It’s retrogressive—Ebonyi, It’s irrational—Imo
By Anayo Okoli, Umuahia/Peter Okutu, Abakiliki.
ON AUGUST 25, 2011, Abia State Government issued a circular which directed non-indigenes on its employment to disengage and return to their various states by October 1, 2011. The only exceptions were those engaged in the tertiary institutions.
To give effect to the policy, the circular, HAS/S.0071/II/13 issued by the Head of Service, Mr. G.C. Adiele, directed heads of ministries, departments, agencies and Local Government Service Commission “to submit the names of all non-indigenes in their employ on or before 1st of September, 2011, failure of which or any connivance thereto shall attract strict sanctions by Government”.
Entitled, ‘“Back loading on transfer of non-indigenes in Abia state public service to their states of origin”, the Head of Service said, “I write to convey the approval of the Government of Abia state that all non-indigenes working in the public service of Abia state [including local Governments] be transferred to their states of origin with effect from 1st October, 2011. This policy does not apply to tertiary institutions in Abia state”.
Ever since this policy was announced, there has been confusion in the state’s civil service. The confusion arose mainly because women of Abia extraction who by marriage changed indigeneship are protesting their inclusion. They are arguing that constitutionally, they remained Abians and therefore should not be affected by the exercise. Some of the cited cases where married women take ministerial positions in their states of birth even when they are married in a different state.
Investigation showed that Imo state indigenes would be most affected. This is very understandable because Abia was created from Imo state and it was believed that Abia as a new state lacked enough personnel to propel the new administration, hence they absorbed the workers of Imo origin.
Some of them have put in as much as15 years in Abia’s 20 years of existence. So, the directive devastated them more so when they are not sure of being absorbed by their respective states.
Though Abia state governor said that he consulted with his fellow governors of the South East before the policy was enunciated, the decision no doubt has attracted some criticisms. The criticisms have come from the church, business men, the civil servants themselves and some state governments.
The first attack on the policy came from the Catholic Church. The Catholic Bishop of Umuahia Dioceses, Dr. Lucius Ugorji, in his reaction, condemned the decision, describing it as an “injustice and divisive”.
In a statement he personally signed, Bishop Ugorji said that the-sack-non-indigene policy contravenes Section 42 of the nation’s Constitution in respect of place of origin.
“This policy negates true federalism and constitutes a serious obstacle to our march to nationhood. The spirit of a true nation where citizens have equal rights and opportunity must not be compromised by such divisive policy.
“Most of these individuals have families with children in schools and other dependants. It is obvious that their forced transfer or retrenchment will impact negatively on all these people. Moreover, up-rooting fellow Nigerians from their long-established social networks and economic ties leads to the unsavoury effect of making them feel they are being made aliens in their own country.
“Having served Abia state diligently for decades, it amounts to injustice to compel them to return to their various states of origin that may not have any plans to engage them or provide them with their entitlements.
“Implementation of this policy amounts to discrimination on grounds of place of origin which is a serious contravention of Section 42 [1, 2, and 3] of 1999 Constitution of Nigeria. That in the past some states have breached the Constitution in this regard is not a valid reason for Abia State Government to yield to the temptation of committing an illegality. Two wrongs do not make a right.” He called on the Government “to rethink this policy in the interest of justice, fair play and social harmony.”
But the Government maintained that the decision was not to punish anybody, saying that Governor Theodore Orji discussed with fellow South East governors before taking the decision. However, it is not known if there was a promise of any sort by his colleagues to absorb those to be sent back to their state.
According to the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Chief Don Ubani, the government has no evil intention in the action. Rather, the government was creating vacancies for its citizens displaced in the North during the election crisis and Boko Haram attacks. But the question is were there Abians working in the Northern state civil service? If there were, how many were they?
Strong as Abia Government wants to defend this policy, at least two states have condemned the action, a situation which casts doubt on the consultation said to have been made by Governor Orji before the policy was released.
