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POLITICS:- Ministers’ Aides Turn Executive Beggars

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Some political appointees, particularly special and personal assistants to ministers serving in President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet are at daggers drawn with their principals over the nonpayment of their salaries for months. Investigations by our correspondents showed that the situation has created so much discomfort for this cadre of employees that many have been forced to live on charity and the goodwill of friends and relations.

The situation is even worse for many aides who came into Abuja recently and were hoping to settle down as “big boys”. The hard reality, New Telegraph learnt, is that many of them are still battling with accommodation issues and have been finding it hard to pay their children’s school fees and meet other family obligations.

It was also gathered that a good number of these aides have had to throw in the towel when all entreaties to get their bosses to pay them their emoluments did not yield the desired results. Our investigations also revealed that the situation was almost the same in nearly all the ministries.

In one of the ministries, it was observed that some of the aides to the minister, who were recruited as protocol officers, have abandoned their duties and were running after contractors and friends of their principal with the aim of getting some cash to pay their bills. A source in one of the ministries confided in our correspondent that some of the aides have perfected a way of cornering high profile visitors to the minister’s office, especially state governors, heads of agencies and parastatals as well as diplomatic delegations.

New Telegraph learnt that one of the contractors got two aides of a minister accommodation in Abuja. The sole aim of establishing undue familiarity with these visitors, New Telegraph learnt, was to enable them extort money from the visitors. It was also gathered that the anti-corruption posture of the present administration, especially the precautionary measures in the award of contracts and the implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA), were some of the factors making it difficult for the ministers to fulfill their obligations to these political aides.

“The aides are having it very tough with the stance of this administration to corruption. The ministers are not awarding ridiculous contracts to their aides and cronies as it used to be. It is even more difficult for the Personal Assistants to the ministers who are expected to be paid by the ministers.

Many of them have not been getting their allowances as and when due, and I believe it is due to lack of the flow of free money,” one of our sources said. Our correspondent also observed that in some of the ministries, the protocol aides have become very hostile to journalists and oftentimes fence them away from meeting high profile visitors of the minister, because, to them, such closeness by the media could reduce their opportunity to extract favours from the visitors. A political aide in one of the ministries, who corroborated our findings and gave a general perspective to the situation, said that the problem was widespread and not limited to a particular ministry.

The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said many political aides may drag their principals to court on the matter unless they were paid their wages. His words: “I think it is largely a general problem. I know of an SA (Special Assistant) in one of these ministries who has gone public with the problem he has with his boss. If you google it, you will see the skirmishes between a former PA and the minister and if you check, there were a lot of brickbats on social media. “By the letter given to the Hon. Minister, the salary of the PA is embedded in the minister’s emoluments. According to the letter, it is expected that the minister would pay his PA from his salary.

The thing is clearly stated in the minister’s letter of appointment and that is general to all the ministers. “But in this instance, the minister collected his salary and that of his PA for 23 months without giving the PA even N1. So when the guy said he wanted his money, the minister was not ready to pay him.

“Eventually, the PA got a lawyer to write him a letter, threatening to go to court. Hence, the minister paid N1 million cash to the guy and the guy gave it to the lawyer. I am sure that they are in the process of going to court now.” Other political appointees who decried the situation, blamed the development on the system. According to him, “Because we run an insincere government in Nigeria, the minister is expected to pick his SAs, but the system is silent on how these SAs will be paid.

“Before now, in the previous governments, each of these ministries sends the names of the SAs of Ministers to the agencies and parastatals under them as consultants and these agencies will pick up the salaries.
This was the standard practice. “However, under the current dispensation, some of the ministers were overzealous when they came because they had never been in government before. They came with as many as 10 SAs, but the system cannot accommodate more than six or seven.

“Some of the ministers failed to heed the early warnings that the system has a maximum capacity it can absorb and the best way to handle it was to follow the standard procedures. “In the letter given to me, it was stated that my salary will be arranged in line with standard practice and it was signed by the Hon. Minister himself.

“So eventually, when we started, we were not given any money. Each time we go to the man, he will say he is working on it. In the end, that was how we continued and as at last month (January), I have worked for about 30 months with-out any salary.” On how he has been surviving, the minister’s aide told New Telegraph that: “What happens is that sometimes people who come to the minister’s office dash us some money.

Now, I used to joke with some of my friends that we are almajiris. I learnt it is not peculiar to our ministry alone. It is happening in other places. I don’t think it is a problem of the government; it is the fault of individual ministers who refused to follow the laid down procedures.” New Telegraph also gathered that some of the ministers, particularly those who have been in government before as governors and ministers, have managed the situation better by ensuring that those working with them get their entitlements. One of the ministers told New Telegraph that he got some development partners to pay the salaries of his appointees.

“I have no issue with my aides. The few that work with me get their pay as and when due. I facilitated the payment through my networks with some international development partners in the country,” he said. On the other hand, the new comers among them were said to be reluctant following the same procedures of getting agencies and parastatals to pay their personal aides for fear that it could become an instrument of blackmail.

However, New Telegraph also learnt that this holier-than-thou attitude of the new breed ministers has not prevented them from going behind the scene to extort money from these agencies for their personal comfort while leaving their aides at the mercy of charity. In many of the ministries, political aides see their bosses as mean characters that siphons the salaries and allowances of their staff. In one of the ministries, our correspondent gathered that although the minister does not siphon the salaries of his aides and details, their “allowances are usually cornered during trips.”

As a result of the unfair treatment, an inside source disclosed, aides and security details were always complaining, adding that this could be the reason behind the constant redeployment of most of the attaches from and to the ministry. The source told our correspondent that there was a recent incident involving allowances during a trip which made the security details issue a threat to shoot one of the aides.

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