By Chidi Nkwopara
It is no longer news that Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State has summarily sacked all the workers in 19 parastatals, agencies and departments. It is equally a fact that Governor Okorocha also stopped the salaries of those affected by the action, with effect from Monday, January 4. South-East Voice gathered that the current action of the Governor is closely linked with the recent vexatious form which the administration forced Imo workers to sign before collecting their unpaid salaries.
A statement by the Secretary to the Government of Imo State, Sir Jude Ejiogu, said the workers caught in the sack web include Imo Water Corpora-tion, Imo Cattle Market, Imo Sports Council, Imo State Environmental Transformation Commission, ENTRACO, Imo Marketing Company, Imo Consumer Protection Council, Hospital Management Board, including its headquarters staff.
Others are Imo Tourism Board, Imo Blue Lake of Treasure, Imo State Investment Promotion Agency, Imo Job Centre, Imo Water Development Agency, IWADA, Imo Library Board, Imo Agricultural Loans Board, Imo Livestock, Imo Poverty Alleviation Agency, Imo Palm Plantation, Agricultural Development Programme, ADP, and Small Holders Unit.
It was equally gathered that the other agencies of government, whose staff narrowly escaped Okorocha’s sledgehammer were the Secondary Education Management Board, State Universal Education Board, General Hospital Okigwe, General Hospital Aboh Mbaise, Imo Essential Drugs, Special Education Centre Orlu and School of the Deaf and Dumb, Orodo.
Others are Zoological Garden, Owerri; Logara Mbaise Remand Home; Government House Clinic; Imo Broadcasting Corporation, IBC; Project Finance Management Unit; Financo Brokers; Heartland Football Club and Imo College of Advanced Professional Studies, ICAPS, Owerri.
Government explains action
Ejiogu’s statement explained that the action followed what he called “a productivity audit recently conducted in the parastatals, agencies and departments. The release further stated that “government is satisfied that it is no longer in the public interest to keep running these agencies, parastatals and departments at huge cost to public revenue and no services to the public, under the present economic realities.”
Government promised that the affected workers would be communicated in due course about the administration’s next line of action regarding possible re-engagement, after the ongoing concessioning exercise affecting the agencies, departments and parastatals. The release, which ordered the affected staff to handover all government property in their possession to their chief executives within 48 hours, added that civil servants on secondment to any of the affected, parastatals and agencies are deployed to their parent ministries.
Organised labour in Imo State reacted immediately, directing Imo workers in the 19 parastatals, agencies and departments affected by the recent sack order issued by the state government, to “report to their places of work and close at the approved time.” The directive was signed by all the labour leaders in the state, including the State Chairman and Secretary of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Comrades Austin Chilakpu and Kenneth Onwuemeodo.
It read: “The workers are directed to, in line with the rules governing attendance to work, report to their various places of work and close at the approved time.” The aggrieved unionists equally insisted that “workers cannot be sacked or suspended or subjected to any form of punishment through radio announcement in complete disregard to due process. “It is also necessary to further point out that workers, who have worked up to the 15th of the month, cannot be suspended and backdated to January 4.”
Labour recalled that when the factional National President of NLC, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, visited Governor Okorocha last Wednesday, he not only promised that no worker in the state would be sacked or suspended, but also denied that salaries of Imo workers had been slashed. “The said government announcement, credited to the Secretary to the Government of Imo State, Sir Jude Ejiogu, is a contradiction to the assurance by the state governor, which casts a doubt on its authenticity,” labour said.
They appealed to government officials, who they said “are anxious to cause disaffection between the organised labour and the state governor, to desist from such acts, which are capable of causing industrial crisis.” Continuing, the labour leaders advised the workers to go about their normal duties and report any form of harassment to the leadership of organised labour, for appropriate action.
Tension mounts as workers react
When South-East Voice closely monitored activities in some of the affected parastatals, agencies and departments within the past week, workers were seen in their offices, bemoaning their situation. Those who spoke to South-East Voice claimed that despite the directives issued by labour leaders in the state, all the affected workers agreed that the state government followed due process before employing them.
A staff that simply identified himself as Chukwuka, fumed: “The state government strictly followed due process, including interviews, before employing us. It, therefore, follows that if government wants to disengage us, and for whatever reason, it must follow due process.” While wondering why government should make a sweeping order, sacking thousands of workers at a go and for no just cause, Chukwuka equally recalled with grief that “most of the victims of the executive recklessness never had a single query in their files.”
In her own reaction, another worker that simply identified herself as Chiaka, said it was most improper for the Okorocha administration to sack workers through the airwaves. She said: “Bizarre things have been happening in the state since 2011. One of the first things this administration did soon after coming on board, was the sacking of the 10,000 workers engaged by the immediate past governor, Chief Ikedi Ohakim.”
Continuing, Chiaka equally recalled that apart from workers that retired when it was due, Governor Okorocha had, at various times, suspended workers without pay. She said: “It is most shocking the way the Governor takes delight in maltreating workers in the state. Some permanent secretaries and directors, including those in the Ministry of Justice, were earlier suspended without pay.”
She appealed to religious leaders in and outside the state, to call the governor to order, adding that people that draw their living from the affected workers will obviously suffer undue hardship. Mr. Chiemeka Akwarandu, an Imo indigene, described the workers’ sack as “the height of insensitivity.” According to Akwarandu, “Imo people did not take 2015 election serious, if not, I do not know the magic behind preferring a man with an oral and inconsistent manifes to than an Emeka Ihedioha, who presented and unveiled a well written manifesto tagged My covenant with Imo People, and also shared copies to Imo people for the record.”
He urged labour leaders in the country to rise to the rescue of the workers. You don’t expect a man who has put more than 10 or more years serving his fatherland with honesty and sincerity to just pack and go without paying him the salaries he/she would have earned . Eze Eluchie says “Imo people were conned! Promises of ‘Jobs! Jobs!! Jobs!!!, Industries! Industries!! Industries!!!, Factories! Factories!! Factories!!!’ were just sloganeering by a character, who has infused the vices of deceit and fraud as integral principles of governance. Unfortunately for the people of Imo State, the legislature has been compromised and are, to all intents and purposes, non-existent. In summary, the present attempt at democratic governance is simply not working for the people of Imo State”.
While Sir Macdonald Kelechi Ebere says “Imo people voted for sack, sack, sack. So, they should bear it”, Sir Charles Ekebor said he is visibly worried about the health institutions viz a viz access to health care by the poor, wondering how the policy would conform with the ‘health at your doorstep’ promise of government”. Mr. Goddy Nwachukwu was emphatic that no worker was employed through radio and dared the government to issue a sack letter and state reasons for the sack if any.
Magnus Anurunwa reasoned that “any sane man that continues to analyse the various policy summersault of Governor Okorocha’s administration may likely run mad. Let mad people follow mad government”. Advancing reason why Imo lawmakers are not reacting to the workers’ plight, Chief Obinna Ibole said: “You don’t expect any of those people to utter a word as their allegiance is to the governor, who has so to say, bought all of them over and pocketed them in his wardrobe.
Well, we don’t expect anything better from someone who would openly tell Igbo elders to go on their knees to thank Mr President for redeeming them from fraudsters. Imo has virtually no body to speak for them. Those we voted to legislate are now contractors seeking local government appointment while the State House of Assembly is still undergoing renovation. Our Rescue Team have gone on AWOL.”