The decision of the Abia State government in August, 2011,to sack non-indigene workers in its public service is still troubling the affected workers and their families. Under a jejune policy which the Governor Theodore Orji administration called “back loading”, the appointments of about 2,604 workers from the neighbouring states of Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo States were terminated forthwith. Worst hit in the sack exercise were indigenes from Imo, Ebonyi and Ananbra States.
However, the agony of the disengaged workers deepened recently when the hapless and jobless workers cried out that sixteen months after their disengement from the Abia public service, the state government is yet to pay them their entitlements in accordance with extant civil service rules. At a press conference in Abuja, organised under the aegis of “Open Society Imitative for West Africa”, a Non-Governmental Organisation, the sacked workers lamented their plight and the delay of the Abia State government to pay their entitlements.
At least 67 of the disengaged workers have reportedly died, according to the spokesperson of the affected workers, Mrs Rose Okafor, from Anambra State. In justifying its action, the Abia State government had advanced two main reasons for its decision. First, it said the action was to enable the government to “urgently mobilize funds” to implement the national minimum wage approved by the Federal Government in 2011.
Secondly, and perhaps more crucial, the Abia State government added that the decision to lay off non-indigene workers would facilitate the employment of its citizens “displaced” in the Northern parts of the country as a result of the activities of the Boko Haram religious insurgents. Beyond that, the Theodore Orji government argued that “50 percent of its workforce” was at that point in time made up of “non-indigenes”, a situation it maintained it could no longer tolerate. Since then, the affected workers have been at the mercy of their respective state governments.
Many of them are yet to be absorbed by their states. Clearly, the decision of the Abia State government was bad, perhaps not well thought through before it was carried out. However, the right thing to do, and indeed, the sensible and best way forward to close this ugly chapter is to pay them all their entitlements without further delay. Equity, justice and fairness demand that an employer can only walk the high moral ground only when he has discharged that contractual agreement with the worker.
So far, the Abia State government has not shown good faith in this matter of the disengaged workers, many of who had dutifully served the state for almost two decades before the unfortunate termination of their appointments. To continue to delay the payment of their entitlements will amount to double jeopardy, as many of them have responsibilities to themselves and their families.
We urge the Abia State government to hasten the process of settling the entitlements of the sacked non-indigene workers to avoid further hardships and deaths that could result from this obvious rash and ill-conceived policy. Governor T.A Orji needs reminding that governance is about service, and central to that, is the good of the people who put the government in power in the first place. Leaving Abia for Abians alone may have pleased a handful of Abians in the short term, but it is a road for only the short-sighted. That, it must be said, is not a good example to emulate.
At this point, the way forward is for the state to commence immediately the payment of all the entitlements due the sacked workers. Not to do so will be sadistic. It will be against the letters of the constitution, in particular section 42(1) which allows every Nigerian, irrespective of state of origin, or religion, to live and work anywhere in the country.