Ebonyi and Imo state governments have attacked the action, describing it as capable of disintegrating the unity and oneness of Ndigbo. They both spoke through their commissioners of Information and said that many Abians work in their states. Governor Martin Elechi of Ebonyi even said that his Government was yet to be communicated on the issue, saying that for now they see it as a rumour, and such action was backward thinking.
The Governor who spoke through the Commissioner for Information and State Orientation, Mr. Chike Onwe stated that the issue was still based on rumours, explaining that if implemented, it would not only threaten the corporate existence of Ndigbo but also the well being of Nigerians.
“So disengaging people from service on account of place of origin is backward thinking. But as I said, it is still on the plains of rumour and we don’t react to rumours but to substance.For now it is not true, until it is true the issue will be addressed.
“I think Ndigbo are a united people and we shall not allow anything to disintegrate this unity but I think it will be unfortunate if such a thing happens; it has not happened, it is still on the plains of rumours and until it is made real, we will not take any official stand or action”, the Commissioner said.
Onwe said that the state government would not be part and parcel of any process that would cause disaffection among citizens because of issues bordering on indigenization. He added that non-indigenes in the state were gainfully occupying sensitive positions in the state, even among the state executive council members.
“Since we are talking about true federalism and we cannot achieve such by being sectional or calling some indigenes and some others non indigenes. So for us to achieve true federalism, we must get people to feel at home wherever they are. We are looking at a situation where an individual from Kaduna comes to Ebonyi state and stands for any election and the man from Ebonyi goes to Lagos, stands election and gets elected to serve his term, people. That is where we are aspiring to.
“The position of Abia state government is yet to be made available to the Ebonyi state government but as I said, it is still on the plains of rumour but if that turns out to be true the matter will be looked at collectively by the state executive council and a position will be taken on the matter.
“On the interim, it is still a rumour and we shall treat it as such but I want to inform ourselves that there are Abians and people who are in other states that work in Ebonyi unhindered and un-marginalized, not witch-hunted and we see ourselves as brothers and sisters.”
On its part, Imo State Government reacted angrily to the action, and described the policy as “anachronistic, obsolete and reprehensible”.
Imo state Commissioner for Information, Dr. Obinna Duruji condemned the policy as being “irrational”. According to him, Imo government might be compelled to retaliate by sacking Abia indigenes in the employment of the government.
However, there are two categories of people are yet to know what their fate would be in the exercise. They are Abia women married to non-indigenes and non indigenes who secured appointment through automatic appointment of the NYSC. Some of them have even married indigenes of the state. The women are insisting that constitutionally they remain indigenes of Abia and that any attempt to disengage them would be resisted.
Though the government said the policy took effect from October 1, 2011, those affected are waiting for the letters to move them, as their names have since been compiled. So the letters will tell who and who will leave.
No doubt the affect people have been lamenting what the future holds for them.
A lady who simply gave her name as Cynthia from Imo state described the action of Abia state Government as pure wickedness. “How can a person who calls himself father of all do this type of thing? I have been working here for over 17 years, even in remote village of Isiukwuato. We have been contributing to the development of the state; all of a sudden our reward is to be sent back to our states of origin unprepared.
How do I relocate my five children who are in schools here? This is inhuman and we wonder where the unity of our Igbo people lies. This type of thing does not happen in the North and West. It is only in the East, among Ndigbo. Well we wish Governor T.A Orji well.”
Another woman, a mother of six also from Imo state said that she was still surprised over the whole thing. “I have been working in Abia since it was created 20 years ago. I have contributed to its development. My children are all in school in some parts of the state. Now, tell me, how do I begin to move? To move alone, and shuttle between here and say, my council area, in Ohaji/Egbema? I am still confused. I can’t really understand these people called politicians.
Just few months ago, during the elections, this same governor, while addressing us, assured us that he would not sack any non_indigene. Less than four months after voting for him, our reward was the circular to go. We will go but he should remember God. Our problem is that it was so sudden and nobody was prepared for this sudden dislocation. If he had said by end of next year, all of us would be prepared, afterall, there is nothing special here. It just because of our children.”