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Udom And The Akwa Ibom Civil Servant: What The Common Man Should Know

UDOM EMMANBy Uduak Umoh
For some months, one nagging challenge for the administration of Governor Udom Emmanuel has been with the organized labour. There have been tensions between both parties with state government policies and actions drawing reactions from the labour as the later struggles to acclimatize under the unusual. In the milieu that has formed, the public has been led to believe an unhealthy mix of facts and untruths. This mix has now gone through filtration and the facts have crystallized out.
The Majority of Akwa Ibom based labour supply has been Public Servants since state creation, explaining the common impression of a Civil Service State. Although there has been a robust population of petty self-employed labour, the fresh college leaver would give you his definition of employment: get a permanent job – in the civil service.
The Civil Service is like a religion in Akwa Ibom. Only Christianity commands more devotion.
When fiscal policies are made in high places, it is Civil servants who bring home the effects of the resultant economic changes. Other than being a Governor, it seems the next safest job in Akwa Ibom is being a ‘Worker’; being a civil servant. There has even been reports of politicians who retained their employment status as ‘Workers’ long after they had won an election; not mentioning those who failed and went back to ‘Work’.
When Civil Servants Are Provoked
It is even believed that if Akwa Ibom workers perceive you to be cheating on them, as a senior government official, they would attend the next event you are invited to en masse – especially if the venue is Ibom Hall, what could be regarded as a theatre of state events – and they would boo you deafeningly. Two people they did this to lost their lives mysteriously shortly afterwards. In fact, Mr. Umana Umana, a past governorship aspirant whom the Workers had accused of severely short-changing them as SSG, has reportedly refused to attend any event at Ibom Hall since he fell out with them till date, unwilling to dare the risk of facing these unarmed mercenaries of ‘divine’ judgment.
Such is the power of Civil Service in Akwa Ibom, and that tells you what to expect if civil servants challenge the government. Other Nigerians may believe this to be nothing different from their states, but I dare say that, in Akwa Ibom, it goes a little deeper.
A key stakeholder for any government, there has been no administration, since the old Cross River State that has not recorded an experience with the civil servants. However, other than the Umana situation, the Akpabio administration did enjoy a flowery relationship with the Workers; climaxing each year with what they fondly called ‘Akpabio-mber’ – a 13th month salary bonus they collected to them every December. Although the administration of Mr. Udom Emmanuel famously hit the ground running with Economy-focused governance, his government has already tasted a bit of tension with the Workers.
How The Udom Administration Has Fared
Firstly, the Governor has brought back a long quiescent culture of paying taxes. He has insisted that Akwa Ibom must go back to the mores of accountability and strict legal obligation of citizens to the State – a constitutional demand that had been suspended as we basked in what seemed like ever increasing oil based wealth and federal allocation. This was not familiar to us, and the first to react were our civil servants.
A simple tax scheme had been approved for implementation nationwide some years back, and the administration of Governor Udom had come to implement it having taken time to discuss with and sensitize the affected Akwa Ibom people of the changes to expect. He approved of a 50% rebate on the tax increase that followed; but the Workers cried out with some of them even misunderstanding figures and insinuating that state government was taking 50% off their salaries as tax. Not until the Governor met with the state Labour Union, and several messages went out over the media to correct the ensuing insinuations and propaganda, was the tension mitigated. And then as some of the rumour mongers received their remuneration, the situation died a natural death.
On this, the Workers had exhibited insensitivity and lack of discretion to a great extent. One, taxation is as old a concept as civilization, from ancient times. Any educated person knows taxation to be a responsibility of every citizen in every nation, unless where the constitution exempts. Workers are supposed to be a body of non-partisan professionals who deliver essential services to the public. They outlast political administrations and should be the first to understand the most straightforward policies of government. Secondly, the said tax structure is being implemented on all government paid personnel including political appointees. For the politicians, there is no rebate – they pay the complete levy, deducted at source. It must be that the understanding NLC showed following the meeting with the governor resulted from his presenting these facts before them.
But then as months rolled by, some workers who had most recently been recruited began to cry out that they were not receiving their pay. By November 2015, most of them had worked for a year without pay. And you can imagine the outcry. Where anger over unpaid salaries did not get, the administration’s renewed taxation policy did, with issues like non-payment of arrears, debts owed to local government staff etc. bringing up the rear. Political hyenas have cashed in on the situation, battering it further with rounds after rounds of propaganda, the most up to date being rumours of a labour strike threat.
Negotiation has always worked wonders where tension threatens and unfortunately for people who were getting excited at the prospect of an NLC strike, the administration of Governor Udom Emmanuel does believe in the age old key of dialogue. As the rumoured strike loomed around the end of February, labour leaders and government officials sat down again to dialogue. The Head of Service, Dr. Mrs. Ekereobong Akpan chaired the meeting that also had in attendance the Commissioner for Education, Mr Aniekan Akpan; Special Adviser to the Governor on Labour, Productivity and Manpower Planning, Honourable Ekpenyong Enyinna and NLC executives.
