SOMETIME in 2010, the Abia State government after thorough examination of her civil service discovered that it was fraught with fraudulent employment procedures and ghost workers.
It was also discovered that some non-indigenous civil servants in the state who were supposed to have been transferred back to their states of origin upon the creation of the state in 1991 on the transfer of service basis had not been transferred.
There were also leakages in the Internally Generated Revenue, IGR, of the state coupled with over-bloated workers’ wage bills that made it difficult for the state government to meet up with her financial obligations then.
As if these were not enough problems for the state, Imo State Government sent the files of retired civil servants of Abia origin back to Abia State government to pay their pensions, a development many viewed as unfortunate, considering the fact that these were men and women who had given 35 years of their lives in the service of Imo State, only to be denied when it mattered most.
All these contributed to the massive rot in the state civil service that required urgent attention of government, if the sector was to remain relevant in the day-to-day administration of the state.
On the basis of these obvious challenges, the Abia government, after due consultations with the relevant stakeholders in the state, embarked on an aggressive reform of the state civil service to address these fundamental issues that had bedevilled it for decades.
The reforms introduced by the government included transferring of non-indigenous civil servants to their states of origin on transfer of service basis, prompt promotion and retirement of workers, payment of N21,000 as the new minimum wage, introduction of biometric data capturing of all the civil servants in the state and tackling of the ghost workers’ menace as well as construction of a new ultra modern workers secretariat.
While many people, especially workers in the state, commended the state government’s intervention in the sector, some skeptics outside the state picked holes on government’s decision to transfer some non-indigenous workers to their states of origin on transfer of service basis.
This was despite the fact that the state governor, Chief Theodore Orji wrote to his colleague governors in advance, alerting them of his government’s plan to transfer the workers back to their states of origin due to some financial constraints his government was facing then.
Till today, none of the state governors that were written to by Governor Orji over the matter has debunked it; meaning that they were duly informed and carried along by the Abia State government before and after the workers were transferred.
Disappointingly, most of the governors of the affected states have up till today refused to absorb the transferred workers, despite the fact that their civil service system is under-staffed.
Having plugged all the financial leakages within the state’s revenue sources, coupled with prudent management of resources, the Abia State government recently announced plans to recruit more workers into the state civil service and have decided to use the opportunity to re-absorb the non-indigenous workers who were transferred to their states of origin some years ago, but are yet to be re-absorbed by their state governments. As a result of this, Governor Orji called on the affected non-indigenous civil servants to re-apply for possible re-absorption into the civil service.
The news of the planned recruitment of workers, and re-absorption of the disengaged non-indigenous workers in the state was broken during a post-executive council briefing at Government House, Umuahia recently by the Information and Culture Commissioner, Eze Chikamnayo who said the decision was taken by the council with the governor presiding.
He explained that the council deliberated decisively on the need to inject fresh blood into the civil service by way of employing the teeming population of youths and to reduce the worsening unemployment. By the development, those who were disengaged in 2010, and who still want to return to their duty posts can re-apply for consideration.
The commissioner assured that reapplying for consideration would not make the officers inferior as they stand the chance of returning to the former positions they occupied, adding that already the Head of Service and the Commissioner for Education had been ordered to come up with the modalities which would also consider those who left their places of work due to the rampaging Boko Haram insurgency in the North.
The development deserves commendation as a step in the right direction, and timely too; a plus for Governor Orji’s understanding of governance.
There is a lesson of courage therein for political leaders of today. Courage, they say, is what it takes to stand up and speak; and also what it takes to sit down and listen. Governor Orji’s example is that leadership is not a one-way traffic or irreversible. He stood up to speak when it was necessary and had also sat down to listen when it was needful. Good governance demands visionary leaders who can anticipate and act quickly to save situations.
Orji’s government inherited huge debt, approximately N30 billion from his predecessor, a bloated workforce, a nearly empty treasury and backlog of salaries. Without doubt, nothing short of the pragmatic action taken by the government at the time could have saved the government from collapse.
Now that the financial status of the state government has improved, the decision of Governor Orji to recruit new workers, and possibly re-absorb the disengaged ones, is only proper and should be commended and not condemned. It is a demonstration that democracy is the government of the people, by the people and for the people.
Until perhaps the country comes to terms with the controversy over indigeneship and non-indigeneship, the affected non-indigenous workers should explore the window of opportunity provided by the state government to re-apply because it is better late than never.
They should consider that if it has been easy for their states financially since they were disengaged, the states would have absorbed them.
There is an underlying supposition that the inability of their states of origin civil service to absorb them since then was a clear indication that the financial constraints that prompted the Abia State government to transfer them equally affected other states. AbiaState government should continue to distinguish itself as a state in the Southeast zone that had worked hard to improve her dwindling financial status.
The challenge is for the other states to similarly work hard in order to recruit new workers into their civil service too. The entire zone and the country will ultimately be the better for it in terms of providing employment to the citizens.
Romanus Uwa, a medical practitioner, wrote from Aba, Abia State.