It was David Gemmell in his book, Shield Of Thunder who said: “I may be stupid, as you say, to believe in honour and friendship and loyalty without price. But these are virtues to be cherished, for without them we are no more than beasts roaming the land.”
The above aphorism is axiomatic and factual. One cannot attract friendship, honour and loyalty without paying a price for it. The price for it is personal sacrifice and selfless service to humanity at all times. That is what attracts an honour to be cherished by all.
It was this personal sacrifice that Governor Theodore Orji has made right from his days as a renowned public servant and still making now as the Governor of Abia State. With an outstanding track record in public service that spanned over two decades, Gov Orji on assumption of office in 2007 made the reformation of the state civil service a top priority.
This was not only because the sector was his primary constituency, but because he had always known and believe that a strong and refined civil service is a pillar for successful and good administration.
Appreciating and eulogizing Orji’s remarkable achievements in the state civil service and other sectors of the economy so far, the Abia civil and public service workforce under the aegis of Consolidated Abia State Public Service, CASPS, recently rolled out drums in grand style in Umuahia, the state capital, to honour him for a job well done.
The event which was well-attended by the workers in the state took off with an interdenominational service and ended with an award of “Icon Of Public Service” to Governor Orji by the workers. And one may ask or wonder what has the Governor done for the civil servants in the state to deserve such honour which is rare and unprecedented in government-civil servants relationship in the country.
Having been part of the civil/public service before becoming governor of the state in 2007, there is no doubt that Orji has deep knowledge of the sector and the problems bedeviling it in the state which in most cases were politically-motivated. Tackling the rot and internal squabbles in the state civil service orchestrated by its politicisation and lack of transparency, Orji’s government introduced core values, merit, transparency and professionalism.
To start with, several workers that were due for promotion over the years, but had their promotions stunted for tribal and political reasons, were expressly and meritoriously promoted and paid their entitlements by the state government without discrimination. Those that were due for retirement, but have continued to manipulate their records to remain in the service illegally were properly investigated, retired and paid their entitlements without delay or victimization.
Workers in the state started attending periodic training and workshops, that were being sponsored by the state government, to acquire more skills and improve on service delivery. Although the national minimum wage of N18,000 has been signed into law, some state governments across the country have failed to pay their workers the stipulated amount till date, citing lack of fund as excuse. Though Abia is not among the richest states in the country, the state government has since been paying its workers N21,000 as minimum wage as against N18,000, thus making Abia the first state in the country to do so.
The state government tackled the menace of ghost workers which was an age-long tradition and a conduit pipe in the service by introducing compulsory biometric data capturing of all workers in the state civil service. Major beneficiaries of the rot in the service, who wanted the status quo to remain, tried everything possible to resist the reforms by inciting other workers against accepting the innovation.
But the state government remained undaunted. And soon people were left wondering why supposedly genuine workers in the state civil service should be opposed to biometric data capturing, especially as it has become a global trend for easy identification of individuals? What were the fears if they were qualified and genuinely employed? But the resistance was a clear picture of how corrupt the civil service has become in the country over the years.
It was during the process that the state government discovered that in different council areas of the state no fewer than 1, 727 workers were ghost workers. This number represents the workers who did not show up or report for capturing during the biometric verification that lasted for months, whereas they have been receiving salaries and allowances for years.
According to the Chairman of the Biometric Data Implementation Committee and Chief of Staff to the governor, Mr. Cosmos Ndukwe, Aba South Council area with 245 ghost workers topped the list, followed by Isiala Ngwa South with 153, and Osisioma Ngwa with 138 ghost workers. Others were Ikwuano, 117; Umuahia North, 123; Umuahia South, 101; Isiala Ngwa North, 92; Umunneochi, 65; while Ugwuanagbo Local Government Area had the least with 28 ghost workers.
That was how the government plugged all the loopholes that encouraged ghost workers practice in the service. The development also tackled the problem of truancy in the civil service as most workers especially in the commercial city of Aba before now do not come to work regularly, only to come to collect salary at the end of the month. Today workers in the state receive their salaries and entitlements as at when due.
It is no longer the usual owing of backlog of workers’ salaries and arrears which was common in the council areas in the state, when the present government assumed office in 2007.
A development that made the present government to inherit huge debts that include several month of backlog of workers’ salaries and others in 2007 which the present government has cleared.
The state government has also started housing scheme for workers at Amuba Housing Estate where several houses have been constructed by government to be occupied by the workers on the owner/occupier basis. Payments for the houses will span for some years to enable the workers to meet up with the payment and their other financial obligations.
Before the coming into office of the present government, workers in the state have no befitting and functional secretariat to operate from. State ministries were scattered in different makeshift locations in the state. The old workers’ secretariat that was built many years ago was dilapidated and uninhabitable. That was pitiful working condition of an average worker in the state then.
But immediately after Governor Orji won his second term in office which paved way for the liberation of the state from apron sting of the notorious godfather, the state government embarked on the rehabilitation of the old workers secretariat and the construction of new ultra modern workers secretariat with modern facilities.
Presently, rehabilitation has completed at the old workers secretariat and is occupied, while the new one which is a five-storey building with a lift, and other modern facilities is nearing completion and would be soon commissioned.
It is on record that since the present government came on board in the state, workers have not for once embark on strike for any reason.
The government has been able to create a mutual understanding and harmonious relationship between the government and workers courtesy of Governor Orji’s pragmatic leadership approach and utmost concern for workers’ welfare all the time.
A feat that is rare in workers/government relationship in the country. So clearly the workers’ award to Gov. Orji is well deserved and befitting, because his government has done well for workers in the state.
Dr. Romanus Uwa, a medical practitioner wrote from Aba, Abia State