By Ochereome Nnanna
WHEN I first read about the intentions of the Imo State Government to infuse a massive number of 10,000 jobs into its public service, like many others, I was incredulous.
The same questions that are on the lips of many crossed my mind: Was the state going to weed out â€œdeadwoodsâ€ to create room for young blood, and if so, how many are going to give way? Where is the state going to get the money to pay the severance entitlements to such people? Is retrenchment the answer? Will retrenchment not worsen the current high crime rate which has occasioned the posting of the â€œRed Beretsâ€ anti-terrorism squad to Imo?
Again, where is the state going to get the money to pay the new hands, especially as we stand on a threshold of a possible adoption of N18,000 as the new national minimum wage?
In a system where most local council, state and the federal governments spend the lionâ€™s share of their annual budgets on recurrent expenditure, much which goes to salaries and upkeep of political officials, will this not cripple capital developmental efforts?
In other words, how will this programme be implemented without creating a major financial dislocation in the administration of the state?
I got in touch with my contacts in the state government, and Chief Pini Jason, Governor Ohakimâ€™s Special Adviser on Special Projects took time to explain it all to me.
I am told that the 10,000 jobs programme is part of the New Face of Imo initiative of the Governor Ikedi Ohakim administration meant to completely reposition the state to meet the challenges of contemporary times. Because of a 15 year-old embargo on employments in the state, the state civil servants are an ageing workforce averaging 45 to 55 years.
Some of them should have retired long ago but for the usual fraud of falsifying their ages by swearing to affidavits.
I am told that the state government set up the Imo Job Centre back in 2007 to ascertain, among other things, the number of unemployed people, their level of education, discipline they qualified in and their aspirations, and compared all this to what the state actually needs.
It was the Job Centre that established that the state needs to employ 10,000 news hands, about half of whom will be posted to the teaching service.
I am told that the state government decided to ask interested applicants to go online and purchase a scratch card for the employment form. 50,000 such cards were provided for purchase, meaning that prospective applicants have 5 to 1 chance of getting employed. If five young people compete for a job slot it will make the impending tests very competitive and raise the possibility of bringing in quality hands into the service.
Finally, I am told that the state government is not contemplating retrenching anyone to create the opportunities because the vacancies actually do exist. In 15 years of virtual zero employment, people in the service have retired, some have died while some have had their services terminated and all these without replacements. Pini Jason disclosed that in 2007 alone, the war against ghost workers yielded over N300 million per month. In addition, the age cheats are being identified and uprooted from the system.
In other words, there will be no undue extra burden in paying those to be employed. The state government needs to recharge the service – especially the teaching service – with young minds and upgrade the system to contemporary level.
Critics have been particularly livid at the notion of asking jobless individuals to part with N2,000 for a government job form. What is government there for if it cannot give jobs to its own people free of charge, they ask. If the fee is exploitation, then governmental departments at all levels are doing it. You have to buy forms to vie for enrolment into the Police, Army, Prisons and what have you.
Apart from taking care of handling charges and the consultants hired to conduct transparent tests, governmental departments feel they have a right to generate revenue from this source. The Imo State Government will only generate N100 million from sale of forms. To get a form from the Civil Service Commission, candidates will still have to pay N1,500 fee which is regulated by law.
But the Civil Service was not involved in this sale of form to avoid corruption, favouritism and more importantly, stampede which could lead (as it did some years ago when the Department of Immigration called for jobs in Enugu) to loss of lives.
My own stand on this matter is that it is a laudable programme and needs to be embraced. The most important thing is for people to be concerned over whether the jobs are available to be given out. The second most important thing is for the selection process to be transparent and competitive, rather than slots being given out to people based on their â€œconnectionsâ€.
If that happens, only those in government and their families and friends will populate the civil service with their children and wards. Interest groups should channel their energy into these areas of concern, rather than dissipate it by attacking or doubting a move aimed at reducing unemployment and repositioning the civil service. Stakeholders should be vigilant and ensure that the money raised from the exercise does not end in private pockets.
The workers union of all six tertiary institutions in Imo State have jointly voiced their support for this job scheme, and so have Imo State Students Union. And so do I.
Being unemployed, on its own, is expensive. There are many people who will gladly pay N50,000 to get jobs for their unemployed graduate children and wards.