By Henry Ekpe
Civil Service or Public Servants as the case may be, is a well oiled skilled Group of technocrats that run a Government.
Without civil servants the day-to-day running of any government will collapse.
These set of people are the engine room of Government, and facilitate Government policies to the letter. They are found in Local, State and Federal Governments. Civil service has its own structure and organogram. The highest echelon is the Permanent Secretaries who are incharge of the Ministries.
One unique thing about these people is that they earn their living through Government, and remain in office till retirement, while politicians come and go. Therefore, civil servants are not supposed to be partisan, since they are in office to service every Government in power.
In Imo State, the highest number of workers are found in the civil service. The reason is because Imo State lacks Industries and other private owned companies like in Lagos, Kano, Kaduna, Anambra, Abia and some other States where there are many workers working for private establishments.
The highest employer of Labour in Imo State is the Government. This is the reason the State’s economy is dependent on the Civil Servants.
It therefore means that whenever the Imo State Government is buoyant and pays its workers as at when due, the economy booms because the spending power of the majority of the population is emboldened.
Because of this situation, every regime that ruled Imo, including the various Military Juntas did not toy with the welfare of Imo Workers.
Traders in Imo can attest that whenever workers are paid their turn-overs multiply.
Because civil servants are highly educated, they take the education of their children as a priority which reflects in the number of Graduates Imo State churns out every year.
And unfortunately, most of these young graduates remain in Owerri to look for elusive jobs, which tasks the State’s socioeconomic elasticity to the seams.
In most cases, the parents of these youthful graduates bear the consequences of catering for these educated but unemployed youths, even after graduation due to lack of jobs, which tend to send most parents into illnesses they never contemplated in their lives.
In this case, owing a civil servant in Imo, even for a month, is like committing mass murder.
However, since 1999 civil regime returned to Imo, civil servants in the State had enjoyed relative respite in terms of regular payments and relative welfare.
The government of Chief Achike Udenwa held Imo Civil Servants in high esteem.
No matter how meager their salaries that time, Udenwa made sure he kept his part of the bargain with the civil servants.
Udenwa may have been accused of promoting some civil servants from one section of Imo State to “balance” Imo zoning formula, but it was done through “due process”.
Udenwa respected civil service ethics by dealing with workers according to the civil service rules.
Let me make it clear here that in civil service, after passing through all the rigours and your employment letter comes out, to be sacked is no more an easy matter, as the issue must pass through all the required processes before you are even suspended, much more sack.
Udenwa retained this “status quo” until he left office on May 29, 2007.
His successor, Chief Ikedi Ohakim was more benevolent and thorough while dealing with civil servants. He also followed Udenwa’s “legacies” by promoting some senior workers from certain zone to Permanent Secretaries in order to balance zoning.
The truth is that by the time Imo State was created in 1976, nearly all the senior civil servants were from Owerri zone.
The reason was that, with all due respect to other zones in Imo, Owerri zone had more inclination to education and Civil Service, to Trading unlike his Okigwe and Orlu Brothers.
Therefore, it was not surprising that in 1999 nearly all Permanent Secretaries were from Owerri zone, and even most of those waiting in the wings to be promoted were also of Owerri zone extraction.
With the Imo policy of zoning formula, some “joggling” was done in the civil service in 1999 and beyond though to the detriment of Owerri zone, to accommodate Okigwe and Orlu zones.
However, the Ohakim era could be described as the best time for Imo Workers.
He paid them regularly and updated their skills through cerebral seminars and workshops.
Ohakim was out to redirect the Imo civil service by injecting fresh bloods into the system through a massive employment that cut-across all the Ministries.
A reputable consultant company carried out the recruitment exercise which was devoid of favoritism or man-know-man as 80% of the interview was done through the Internet, across various centers as far as Kaduna, Kano, Lagos, Abuja.
In the end, ten thousand (10,000) Imo citizens were employed to take over from the old and dead woods in the Imo Public Service; some of them their parents who had refused to quit after reaching retirement ages.
Some of these newly employed workers had taken five months salaries, until in 2011 when a new Government came in and in one fell swoop sacked these workers, just through a radio announcement.
From hence, Imo Civil Service was destroyed. That singular announcement which was followed by action without due process made a mess of the civil service code of job security until found guilty through a well constituted panel.
It was the regime of Governor Rochas Okorocha that committed this crime against these Imo sons and daughters without any atom of regret on empathy on these youths that held the future of the State.
For Eight years Okorocha was in office, he never lifted ban on employment, and if ever he did, it was not announced or published in any Newspaper, as required by civil service rule.
For Eight years, Okorocha shouted himself hoarse with the “Job Job, Industry, Industry slogan, and he left a few months ago, with Imo State yet to see even one water factory he built.
But quite unfortunately, the Okorocha era never had respect for the Imo Civil servants.
They never had seminars, no promotions, no salary increase under Okorocha. Allowances were not forth coming, while pensioners were forgotten.
But within same period, the Federal Government made funds available to States in Naira, Pounds and Dollars for States to offset their workers’ salaries, Imo State inclusive.
While many States utilized these funds to clear debts, Imo State under Okorocha rather cut the salary of its work force to 70%.
It remained a mystery how Udenwa and Ohakim who received lower allocations than Okorocha during their time could pay workers, yet Okorocha could failed to pay until he left office, despite the Federal Government wind falls on salaries.
But as it downed on Okorocha that he was leaving Douglas House without being able to foist his son inlaw, Uche Nwosu as his successor, suddenly fictitious names in their thousands began to appear in the Imo State pay roll even though no employment exercise was carried out in the last Eight years.
This is the situation the incumbent Governor, Emeka Ihedioha has fund himself on the saddle.
Meanwhile, Ihedioha had on his campaign trail promised to pay Imo workers 100% and not the 70% Okorocha managed to pay some times.
Now, with ghost workers planted everywhere in Imo State, with their dubious employment letters backdated to 2018, should Ihedioha begin to pay the 100% without taking record of who are the authentic staff of Imo State that deserve this 100% salary?
This is now the issue, and superior argument from the organized labour, and those that prepare salary for Imo State Civil Servants are saying that it is necessary to take a proper record of Imo workers and weed away these “planted” ghost workers before Ihedioha resumes the 100% payment.
But against this back drop, Ihedioha still ordered that 100% be paid Imo Workers.
And the Governor has assured that paying 100% to Imo Workers is sacrosanct and must be done.
What many people do not realise is that the past regime destroyed the Imo Civil Service. That regime did not even care if there was Civil Servants or not.
At a time the State Secretariat was to be sold, until the News was broken by TRUMPETA Newspaper.
The next time, workers were told to come to work thrice, and spend the rest days in their farms. They were even ordered to be putting on uniforms like pupils
Later, all the Ministries were asked to be located in the various Local Governments of the State.
The Imo Workers should be glad that the draconian regime has been removed.
All they should do is to believe in Ihedioha, as he will restore the dignity of Imo Workers.
He promised them 100% salary, and it is a must.