BY CHIDI NKWOPARA
IMO indigenes and even Abia born women married to Imo husbands have reportedly been disengaged from the Abia public service prompting disenchantment across Imo. As the administration in Owerri ponders its response, Chidi Nkwopara reports on the feelings of Imo stakeholders.
THE threat issued by Abia State Government that it would sack non-indigenes on its payroll started filtering into Imo State like a fairy tale. Discussions on the vexed policy continued to be centred on speculation, especially as people did not cease to wonder what led to the thought, in the first place.
Today, non-indigenes have been sacked from Abia State public and civil service. Expectedly, Imo State Government reacted angrily to what it termed “the inexplicable summary sacking of non-indigenes working for Abia State Government”.
The Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Dr. Obinna Duruji, who made government’s stand known to Vanguard in a telephone chat, also described the new policy of Governor Theodore Orji as “anachronistic and obsolete”.
He said: “Abia State Government’s policy of sacking non-indigenes on its payroll is anachronistic and patently obsolete in Nigeria’s present day realities. Honestly, the policy is completely reprehensible.”
While roundly condemning the policy, Imo State Government equally fumed that “the irrational act would compel us to retaliate, so as to accommodate our citizens forced out of Abia civil and public service,” stressing that more Abia State indigenes are currently on its payroll than what Abia State Government claims about Imo citizens.
Duruji said: “We have more Abians than they have ours. We have Abians in the state expanded executive council. How can we now continue to keep such persons on our payroll when our own have been summarily sacked by their employers? This is sad.
Those on our payroll will obviously be disengaged to quickly make room for those sacked by Abia Government. Some Igbo patriots have been making frantic effort to unify Ndigbo but Governor Orji’s damnable act has completely rubbished whatever remained of Igbo unity”.
The Commissioner reasoned that it was not late for Abia Government to have a rethink, adding that the policy will certainly ignite a far reaching chain reaction within the geo-political zone.
Apart from Duruji, other concerned citizens have equally condemned the policy. While the Parish Priest of Saint Paul’s Catholic Church, Egbelu-Umuhu, Enyiogugu, Rev. Fr. Ben Ogu, called for the declaration of Governor Theodore Orji as a persona non grata in all the states of Nigeria, Bishop of Praise Centre Ministries, Owerri, Rt. Rev. Stafford Nwaogu, described the policy as “shameful and condemnable”.
Rev. Fr. Ogu said: “Governor Orji ought to be sanctioned for destabilizing the Igbo nation. He should not be allowed to use any road or airport not built by Abia State Government. He should be declared persona non grata by other states of the federation.
We have a dumb leadership in Igboland, otherwise royal fathers, governors, religious leaders and political bigwigs in Igboland would have called the erring Governor to order for destabilizing the nation.”
Fr. Ogu and Bishop Nwaogu blamed the mounting problems facing Nigerians and in the instant case, on “the docile nature of the populace” and stressed that the people ought to show that they deserve respect and accountability.
In the words of Bishop Nwaogu: “Most Nigerian leaders are self conscious instead of people centred. God gave Nigeria more than enough to move the nation forward and improve the welfare of its citizens but we have continued to stagnate at 51”.
Nwaogu said it was unfortunate that non-indigenes have been sacked from a place they should ordinarily call their home, adding that it would have been more tolerable if the despicable act was perpetrated elsewhere.
Imo Assembly reacts
Imo State House of Assembly have equally had their say on the Abia saga as they unanimously passed a motion urging Governor Orji to have a rethink on the matter. Moving a motion on the issue, Mr. Ikechukwu Amuka reasoned that the plan by the Abia State Government to offload non-indigenes on its payroll to their states of origin was capable of igniting a far reaching chain reaction.
It was the considered opinion of the lawmaker that if the Abia State Government carried on with the planned act, the unity of purpose in the South East geo-political zone would be badly shaken.
The lawmaker said: “The people of the South East geo-political zone are one and should remain one. Anybody or group of persons that engages in anything that would dislodge Igbo unity is unfair to our collective tomorrow.”
Amuka called on Abia State Governor, Chief Theodore Orji, to rescind the proposed plan, adding that the policy would not be in the overall interest of the Igbo nation, stressing that the appeal was sadly belated. All the members of the legislature spoke in favour of the motion, even as they wondered if Abia State Government was afraid of bearing the burden of paying the pension and gratuity of the affected staff.
The motion condemning the expulsions was unanimously adopted when the question was put to vote by the Speaker, Mr. Ben Uwajimogu.
Imo indigenes return
About 19 Imo indigenes, who were summarily sacked from Abia Broadcasting Corporation, BCA, as a result of the indigenization policy of Abia State Government, have reported their plight to Imo State Government. Confirming the development to Vanguard as at the time of this interview, the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Dr. Obinna Duruji, also affirmed that those “sacked from the health sector have equally returned home.”
Information commissioner,Duruji said: “About 19 Imo indigenes sacked from BCA, Umuahia, have returned home. The same is also true of those from the health sector. They have formally reported to my office.” Noting that the government has not taken any retaliatory action against Abia indigenes working in the state, he said it was still studying the ugly incident critically.
Duruji said: “Government’s approach to the summary sack of Imo indigenes on the payroll of Abia State Government is not to retaliate. Paying evil for evil will further destroy what remains of Igbo unity.”
The commissioner confirmed that the affected workers have already forged a common front, written Imo State Government and attached their sack letters, stressing that even Abia daughters married to Imo indigenes were not spared from the ordeal.
“The minimum wage saga is not enough reason to polarize the Igbo nation. The South East geo-political zone, with a mortal wound of non-indigene syndrome, will remain disunited and vulnerable in 2015”, he reasoned.
Answering another question, the commissioner said: “The saga is offensive. It will polarize Ndigbo. It will jeopardize our collective future. Igbos can’t move forward with reverse gear. Government can’t abandon its people on the altar of bad policy”.
Rights body react
The Chairman, Board of Trustees of International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law, Mr. Emeka Umeagbalasi, says the disengagement of workers from other states by the Government of Abia State in the guise of minimum wage pay difficulties is “a serious threat to the unity of the Southeast people in particular and national integration and cohesion in general”.
Umeagbalasi insists that it is also a fundamental violation of the Chapters Two and Four of the 1999 Constitution as amended, stressing that “by this despicable act, the unpopular Government in Abia State is resurrecting the infamous Ikwerenization of the abandoned properties in Rivers States in the 70s as well as the Obafemi Awolowo-propelled conversion of operating capitals of Igbo millionaires to N20 per Igbo millionaire, which also took place in the 70s”.
It was his considered opinion that to pay minimum wage and still meet up with the social service delivery, disengagement of workers and other discriminatory policies was not the answer. In his words: “This callous action must be condemned by all and sundry. We call on other States affected by this crude act not to retaliate”.