BY CHIDI NKWOPARA
It must now be very clear to Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State that governing a state is a different ball game. One of the major things he must have realized is that hiring or sacking any staff in the public service has a legal procedure that must be followed religiously.
In a private business, a worker could be hired and fired the next minute, especially if such a staff falls below expected standard. All that the employer owes the affected staff is paying him one month salary in lieu of notice.
Let’s do a recap of this programme. Chief Ikedi Ohakim promised to give jobs to 10,000 Imo youths. To actualize his promise, he advertised the jobs available in the print and electronic media. Again, because he did not want anybody to swindle or sexually assault any applicant, his administration directed that application forms should be filled on line and in the comfort of their homes.
The administration engaged the services of a consultant (names withheld) to handle the entire process. Each applicant was asked to pick up the scratch card at a cost of N2,000. This generated a lot of misgivings. Some citizens claimed it was fraudulent to ask applicants to pay to get a job.
Ohakim was later to explain that his administration inherited a policy that job seekers must pay the sum of N1,500 before getting an application form from the Civil Service Commission, adding that the extra N500 was an administrative charge. Those who believed in the project purchased the forms on line.
He also reasoned that apart from the hazards of the road, which cannot be quantified in terms of Naira and Kobo, it would cost each applicant a fortune to travel from outside the state to pick the form, return it, sit for the exams and come for the interview.
Again, instead of asking all the applicants to race to Owerri for the examination, the administration hired halls in Lagos, Abuja, Okigwe, Orlu and some other towns where the prospective employees sat for the test. The applicants accessed their results on line and were thereafter invited for interview.
At the end of the entire exercise, 5,000 people were recruited into the civil service while the rest were posted to the state school system. Armed with their employment letters, the citizens started working. The new administration of Governor Rochas Okorocha however thought differently.
Okorocha had in his maiden radio and television broadcast to Imo people, Monday, June 6, 2011, announced the summary suspension of all the beneficiaries of the Ikedi Ohakim 10,000-job placements in the state.
His words: “The recent appointment of 10,000 workers into the Imo State public service for cheap political gains, just three weeks to the expiration of the previous administration, is not acceptable to this government. I hereby direct the immediate suspension of the said 10,000 jobs while government will, in line with its commitment to job creation, review the situation”.
The victims of the executive pronouncement first marched to the Office of Head Of Service, HOS, Mr. Evans Uzokwe, located in the State Sectretariat Complex before deciding to move their peaceful demonstration to the Assembly Complex. Their mission was to scuttle the inauguration of the fifth session of the State House of Assembly.
The scheduled proclamation of the House was naturally delayed for more than four and a half hours, following the barricading of the Assembly gate by beneficiaries of the Ohakim 10,000 jobs. They carried placards some of which read: “No 10,000 job, no Rochas, no civil service, no rescue mission; What is free education without jobs?; We need our jobs back; We are not strangers in Imo State”.
Obviously acting on security report, Okorocha kept a long distance from the Assembly Complex. He sent his Deputy, Sir Jude Agbaso, to represent him at the event. It would have amounted to sheer insensitivity on the part of Agbaso if he simply ignored the presence of the angry youths. He stopped and addressed them.
The youngsters defied the pleas of the combined team of the army and police personnel, commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel, who were quickly moved to the Assembly Complex to maintain the peace while the siege by the aggrieved workers lasted.
Saturday Vanguard recalls that every effort by the Deputy Governor, Sir Jude Agbaso, who rushed to the scene to douse the tension failed as the aggrieved workers endlessly booed him at every stretch of his speech.
Agbaso had promised the youths that the administration will immediately institute a committee to look into their grievance, adding that Governor Rochas Okorocha was not on any vendetta mission.
One of the beneficiaries of the 10,000 jobs offer, who spoke on strict grounds of anonymity, recalled that people suffered and died to enthrone the new Governor, adding that what they got in exchange was their summary dismissal from service. “Some of us have earned salaries for upwards of six months. So, you can see that the Governor lied when he said that we were only given appointment letters in the last days of Ikedi Ohakim administration”, the aggrieved youth said. Varying reactions trailed Okorocha’s maiden broadcast.
Over 80 percent of the respondents were not pleased that one of the first acts of the Governor was to summarily “suspend from work the beneficiaries of the 10,000 jobs offered by the last administration”.
Reacting to this development, Mr. Sam Ifeanyi Onyinyechi described these youths who have been thrown back into the job market as “Imo sons and daughters, some of whom stayed without jobs for upwards of 10 or more years”.
Onyinyechi said he was “not bothered by the sacking of the local council operators because theirs is political and they know they would go but suspending or sacking youths that have already secured jobs after a long wait is most uncharitable”.
The Editor of an Owerri based tabloid, Mr. Gele Agbai said: “It was wrong to announce the suspension before setting up a committee to review their employment. It is like putting the cart before the horse. The Deputy Governor, Sir Jude Agbaso, said the workers do not have any proper employment because they have no offices and desks. Employment does not consist of offices and desks. So, the absence of these does not invalidate their employment”.
Continuing, Agbai said: “Some have argued that the process of their engagement was wrong and faulty. Well, I know there was an advertisement of vacancies in the state public service. The interested people applied, passed through tests, both oral and written and the successful ones were selected and given appointment.The time of issuance of letters of employment to them is immaterial”.
Another journalist, Mr. Sam Onwuemeodo said: “Of all the areas the Governor touched or of all the actions he took in his broadcast on Monday, the one somebody would have expected him to spare was the issue of the 10,000 jobs”.
A woman, who simply identified herself as Mama Chika, could not hold her tears as she lamented the turn of events for the new entrants into the state civil service. “My daughter, with the job offer, became the bread winner of the family. What will happen to all of us now that she has been suspended by Chief Okorocha? For us now, it is going to be another round of suffering”, Mama Chika wept.
However, Ethebert Onyenafor reasoned that the Governor was right in sacking beneficiaries of the 10,000 jobs and promising to review the appointments but he called for caution as the measure may boomerang if improperly handled by government.
“Some of the beneficiaries were sent into the state school system. This administration’s major campaign promise is free education and what will happen if these qualified teachers are sacked because they came in through the 10,000 jobs? This is where government must apply caution”, Onyenafor pleaded.
In the considered opinion of John Onyenucheya, “if the beneficiaries of the job offer were appointed for cheap political gains, the Governor should please not throw away the baby with the bath water”.
Okorocha had set up review panels for each of the 27 local council areas of the state. Acting through his Deputy, the Governor noted that there was a file where information concerning every beneficiary is documented, pointing out that “if they (panelists) failed to get the correct information of each and every job beneficiary, government would use the tools available to it to access the correct data with a view to getting things done properly”. He urged them to exercise patience with the individuals concerned so as to get the desired and accurate data at the end. The panelists were given just a few days to complete the assignment and hand in their reports.
When Saturday Vanguard contacted the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Media, Mr. Chinedu Offor, he confirmed that government was yet to make a pronouncement on the review of the 10,000 jobs.
“The panelists have not submitted their reports. I am hoping that the panelists will submit their report any moment from now. Only yesterday (June 20, 2011), the Deputy Governor addressed some of the beneficiaries of the job placement in Multi Purpose Hall, Government House, Owerri. They came to find out if government had taken a definite stand on the issue but they were told that it was mere rumour”, Mr. Offor said.