Kogi, politics and workers screening
•Assembly intervenes, calls for immediate suspension
•PDP says it’s most inhuman and wicked
This may not be the best of times for Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State with the flurry of protests coming from nearly all segments of the state over a staff verification audit report.
The exercise, according to government officials, has unraveled various scams allegedly by some high-ranking civil servants who specialised in planting names of imaginary workers on the payroll resulting in one person for instance, harvesting the salary of about 40 workers.
Some others falsify their age to enable them remain in service after retirement, while underage were drafted to continue from where their parents stopped to enjoy the benefit of grade levels meant for their deceased parents while they are yet in secondary school, the government claimed.
However, the exercise has been flayed by the state House of Assembly and the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The PDP said that the government’s mass sack of workers in the state public service under the guise of screening is most inhuman, wicked and unfortunate.
The major concern among some of the workers was the illegality perpetrated when Bello delved into the screening of local government councils’ workers. Their argument is that the councils were autonomous by the spirit of the constitution insisting that he has no business going there.
Another serious source of concern for some stakeholders is the danger the report posed for education and health sectors. Affected are the Kogi State University, Anyigba where 25 professors and many teaching and non-teaching staff including the newly appointed vice chancellor, Professor Muhammed Sanni Abdukadir have been shown the exit door; the rector of the state polytechnic, Isah Muhammed, his deputy, the registrar, bursar and over 18 chief lecturers as well as 27 non-teaching staff; provosts of the Colleges of Education in Kabba and Ankpa; provosts of school of Nursing, Obangede and Health Technology, Idah.
Hence the wisdom in raising retirement age for academics to 70 in Nigeria. At least 10, 000 state civil servants and local government workers were also asked to retire due to alleged irregular promotions, in addition to the editor and several staff of the state-owned newspapers, The Graphics, most of sources claimed still have between five to10 years to attain the retirement age.
Other victims were the chief medical directors of Kogi State University Teaching Hospital, Anyigba and the state’s Specialist Hospital, Lokoja, among others.
Besides, activities of the organized labour led by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) have been crippled in the last one year after their check off dues was withheld while most of their leaders were not left out of the purge, with the state chairman of NLC, Comrade Onu Edoka being the first casualty.
PDP in a statement issued by the director of Research and Documentation, Dickson Achadu, lamented the trauma and confusion the report has caused citizens of the state.
The party criticized Bello for the action saying he has sent many citizens to their early graves on the account of the superfluous and prolonged screening.
According to the party, the discharging of about 70 percent of the state workforce was the height of mischievousness by the government against its citizens.
His words: “The trauma and confusion the screening report has caused citizens of the state is unprecedented. The number of deaths caused by the government during the failed screening exercise that lasted over a year and the sacking of about seventy percent of the Labour force of the state … is the height of wickedness by the government against its citizens.”
On its part, the state legislature, which condemned the act during plenary session, called on the governor to commence payment of the state workers and suspend the screening report forthwith.
The House unanimously upheld the motion moved by Friday Makama (Igalamela/Odolu state constituency) to condemned the government’s decision. “The need to save the souls of civil servants at both State and Local Government Levels is urgent. I am therefore constrained to move this motion considering the overwhelming evidences of non-payment of state and local government workers in the state,” Makama stated.
Ruling on the motion the Speaker, Mr. Umar Imam directed the committee to submit its report to the Assembly. The NLC chairman said that the screening committee clearly went beyond its terms of references, going by public outcry and total condemnation that has trailed the released report.
He acknowledged the ‘untold hardship’ faced by workers as a result of the screening exercise, disclosing that steps were being taken to address all the problems arising from the exercise.
Edoka called on relevant stakeholders, including religious leaders, traditional rulers and the political class to immediately intervene before Labour takes final position on the matter.
The organized Labour set up an 11-member committee headed by Comrade Obaka Meliga to look in to the report of the screening with a view to taking a position and the next line of action.
Former acting governor of the state, Clarence Olafemi said that the idea behind the screening is perfect given the over bloated workforce but that the process is what has messed the whole thing up. He therefore urged the governor to revisit the exercise.
Similarly, a former speaker of the state Assembly, Mr. Abdullahi Bello said the problem on ground is technical, administrative and political. He decried the inauguration another committee, which made it the fourth in the process so far.
“The exercise was not conceived to retrench staff, that was not its original intention but now it has turned to a means for forceful retirement,” he stated wondering why the committee recommended the retirement workers yet to attain the mandatory retirement age.
The former speaker berated the governor for intervening in local councils in that manner, indicating that he should have approached the legislature for assistance.
“Let me tell you, the power of local Government, the structure, the administration, finance, everything rests on the State House of Assembly not the Governor of the State.
“It is the State Assembly that has the constitutional power to intervene in any issue at the local Government either in finance composition or structure. So it is unlawful for the Governor to set up committee to screen the local Government workforce.”
He conceded that the issue of ghost workers is a reality in the state which needed to weeded off saying: “These are the core components of civil service reforms and you cannot get it right with all the local players who have interest. All of them have their interests.”
Catholic bishop of Idah Diocese, Anthony Adaji cautioned the Government against turning it’s good intention into what would be perceived as deception, arguing that when a screening exercise becomes endless and many genuine workers cannot get their monthly salary, it might be perceived as a sham.
He said: “Kogi State Government must find solution to endless screening which is amounting to deception the way it appears for now so that those who work should gets paid.
The governor claimed however that his administration is not insensitive to the plight of civil servants especially the hardship occasioned by staff screening.
Bello who spoke at the inauguration of a 32-man staff screening complain and appeal committee that would look into complaints arising from the exercise, regretted the inconvenience the exercise might have caused to the workers.
He assured that no genuine worker or pensioner of the state would be shortchanged in the effort of the government to reform the civil service. The committee is expected to scrutinise the cases of workers who were not cleared but ought to have been cleared as well as those with genuine complaints.
It would be recalled that widespread rejection and protests greeted the final release of the report across the state. The protesting workers set up burn fires on the federal highways and other roads paralyzing Lokoja, the state capital and other major towns.