to keep on borrowing just to pay salaries. Apart from that, we are not just there to pay salaries, there are a lot of issues.
“I got a call this morning from one Girls’ Secondary School that their roof is off in six out of seven dormitories. Where will they sleep? Now if I take the whole revenue and pay salaries, how am I going to fix schools, hospitals?” the governor wondered.
He said the state has a population of over four million, while he put the civil service strength at about 40,000.
Bello explained that with N1.5bn from federation account, the state still had to borrow to pay 40,000 people against over three million people that it needed to cater for.
While saying that nobody should be blamed for the sharp drop in oil price, the governor said everybody should be ready to make sacrifices.
He said, “I am willing to make sacrifices, all my appointees are willing to make sacrifices.
“We have shown example by cutting down our expenditure, we have cut down the expenses of the Government House from N150m a week to between N20m and N25 million a week.
“So we have cut down Government House expenditure by over 70 per cent and I mean these are all sacrifices.”
The governor disclosed that his government is currently probing the administration of his predecessor, Babangida Aliyu.
He said although some pension funds that were misappropriated in the past had been recovered, investigation was still ongoing.
Although he said he did not want to interfere with the investigation, Bello said the team had met with the former governor.