Public Service Cleansing in Abia State

Abia state is in the news, for the wrong reasons again. It appears there is no end in sight to the troubles and woes of residents of the state who lived through a harrowing and nightmarish experience 2 years ago when armed robbers and kidnappers held them hostage. Whereas government inaction was largely blamed for the nightmare of 2 years ago, this time, it is the planned action of the state governor, T.A Orji and his government that is causing residents of the state, particularly the so-called ‘settlers’ (ndi bia ra abia) much heart ache .

According to an advertorial sponsored by the Association of Anambra State Development Unions, Abia State Chapter published on Page 37 in the Daily Sun newspaper of Thursday, October 13th 2011, the governor had via a circular (HAS/S0071/11/132) dated August 25th, 2011 and copied to all state commissioners, permanent secretaries and other senior government officials conveyed his government’s approval that all non-indigenes of Abia state working in the public service of Abia state (including at the local government authorities) be transferred to their states of origin with effect from 1st October 2011.

This planned action by the Abia state government is indeed very sad and disappointing. It is coming at a time when South South governors are closing ranks to jointly promote the social, political and economic development of the South South states as evidenced by the formation and activities of the BRACED (Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa-Ibom, Edo, Delta states ) Commission, and the developmental projects embarked upon by the South South governors. It is policies like the one being planned by T.A Orji that continue to slow the development of South East states which have now become the ‘left behind’ states in the region.

How disheartening it is to see the division in ranks amongst the Igbo states being promoted by T.A Orji through his planned ‘civil service cleansing’ policy. What then did the South East states’ governors discuss at the South East Economic Summit which held in Enugu in September 2011. Mr. Orji had at the Summit stated that “inter- state collaboration will limit the damage done by criminal violence and advocated that the zone should use collaborative public policies including the sharing of information…”. The President General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Ambassador Ralph Uwaechue on his part identified “collective self reliance as a panacea for Igbo economic transformation”.

In the light of the above comments, this immediate volte face by Mr. Orji barely one month after the summit is retrogressive to the Igbo cause which they all pledged to champion at the summit. Whatever his reasons maybe, they do not appear justified considering the wider implications of his government’s planned action. First, we may see a backlash and retaliatory policy from other South East governors; this will further widen the co-operation gulf and further endanger the plans of integrating the South East states as one strong viable economic bloc. There are also security issues to consider, both of life and property. This policy if carried through may see the displacement of families who may be forced to relocate to their home states; one can also imagine the economic hardships that will follow such forced relocations.

We cannot also rule out witch-hunting by the ‘indigenes’ who may adopt Gestapo style tactics to ‘point out and flush out’ non-indigenes from the state hoping to take over their jobs and hopefully not their properties as witnessed collectively by Ndigbo in Port Harcourt during the abandoned property nightmare.

The most unfortunate thing about Mr. Orji’s planned policy is that it could potentially ignite embers of fear and hatred amongst families. Imagine how a couple and their family will feel if for example one partner is from Abia state and another from Anambra state, both partners may have been born in Abia state, lived all their lives in the state and attended school in the state. Assuming they have jointly managed to rise in the state civil service cadre and the partner from Anambra state is now forced to leave the service, this will be a big blow to the family.

Perhaps it is about time that federal and state legislatures enact enabling laws that will finally settle this indigene/settler dichotomy in Nigeria which is not only discriminatory but disenfranchises Nigerians of their social, political and economic rights in their places of abode. One’s home should be where his heart is, if someone has lived in a place over a certain period of time, such a person should no longer be treated as an outsider and denied of his rights.

I am sure T.A Orji and members of his government have one family member or another who may be living abroad, they will also not be unaware of the civil liberties including right to employment in the various countries where such family members reside as long as they have legal residence. How would they feel if such family members were to be unceremoniously evacuated from the countries they have come to call home, or be denied employment opportunities simply because they were originally from Nigeria?

Perhaps this is the Blackman’s burden and the reason why every forward step we make towards progress is erased by two backward steps that follow, a ‘motion without movement’ situation indeed. I ask T.A Orji whatever happened to the Igbo mantra of ‘Nwanne di na mba’ (the relative from a distant land) and ‘Onye agha na Nwanne ya’ (do not leave your relative behind)? I can bet T.A Orji was one of those that celebrated in 2008 when Barrack Obama, a man born of an immigrant Kenyan father became the President of America. Maybe I should also point out to him that Chuka Umunna, a United Kingdom parliamentarian of Igbo parentage is currently the Shadow Secretary for Business, Innovation and Skills. There are also several Nigerians both in Nigeria and abroad excelling in various fields in lands far from their home country or state. This is globalization in action, people are able to take their skills to places where they will be most appreciated and rewarded. They should not be unjustly punished by the governments of their host cities or states; rather they should be encouraged and supported to attain their God-given potentials in order to continue to give off their best in the service to humanity.

Interestingly, T.A Orji has excluded workers in the state’s school system from the cleansing policy knowing that if the policy is extended to workers in the states’ schools, it will almost throw education in the state into chaos.

In what I consider a failed attempt to defend this archaic policy, the Abia state commissioner for Information and Strategy, Don Ubani had in an advertorial published in This Day newspaper of Friday, October 16th 2011 (Page 65) thrown caution to the winds in his choice of language by adopting a combatant approach in responding to the growing condemnation of this policy by the Imo state government and other concerned stakeholders.

As an Anambra person but who was born and grew up in Aba, Abia state, I believe this issue concerns us all. While hoping that the Abia state government will rescind this policy, I’m also praying that other South East states governors do not embark on a retaliatory measure. I support the earlier call made by the Association of Anambra State Development Unions and appeal to relevant federal government agencies to intervene including Emeka Wogu, the Minister of Labour and Productivity who incidentally is from Abia state.

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