16th september 2023.
COLLECTIVE DISIMISSALS, IF NOT WELL-ADVISED, COULD WIDEN UNEMPLOYMENT SPELL IN ABIA, FENRAD WARNS.
Foundation for Environmental Rights Advocacy and Development, FENRAD, a pro-democracy and environmental rights group in Abia State is aware of the termination of appointment of some workers said to have been employed at the tail end of the Ikpeazu-led government, December 2022.
The collective dismissals have inserted question marks on the powers vested in state governors, especially the Public Service Rules and other extant laws of the state on which the exercise was hinged, as quoted in the government circular FENRAD obtained online. FENRAD is aware too that upon resumption of office, a similar statement was issued which directed the Abia State Head of Service and permanent secretaries to hand over to next persons (directors) in rank, to enable, as the release claimed, the panel of enquiry set up by the government on assets recovery carry out its functions without pitfalls.
While the Foundation believes it is fair and just to recover (to the letter) every asset diverted by those appointed or elected to serve the state in the past, the proverbial dog that ate the bone hung on its neck, it is more important that such exercise does not end up as a diversionary in the face of the pressing challenges before the state under Gov. Alex Chioma Otti.
Back to it. Our concern grew over the sack of some 10,000 personnel the government source said was driven by an ongoing ‘reorganisation’ in the state’s civil service sector. It calls into question the legitimacy of such employment termination. The Foundation holds that the civil service is not extension of political parties and should not be seen as a party structure but part of the executive arm of government charged and mandated with the task of policy enforcement. Already, there is neutrality oath binding on all workers at different cadres of the service. The Foundation is aware of power of appointment conferred on the governor by the constitution and other extant laws of the land, but is of the view that due diligence remains key.
Questions begging for answer are: ‘Were the workers, at the time of their appointment, duly qualified persons?’ ‘Did they undergo all the procedures, including necessary filing and documentation, required for one to be absorbed in the cadre?’ ‘Did their appointment, in any manner, go against the same Public Service Rules the state government’s statement quoted?’ ‘Did such appointments bloat the state’s civil service structure to an unsustainable size the state cannot keep?’
FENRAD became more worried reading from the dailies the statement credited to Mr. Kazue Uko, Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, saying that the recruitment of these workers was an exercise carried out for political expediency, being that election was coming close. Contrarily, what FENRAD had expected to read from the government was that the exercise became unsustainable considering Abia wage bill or that due diligence showed it was bias and not carried out in good faith, not some politically motivated reason that could be explored by people, including opposition, as vendetta. If this exercise was politically motivated, it bodes ill for a popular government like that of Governor Alex Otti whose victory threw suffering Abians into celebratory mode.
FENRAD’s previous baseline analysis showed that household finances had continued to shrink since the 2020 pandemic amid rising inflation and soaring food insecurity. During the last campaign, Gov. Alex Otti promised to tackle unemployment (at 51%) and poverty (at 31%) in the state; lifting employment embargo and absorbing capable and qualified personnel is one of the ways of achieving the campaign promises.
Abians had fallen on hard times following the inauguration of the current subsidy-free regime amid price inflation. As a pro-poor group, we call on the governor to reassess the exercise and to see what can be done or undone; we believe it is not crime to reabsorb those whose records are not vague because contemporary global labour market talks of ‘labour hoarding,’ not collective dismissals, in hard and critical times like we are witnessing. In the light of these trends, FENRAD is of the view that cost of governance be reduced, but advises that government should be aware of firing costs in a labour market; and the beautiful coincidence here is that Gov. Otti is of the Labour Party, whose ideology is to create happy living standard among workers with a tendency to reduce industrial and trade dispute, reason we commend the governor’s commitment to prompt and timely payment of salaries to workers. Collective dismissals, if not well-advised, could widen unemployment spell in the state.
FENRAD will be following.
Comrade Nelson Nnanna Nwafor
Foundation for Environmental Rights, Advocacy & Development (FENRAD Nigeri
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