How Yahaya Bello’s Administration Starved Lecturer of Pay, Ruined His PhD Moves

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) accused Yahaya Bello, the immediate former governor of Kogi State, alongside three others, of N80.2 billion fraud months ago. Also released were documents showing that he paid $845,000 (N1.1 billion) to the American International School of Abuja (AISA) in advance for his children’s school fees. Bello’s alleged can of corruption perpetuated during his eight-year administration was opened months ago. Affected residents, indigenes and workers are now recalling the suffering, ranging from unpaid salaries to withheld pension arrears, meted out to them during his years as governor. For this report, FIJ’S ABIMBOLA ABATTA spoke with a Kogi State indigene, who detailed how unpaid salaries forced him to abandon his PhD programme.

Imagine you were a young lecturer with your whole life planned out. Well, maybe not your entire life, but you had a job and were set to complete your PhD programme before 27. Life was good for you. Things were going well, and then your world came crashing down all of a sudden. First, it was your career: your employer falsely labeled you a ‘diaspora worker’ and your salaries were withheld, but you kept showing up to work despite your financial quagmire. Then your PhD programme took a hit because you could no longer afford school fees. And as you watched your dream of being a doctorate holder slip away, depression and suicidal thoughts crept in.

This is the story of a Kogi State indigene and former lecturer who prefers to be identified as Sani. His dreams were shattered months after Yahaya Bello, the immediate former governor of the state, took the reins of governance in 2016.

He told FIJ that he was on a PhD programme at the University of Ibadan (UI) before he got employed at a college of technology in Kogi in 2014. He would later abandon the programme because of financial constraints caused by Bello’s administration.

For Sani, ex-governor Bello was responsible for the darkest phase of his life. The trajectory of his life was altered when the then-governor approved a screening exercise to identify and remove ghost workers in the state the moment he was sworn in as governor in January 2016.

FIJ understands that the attempt to rid the state of ghost workers was laudable. However, trouble started when actual workers were named ghost workers. For instance, Onuh Edoka, the state chairman of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and a Disease and Surveillance Officer in Kogi as of May 2016, was labelled a ghost worker. Days after this, the governor would then sack Paul Okutimo, the chairman of the screening committee, because the preliminary report he released was not approved by him (the governor).

In Sani’s case, he was labelled a ‘diaspora worker’. And for several months, while the screening exercise was on, all the affected workers did not get a penny from the government.

“Barely three months after the screening exercise, we received a list of cleared and uncleared civil servants. I was tagged a “diaspora worker” (whatever that means). And from December 2016, my salary was pegged. They didn’t sack me; there was no inquest. No fair hearing. Just silence,” Sani disclosed.

This, according to Sani, was the plight of more than half of the civil servants in Kogi. “I cannot count the number of people who committed suicide, those who were involved in ghastly accidents while travelling up and down in a bid to resolve the issue or those who lost kids because they couldn’t afford to pay hospital fees.”


Not only was Sani depressed during that period but he also contemplated suicide. While he spoke with FIJ, he said, “My PhD was self-sponsored. Of course, when the issue started, it was difficult because I couldn’t continue the programme. My supervisor didn’t understand because it felt like I wasn’t serious, when, in fact, I could barely pay my fees and transport myself from Kogi to Ibadan for crucial academic work.

“Mentally, I was exhausted because I was unable to concentrate on my programme. Each time I received a call from my dad to get an update on my progress, I had nothing to say. It felt like I was empty, seeing my dreams shatter before my eyes.

“I became a lecturer in June 2014. Financially, just like I stated in my tweets, it was nice to be able to do a few things without asking my parents. Running a doctorate in Nigeria can be exhausting and financially draining, which was the major reason I took the [job] offer. Left to my parents, it would have been better to complete the programme before getting a job. But I knew it was not that easy, given the financial burden that came with my education.”

Sani also told FIJ that the silence from the government was deafening and the lies in labelling him a ghost worker made him feel cheated.

“I know how much effort I put into achieving my goals. I nurtured students. I groomed them. It was a thing of joy to see my products grow and excel in life. So, for the screening exercise to tag me as a ghost worker was quite unfortunate. My ex-students can attest to my conduct and my commitment. The fact that the government refused to listen to anything I or other colleagues had to say was also regrettable. Almost like they already made up their mind that they needed to stop paying me,” he told FIJ.

Even after the government stopped paying his salary, Sani kept working for years while hoping for an amicable resolution. The two things that kept him going were his mother and his passion for teaching.

“My salary stopped in December 2016. I worked till February 2020 before I finally summoned the courage to leave. But the damage was already done. I felt like I had wasted six years of my life with nothing to show for it. To this day, my dad reminds me that I must get a doctorate, an obligation I intend to fulfil,” Said Sani.

“The only thing that kept me going during that difficult period was my mom. I felt like staying alive and fighting through the storm was the only way I could show her she raised a strong man. I also took great joy in knowing that the students I nurtured turned out great and still recognise my input in their success stories.

“Looking back at that period, I feel nothing. Emptiness. Maybe it’s a way for me to block out the pain I endured. There were times when some of my colleagues would contribute money after being paid and share it with those of us who weren’t paid. I remember I’d go home with the money, pray for them and cry so much because I knew how difficult it must have been for them to part with their hard-earned sweat just so I didn’t feel bad.

“I know the Kogi State Government will never accept their fault and the role they played in changing my life’s trajectory, but I hope they do because we are talking about thousands of families affected. I am but a mouthpiece that finally decided to speak up despite the years of intimidation and lies.”


While our reporter conversed with Sani, it was glaring that he had managed to leave the past behind him. He left Kogi and tried his hands on entrepreneurship and public health volunteering. At the moment, he works as a programme officer in the private power sector.

However, some of those who shared Sani’s experience may still be grappling with the aftermath of what Bello subjected them to during his time as governor.

“I know many more who have been unable to make progress in life because of that terrible eight-year period,” said Sani.

“I learned gratitude. I learned patience. I learned optimism. I learned to be hopeful. I learned that goodness always comes back. These and many more lessons I took from that period. Regardless of what happens, I know I have grown beyond that pain. Yes, my life’s trajectory changed, and I realise now that there’s no timeline for success. After all, success is not linear.”

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