By Samuel Oyadongha & Emem Idio
AMASSOMA- THE road leading to Amassoma community in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area was last week shut down by protesters, mostly aged women, following the outcome of the reforms at the state-owned Niger-Delta University, NDU.
The protesters were reportedly angry that their names were removed from the university’s payroll for attaining the compulsory retirement age. They alleged that the state government was marginalising the people of Amassoma and denying them their only means of survival created by their late son and former Governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha. They vowed not to open the institution until the state government reversed its decision.
The protesters, who placed the entire campus under lock and key, also blocked the only access road linking the community with the state capital. Worst hit were commercial transport service providers and petty traders who carry out their businesses around the university gates and its environs. Bus drivers, who ply the Yenagoa-Amassoma route, told Niger-Delta Voice, that their operations were badly affected during the protest, lamenting that there was low patronage.
“It was a nightmare for us drivers because there were no passengers, we wasted several hours on the road because the women would not allow us pass. They blocked the road with different materials and objects ranging from planks, palm fronds, plantain stems, and even coffin. We could hardly complete two trips in a day. Some of our drivers had to stay off that route because of the inconveniences,” a driver, Mr Solomon Adati, lamented.
Reports indict system
NDV recalled that the reform is not limited to the Niger-Delta University alone but the entire public sector. The committees set up by the state government to investigate the bloated wage of the state turned in damning reports, a development that spurred the administration to press ahead with the reforms to tame the cabal behind the rot in the system.
According to the reports, the civil service was replete with cases of people benefitting from multiple employments. Some senior civil servants received multiple salaries with names of unknown and underage persons they smuggled into the payroll.
Some persons worked as senior civil servants with fake computer- generated certificates. Some persons were benefitting from indefensible promotions against the civil service rules. The system was dominated by pension fraudsters, age falsifiers, ghost workers, beneficiaries of inherited employments among others.
In fact, overaged personnel, primary school children, dead workers, and diaspora workers were all drawing salaries from the state treasury. Bayelsa was bleeding as money meant for development disappeared into the huge pockets of a cabal in the public service.
Preliminary reports threw up further strange discoveries. Over 8,000 civil servants got their appointments by inheritance. Without going through the established due process for recruitments, the indicted workers were brought in by their friends, parents and relatives who left the system to replace them. This number contributed to the over-bloated wage bill bugging down the state.
People were discovered to have sold appointments for N250,000 each. They also engaged in other employment racketeering especially at the local government level. Thousands of redundant administrative officers were drawing salaries. Most of them never reported to work. They only got credit alerts through their various bank accounts at the end of the month.
The report also uncovered 500 administrative officers in Sagbama Local Government Area òf the state and a total of 5,000 non-academic staff at the Niger-Delta University and the other five state-owned tertiary institutions.
The report further revealed that 500 workers of the Bayelsa Transport Company, BTC, were receiving salaries for doing nothing. The team of investigators discovered that there were no vehicles in the BTC, yet the workers were drawing salaries.
The report also disclosed that people were devising fraudulent means to escape retirement from the state. Old, feeble and tired workers, who were supposed to have left the system continued to make themselves younger by renewing their ages.
Justification for reforms
The state’s Deputy Governor, Rear Admiral Gboribiogha John-Jonah (rtd) whose office coordinates the reform has reiterated the administration’s intention to sustain the ongoing reforms despite what he described as pockets of opposition by some unpatriotic individuals and groups.
The Deputy Governor who admitted some minor imperfections in the reform process, said avenues have been provided for anyone who feels unduly treated to voice their concern before some of the committees set up for that purpose. “We have a responsibility to reform the system within the limits of human imperfection. Like every other process, we know this is not perfect but we are working to ensure a fair deal for everyone.”
Jonah revealed that the restoration government wants to leave behind a robust public service which is why it is setting up a standard to enable the next government have a benchmark to take off upon resumption.
Stakeholders back reforms
Meanwhile, the Bayelsa State House of Assembly and Ijaw elders have declared support for the state government’s ongoing reforms in the state civil service, stating that the exercise when completed, would meet best standards and intention of government to promote good governance and responsiveness to the needs of the people.
Konbowei, who spoke weekend in Yenagoa urged employees of the state to remain calm and law-abiding and called on those with genuine complaints to channel them through the appropriate authorities, stressing that those who intend to disrespect or disregard due process and the state government “were demonstrating the answer they owe their instigators.
“We have observed with keen interest the issues in the state as it concerns the civil service reforms exercise which is currently ongoing. It is noteworthy that the chairman of the reforms committee, Deputy Governor, Rear Admiral Gboribiogha John-Jonah (rtd) is a man of proven integrity whose credentials cut across national and international spheres.
“Those who intend to disrespect or disregard due process and the state government are only demonstrating the answer they owe their instigators. We therefore stand shoulder to shoulder with the governor on the ongoing reforms exercise and pass a vote of confidence on the governor to ensure that the exercise is well concluded.”
Also, Ijaw elders under the aegis of Restoration Caucus have thrown their weight behind the ongoing public reforms in the state saying the exercise when concluded, would enthrone a new era of accountability, probity and discipline in the state’s public service.
The elders led by Chief Francis Doukpola (Sagbama), George Fente (Nembe), George Okrinya (Ogbia) and Chief Godwin Odumgba among others, urged all Bayelsans to support the reforms. “The reform is not intended to witch- hunt anyone or group of persons but to expose payroll fraud, age falsifiers, certificate forgery, truancy, indiscriminate service promotions, inherited employment and persons having multiple employments and earning salaries from different government agencies.
“The reforms programme has reduced the wage bill of the state from N6.7bn in 2012 when the Dickson administration came on board, to N3.9bn as of today. This amount includes payment of subventions to tertiary institutions in the state,” the elders said.
On the protests by Amassoma women in NDU, the elders urged the protesters not to allow themselves to be used by misguided elements who are bent on truncating the existing peace in the state.