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Delta: Okowa, Sacked Workers On Warpath

Workers who were employed by the Delta State government under questionable circumstances in the last days on ex-Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan have taken up arms against incumbent Governor Ifeanyi Okowa for terminating their appointment without compensation, reports Omos Oyinbode in Asaba

The civil servants who were employed at the eleventh hour of Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan’s government in Delta may have made a fatal mistake by abandoning where they were to take up jobs in the State Civil Service Commission. Although the commission during the last quarter of 2013 advertised the vacancies, the employment did not take place until few weeks to the expiration of Uduaghan’s government in the state.

Besides the lateness of the employment which was unusual in the state, there were various degrees of anomalies in the recruitment exercise. There were widespread allegations that the employment letters were sold to the highest bidders against the normal process of interview and screening before employment. Investigations revealed that some of the employment letters were sold at the rate of N500,000, N600,000, N800,000 while some went as high as N1.2m. Following the quantum of irregularities in the employment, Uduaghan suspended the commission’s chairman, Emmanuel Tetsola, and members prior to the expiration of his government.

A wide range of people applauded the suspension placed on the chairman. This was because the degree of irregularities in the employment was so obvious that candidates who applied were jettisoned and replaced with those who paid their way to secure the jobs. Following the development, as soon as Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa took over the realm of power   he directed the sacking of the workers from all ministries and agencies in the state.

In the sack letter, which was channeled through the office of the State Head of Service, Patrick Origho, Okowa said the suspension was sequel to the employment process, which was fraught with sharp practices and could not be adjudged to be credible. In the statement signed by Mr. Origho, Governor Okowa said “it is public knowledge that the process was fraught with sharp practices ranging from abuse of office to sale of job slots and therefore cannot by any stretch of imagination be adjudged credible.

He added “No flawed process produces a credible exercise” adding that “this abysmal handling of the exercise culminated in the suspension of the chairman and members of the commission and the setting of an Administrative Panel to review the recruitment process”. In an address to members of the State House of Assembly, the Governor explained that the exercise “violated established rules and regulations in the Civil Service,” giving additional reasons that “it was not logical that a state struggling to meet its payroll obligation should employ more persons into the state civil service.”

The Governor described the suspension order as “painful and agonising” for him but pleaded with the legislators to “explain to their constituents who were affected by the suspension order to be patient and understand that we do not mean them any harm. We just want to ensure that the right thing is done.” While sympathizing with those affected, Okowa said “you have my highest assurance that in the long term this decision is for the benefit of everybody”, stressing that “ sometimes, things have to get worse before they can get better.”

But the over 2000 civil servants, many of whom abandoned their previous employments to take over the civil service jobs on the premise of job security, accused the governor of being wicked and insensitive to the feelings of the people of Delta State. In the spirit of unity and oneness, they regrouped, choosing leaders among them to champion their cause. The civil servants who constituted a group under the aegis of Congress of Newly Employed Civil Servants, has Mr. Regha Obus as Chairman, Agba Okeme as Secretary and Henry Nwokolo as Public Relations Officer. In a statement issued by the group and signed by the executive members, the sacked workers said; “we are Deltans, we passed through all the necessary stages for the employment. The commission advertised; we applied; we were shortlisted for interview, which we passed and appointment letters were given to us, which we graciously accepted with the intention of serving our state.

“Most of us resigned from our previous jobs to accept the civil service offer. Those who bought their slots and the sellers should be exposed if the government is not corrupt and those of us who are Deltans should be allowed to go back to work”. The group further said “injecting fresh blood who are Deltans by origin into the Civil Service is not only necessary but a means of tackling unemployment in the state. We discovered that since 2010 till our recruitment in April 20, 2015 there had been vacuum in the service and this is a generational gap which is against the Civil Service rule.

About 3,000 workers had retired while about 1,000 had died. The group also accused the state Accountant General, Mr. Cyril Agbele, and the Head of Service, Mr. Patrick Origho, of using the names of ghost workers to defraud the State Government of billions of naira. The group believed that it was the advice giving to Okowa that civil servants in the state are so much that led to the suspension of their employment.

The sacked workers challenged the statement that the State was broke and could not pay its workers and called for the immediate probe of the State Accountant General and the Head of Service. “We request the Delta State Accountant General and Head of Service to provide answers to high number of ghost workers under their watch and account for the Internally Generated Revenue of Delta State (IGR) which is over Seven Billion Naira Monthly.

The claim of N12 Billion naira allocation for the month of May 2015 by the Delta State Government officials is that over N5 Billion was spent as salary. “Statistics shows that from 2010–2014 over 2,800 civil servants have retired from Delta State civil service and over 1,000 retirees had died since 2010.

We call on the Accountant General of the Delta State and the Head of Service to provide answers to rising monthly wage bill of Delta State irrespective of the large number of people who have retired from service and those who have died since 2010. “Governor Ifeanyi Okowa was wrongly advised by the Accountant General and others that Delta State is bankrupt and could not afford to pay the newly employed civil servants. Records at our disposal shows that the last major recruitment into the Delta Civil Service was conducted in 2010, thus the immediate past Governor did what was right to recruit after five years. He did not have the intention of creating financial burden for the Senator Ifeanyi Okowa’s administration.

Their demand now is for Okowa to reverse the directive sacking them from their jobs and reinstates them back to their previous positions. While demanding for a holistic probe of the State Civil Service with the intent of flushing out corrupt management staff and ghost workers from the system to open employment opportunities for genuine Deltans, the workers urged Governor Ifeanyi Okowa to reconsider his decision and reverse the suspension placed on their employment.

But Chairman of the state chapter of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade David Ofoeyeno, in a text message to our correspondent, said labour had taken up the issue with the governor, and that a committee made up of NLC officials has been set up to dialogue with Governor Okowa to find possible ways of resolving the matter between the sacked civil servants and the governor.

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