By UbongAbasi Ise (Published in The Sensor Newspaper on Tuesday 21 June 2016)
“If to love each other is the job, then the happy life is the salary” – Toba Beta
In Akwa Ibom State today, allegations are rife against the government of the day over its blithe disregard and seeming lack of interest in prioritizing basic workers’ welfare. There are touching claims by civil servants on backlog of unpaid promotion arrears, leave grants and gratuities. Others include insufficient or no subvention and imprest to manage schools, ministries, departments and agencies in the state. Another trending debacle is the declaration of intention by the state government to pay a one month pension to retirees out of mounting arrears owed for more than a year now. But the one that is quite funny in a bad way is the wrangle surrounding the non-payment of teaching and non-teaching staff that were allegedly absorbed since January 2013 by State Secondary Education Board (SSEB) after the take-over of six (6) secondary schools hitherto owned by various communities in the state. This very issue, which is one of the most unfortunate features of poor workers’ welfare in recent times, is receiving full attention in this writing, while others may wait to serve another day.
To say the least, I was astounded; my head lost its balance when, not too recent, I became fully aware that staff from six schools purportedly absorbed since January 2013 are yet to receive their first salary. I could sense the fatality of having to cope with rigours of school job without remuneration for this number of years while still hoping interminably for respite. Indeed, I naturally lost myself in pensive mood: these ill-fated people might be parents, perhaps breadwinners – what might have become of their families? Or rather, how do they feed themselves in the first place and then their families? How do they manage to go to work to avoid dangling query, especially in this critical times when economy has gone mad? How do they clothe themselves? How do their wards fare in school? Could they even pay utility bills or afford healthcare? How do these people survive the harshness of prevailing economic conditions that has fast become so miserable? Again, is their employer oblivious of what these hapless workers have to pass through on a daily basis? To be frank, all these wild imaginations are just a glimpse of terrible pain these people have to go through.
In a way, this melancholic drama was heralded when the government of Chief Godswill Akpabio was said to have mandated the State Secondary Education Board to take over six community schools as public schools in line with requests by their proprietors. These include Unity Model School, Obontong, Nsit Ibom LGA; Community Secondary School, Obio Ediene, Ikono LGA; Iwerre Community Secondary School, Ini LGA; Afaha High School, Ikot Udo Mbang, Ukanafun LGA; Ikono Anang Comprehensive Secondary High School, Etim Ekpo LGA; and Comprehensive High School, Ikpe Mbak Eyop, Obot Akara LGA. The memo for the take-over was signed in early 2012 by Chrysantus Asuka, the then Permanent Secretary in the State Ministry of Education. In this connection, I found out through one of the copies of letters of absorption issued to 148 staff of the afore-mentioned schools by SSEB dated 10th June, 2013 signed by Inemesit Akabom, the then Permanent Secretary, which actually approved the absorption into the State Secondary Education Board with effect from January 1st, 2013. I also learnt in the letter that copies were sent to the Permanent Secretary of Department of Establishment, the Accountant-General and the Auditor-General for information.
On a fact-finding mission to ascertain as to why these absorbed teaching and non-teaching staff are not paid and not been made to go through biometric data capturing till now, I met with a top government official in the Department of Establishment who spoke on condition of anonymity. The source revealed apparent reasons that made government to maintain the position of silence on the matter. Accordingly, the source said “when officers are given approval by the government for absorption to take place, it is the Civil Service Commission and Department of Establishment that would implement such approval. But in the case of these six schools in question, the absorption was neither done by the Civil Service Commission nor Department of Establishment – the two agencies of government mandated to carry out the absorption of officers. Therefore, Department of Establishment has no record about these absorbed staff. Secondly, the former State Governor, Chief Godswill Akpabio did not give any approval for the formalization of their appointment; had he done that, then nothing could have stopped them from being paid. Thirdly, it is doubtful that six private schools that were not owned by government could have altogether employed more than 470 staff, especially when considering low population of people living in the vicinities of the said schools. Finally, absorption has to do with someone who had already been given appointment into service and, maybe, return from a break or leave. Absorption has nothing to do with fresh appointment. But concerning these absorbed staff, there are some persons whose letter of absorption only serve as their first letter of appointment. Checking their papers, one would find out that some of them were still serving in National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) as at the time of purported absorption.”
Of course the above extenuating submissions are understandable. But was a directive not issued by Akpabio’s government through the office of the Head of Civil Service for absorbed teaching and non-teaching staff to report for screening exercise at Governor’s Office Annex, Wellington Bassey Way, Uyo in February, 2015 where about 70 of them were screened out? Was that not a veritable avenue in ascertaining those authentic for absorption? These helpless people were asked in October 2015 to open account with banks and were subsequently demanded to provide their Account Number, their Sort Code, Local Education Centre (LEC), Bank Verification Number (BVN) and phone number, but till now nothing has come out of it. One of the affected persons disclosed in confidence that an operative from DSS was sent to Unity Model College, Obontong in Nsit Ibom LGA to investigate whether the absorption actually took place, and the findings proved right.
Beyond any consideration, these persons are the indigenes of Akwa Ibom State. They are our brothers and sisters constrained to live in subhuman conditions. It has been gathered that about seven of them had lost their lives, and no one knows what would happen next. Again, let us consider the quality of services these staff might be delivering to our children as they are going to work with pent-up frustration. For sure the harsh working conditions have rendered them lethargic and broken. It is time for government to return to the brink of mercy, and end this inveterate silence.
Yes! I am UbongAbasi Ise. For your comment, send SMS to 08189914609