BY ROBERT OBIOHA
At this festive period of peace, love and happiness, it is sad that some Nigerians who were, due to no fault of theirs, sacked from their legitimate employment simply because they were branded non-indigenes by Abia State governor, Chief T.A. Orji on August 25, 2011, are yet to be paid their severance entitlements many months after they were forcefully relieved of their jobs.
Some of these workers are mainly from sister Igbo states of Anambra, Imo, Enugu and Ebonyi. They include Abia State daughters married to indigenes of these non-indigene states in the South-East. It beats all logic to regard an Igbo as a non-indigene in any of the South-East states.
Even at the point of writing this piece, there are many Abia people working in Imo, Anambra, Enugu and Ebonyi states civil service. Igbo people work practically in other states civil service in the country including Lagos, Rivers and others. State creation does not mean that Nigerian citizens from one state cannot elect to work in another state if they are eminently qualified for such jobs. Rather than embark on this selfish and narrow restriction of Nigerians, effort should be made to allot certain percentage of jobs in any state of the federation for the so-called non-indigenes as a way of enhancing our national integration and unity.
The irony of the Abia saga is that these civil servants were lawfully engaged and they have worked for Abia State for many years that they do not deserve the kind of treatment meted to them by Umuahia in the first place. There is indeed no justifiable reason for T.A. Orji’s ill-thought-out action. The sack did not in any way translate to more jobs for Abians as the government was later to rationalize. Instead, it has pitched her citizens against Igbos from the affected states. Not even pleas by well-meaning Igbos and other Nigerians could persuade Orji to rescind its unpopular decision.
It is not a surprise therefore to read from the media that the aggrieved sacked workers have taken their case to the Open Society Initiative for West Africa, a legal based non-governmental organization (NGO) demanding their entitlements from Abia State.
Speaking on behalf of the sacked 2,604 non-indigene workers sacked by T.A. Orji, their leader Mrs. Rose Okafor, from Anambra State explained that the sacked workers have stayed for 15 months without salaries. During this trying period, 67 of them have died. According to the statistical figures of the affected workers, Imo State recorded the highest number of casualties while Anambra, Enugu and Ebonyi states have 607, 86 and 87 respectively.
While the workers are asking Orji to pay their entitlements, which by law, is their right, the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN) has condemned T.A.Orji’s failure to re-absorb sacked non-natives in the employment of the state public service and called for their immediate re-instatement. In a letter to the governor signed by its Secretary-General, Alade Lawal, the union regretted that Abia State Government had refused to re-absorb the sacked employees including Abia women natives married to “outsiders” despite pleas by the trade unions, religious leaders, royal fathers, human rights organizations and other eminent Nigerians.
There are now two options for Umuahia to deal with this self-inflicted problem. The government should either recall the workers and pay them all outstanding salaries or pay them all their severance entitlements. That is the only way the government can redeem is battered image in the eyes of the public as far as this issue is concerned. It is inhuman to treat workers in this manner, especially by a government that lay claim to be on the side of the people. It will be better for Abia government to recall the sacked workers.
It is the easiest and better option if I may advise them.
When other geo-political zones are rooting for regional integration, the non-indigene policy of T.A. Orji is a disservice to the South-East geo-political zone. It is against the spirit of Igbo unity. It is divisive and anti-progress. The governor should do the needful by recalling these workers he sacked unjustifiably. He should use this season of love and peace as epitomized by Christ’s birth to correct the injustice meted to these workers and their families. Those that have died as a result of the sack should be paid all their entitlements and compensation as well.
A vote for fewer parties
I heaved a great sigh of relief when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) scrapped 28 political parties in the country, in pursuant of the provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended).
Expectedly such noble action by the electoral umpire attracted mixed reactions from a cross section of the society. While some hailed INEC, others faulted it. Some of the leaders of the affected political parties as usual threatened fire and brimstone. They all vowed to resist INEC’s ban. They also see the proscription as a grand design by the ruling PDP to reduce the number of parties in the country. They have also argued that INEC has no right to outlaw them. But the fact remains that INEC has powers to register and de-register parties. Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Section 78 (1) and (7) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) confer on INEC the power to register or de-register political parties in the country.
The affected parties were found wanting in so many areas. One of them is that none of parties has won a seat either at the National or State Assemblies elections. Most of them have no verifiable headquarters. Some of them have failed to constitute their National Executive Committee (NEC).
While the dust raised by the scrapping of 28 parties is yet to settle, INEC has again sacked three additional political parties thus bringing the number of those axed so far to 31. I commend INEC for a job well done and even urge it to further prune the parties. Nigeria as presently constituted does not need more than 10 political parties. Ideally, five parties will be okay. In our First, Second and Third Republics, we had not more than five serious political parties in contention.
A system that allows every Dick and Harry to own a political party is wrong. It does not advance the course of democracy nor does it add value to our electoral system. Having a small number of manageable parties will strengthen our democracy. In short, having two strong political parties as obtainable in most advanced democracies, especially the United States, where we modeled our presidential system will augur well for us. It will also help in having a strong opposition.
The problem with having over 58 parties before the recent pruning is that the opposition is very weak and cannot reasonably challenge the octopus PDP. With more parties going, the future is bright for strong opposition to emerge. Nigerian politics will fare better under two strong parties. That is what INEC should be encouraged to aim at.
The unwieldy nature of our ballot paper supports the need to reduce the number of parties. Of what use is a party that could not win a seat at either the National or State Assemblies elections? Such a party has been rejected by the people and therefore should not be allowed to exist. Government should stop giving political parties any financial support.
It is such practice in the past that encouraged the springing up of all manner of parties in the country. Let all parties be self-financing. There is the need to instill order in the way we do things. Politics is not trading where high return on investment is expected. Let Nigerians find something to do for a living other than politics. Politics should not be for jobless individuals.