Vanguard (Lagos)

25 October 2011

Nigeria: The Abia Expulsions - Controversy Brews

The decision of the Abia State government to expel non indigenes stirs controversy and shows the readiness of a State that styles itself as God's own State to flout God's basic injunction to love thy neigbour.

IT was a shocking action supposedly prompted by basic survival instincts. It was also shocking coming from a state priding itself as God's Own State. After all, God's basic injunction is to love your neighbor as yourself.

Indeed, the decision of the Abia State government to sack all non-indigenes in the state public service has again raised questions about the viability of many of Nigeria's 36 states given that economic considerations were primary to the decision.

The move has also raised questions on the enforceability of Section 42 of the Constitution which gives all Nigerians the same rights irrespective of state of origin. Abia's controversial expulsion of non-indigenes and indeed, indigenous women married to non-indigenes, came vide a circular HAS/S.0071/II/132 dated August 25, 2011 and issued by the Head of Service, Mr. G.C. Adiele.

Names of all non indigenes

The circular directed heads of ministries, department and agencies and Local Government Service Commission "to submit the names of all non-indigenes in their employ on or before September 1, 2011, failure of which or any connivance thereto shall attract strict sanctions by Government".

Entitled "Back loading on transfer of non-indigenes in Abia State public service to their states of origin", the Head of Service wrote: "I write to convey the approval of the Government of Abia State that all non-indigenes working in the public service of Abia State (including local governments) be transferred to their states of origin with effect from October 1, 2011. This policy does not apply to Tertiary Institutions in Abia State".

Though the circular was quiet on the matter of indigenes married to non indigenes it has since emerged that Abia women married to men from outside the State have also been thrown out of their jobs with a silent instruction that they should go and look for employment in their husbands' states.

The policy, Vanguard learnt, has also affected former members of the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC members who won appointment based on their meritorious service at the end of the NYSC service year in Abia.

One such example was given of a former NYSC member from Nasarawa State who after his service year was given automatic employment based on his meritorious service to Abia State. To concretise his roots in Abia State the man married an indigene of the State.

Today, he is among those affected based on the State's policy of exclusion of non indigenes from the state public service. Though the circular was silent on it, it has also emerged that Abia born women married to men from outside the State are also being rooted out from the public service. However, Abia men married to outside women are being spared, it was learnt.

The government has defended the decision and is in fact blaming the immediate past governor of the State, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu, who it accused of mortgaging the state's interest for his own political goals.

Chief Umeh Kalu the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in an interview with Vanguard equally blamed the recent increase in the national minimum wage and the exodus of Abia indigenes from the North as the reasons that compelled the decision.

He said: "I must tell you that the general public has been grossly misinformed on reasons behind the policy. Some years back, Abia indigenes in the civil service of some states within the Southeast and South-South geo-political regions, specifically Cross River, Enugu, Imo and the rest were sent back to Abia State including in some cases, the pension files of retired civil servants from Imo State.

"These returnee civil servants were absorbed into the civil service of Abia State even where there were no vacancies in order to save them and their families from the hardship occasioned by their sudden disengagement.

There were suggestions then that Abia State Government should equally disengage citizens from these neighbouring States working in our civil service in order to balance the scale. This suggestion as strong and reasonable as it was to check the over bloated work force was bluntly rejected by the former Governor, Orji Uzor Kalu, who was bent on pursuing his now elusive bid for the Presidency of Nigeria.

In recent times, the wage bill of the State is nearing N1.8 billion and with the acceptance of Government to pay the N18,000 minimum wage bill, the wage bill of the State would in no distant time be in the neighbourhood of N2.5 billion and for a State with a monthly allocation of below N3 billion, one can imagine what crisis would evolve.

Recent crisis

"Furthermore, the recent crisis in Jos, Plateau State and Maiduguri has displaced hundreds of Abians who are back to the State and desire to be gainfully employed. The first law of nature is self preservation and what the Government has done is to seek for a way of attending to its problems as having a legion of unemployed persons would equally create some social problems for the State especially violent crimes."

His explanation nonetheless, the Abia government has come under withering criticism from a cross section of the polity including Ohaneze Ndigbo which has described the action as capable of destroying the fabrics of Igbo unity.

Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State has said that the State would not retaliate for the action taken by the Abia government. He described the action as "unique and sensitive"during a courtesy call on him by the National President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Mr. Joseph Daudu, SAN. Okorocha also revealed that the Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF has waded into the matter.

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