According to an attendee, this time, the unionists unfurled a list of all issues affecting the civil servants, which included promotion of teachers without arrears, non-payment of outstanding gratuities to retirees, arrears of salaries to local government employees, and other demands. They practically brought the length and breadth of Workers’ problems to the table – to which the Government delegation had simple, enlightening and heartwarming responses. At the end of the meeting, the NLC vice chairman exclaimed in satisfaction; “probably if we were this informed, some of these issues wouldn’t have come up at all”. Apparently, the facts and the accurate state of things have become clear to the representatives of workers. These facts are what Honourable Enyinna passed across as he gave an unhurried explanation to select members of the online media in his office on Thursday 3rd March.
Now, yes, some workers had enjoyed promotion without receiving the commensurate wage increase because, he said, they were due for promotion in a time when the state and entire nation are struggling with financial crises;
“Planning 4 to 6 years ago was based on what we used to receive. But now, we’re not even receiving up to a quarter of that. We used to receive this amount, and we don’t have it for now to pay arrears; must that stop you from being promoted? There is what is called notional promotion; where you are promoted but not with the corresponding arrears. But, you see, the government can even sit down when things improve, and say, workers take this – what you never expected”.
Akwa Ibom Civil Servants, Paid As At When Due
‘People who still claim on social media that Civil Servants in Akwa Ibom are not being paid are either outdated or mischievous’; this would be the conclusion of anyone who listens to a replay of Mr. Enyinna’s assertion as he spoke in this interview.
No civil servant in Akwa Ibom can rise up and say, ‘look, I have not been paid’”. He said, adding that;
“Some states are owing up to 6, 7, 8 months. In some, they are laying off workers. But in Akwa Ibom State, are we owing? No we’re not. We’re paying civil servants as at when due.”
It will be recalled, as earlier mentioned above, that when the governor decided to implement the new tax scheme (which had been in implementation by the federal government and in other states), he also offered to ease the pressure that the change would bring by half. The SA, who did not fail to make reference to this humane gesture, stated;
“This is the same governor that gave a rebate of 50% on taxes for workers. Is it constitutional? No. It only takes conscience to say, let me do this so that workers will be happy. Any person that has good conscience will definitely do things that will boost the morale of the workers. There are workers that will tell you, ‘look, I am happy, God will bless you’”.
Honourable Enyinna also took time to give details about the unpopular saga of unpaid salaries to those recruited since 2014. From earlier explanations by the Governor and other government officers, it could be understood that the state government had to withhold these salaries so that the right money does not get into the wrong hands. Government has been taking the time to get the right things done. Yet, the SA has given even more insight into the situation;
“I was the secretary of the committee of verification to look at some of the new recruits that came in. A whole of things were discovered. There was this employment racketeering. People had come up with petitions that they had paid ‘X’ amount for employment letters to be issued them. The SSS are aware of this; people were called for questioning – ‘where did you get this…?’
Civil servants should thank His Excellency; he is a man with compassion. There are some civil servants that would have been behind bars. But His Excellency took it mild, choosing to correct the anomalies and plug the loopholes. And these things take a process; it can’t be a snap of the fingers.
Those that have been cleared among the new recruits have been paid their salaries. For those that have not been paid, there is another committee that is verifying the authenticity of their credentials. The committees are working; they’ve reached out to the University of Uyo, the University of Nigeria and other universities.”
Where Is Akwa Ibom Heading?
There have been a lot of assurances and reassurances on the near future of Akwa Ibom. There might be trying times in the nation right now, but fortunately for our people, the right man is at the helm of affairs in Akwa Ibom. By now, Nigerians, notwithstanding their political and ethnic persuasions, know that it takes a trustworthy leader to attract foreign fiscal participation into the polity. While the federal Government is finding it herculean achieving this, Akwa Ibom State has been buzzing with foreign investors since Udom became Governor. It is a strong ray of hope and Mr. Enyinna once again puts it better here;
“Do you think just anybody can wake up and tell a person ‘bring your money and come and invest here’? You choose the bank that you put your money. The people that are coming into this state to invest are here because of Udom Emmanuel.
Since Before the Supreme Court judgment, we had about 17 investors. They are all here because they have confidence in him. If we know what the governor is trying to do, we will sit back and watch him in admiration.”
From the relationship between the State Government and the Labour in Akwa Ibom, one thing is safe to expect from the administration of Udom Emmanuel, and that is transparency. The various component stakeholders of the Government can testify to this. There is ease of access to Government offices enjoyed by the media, independent researchers and PR specialists in Akwa Ibom as further proof of this. While this has helped many see the broad disparity between claims by practitioners of yellow journalism and the accurate state of things, for those of us who early enough could separate the credible from the mischievous in the media ecosystem – we have no problem unmasking falsehood – such transparency helps us see the future of Akwa Ibom as told by the Udom Emmanuel leadership; a future of Akwa Ibom as no longer predominated by Civil Service employment, but a huge geographical nucleus of industries.
Umo, a Lagos/Uyo based PR Strategist & Public Affairs analyst, writes from Uyo (Culled from TheMail)

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