OPINION: Okorocha’s ‘Back to Land’ policy – By Onwuasoanya FCC Jones.

man-question-markI come from a State where my Governor, though elected through the ballot boxes, acts like his office is an inheritance which no one can take away from him, and his actions are mostly determined by what he thinks and possibly at the spot, without giving a hoot as to what happens after. Call my Governor, the ‘Impulse Governor’ and you may not be completely wrong.

Democracy is seen as a most welcomed system of government, because of its deliberate structures which discourage despotism. It is a popular democratic maxim that; “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Uncontrolled power could lead to some level of mental problems, too. When a man is given authority to lead a people, it will only amount to some level of madness if he understands that to be, and begin to act like that is the same thing as ruining the same people. A leader who takes the people under his care for granted, will wake up one day to see himself being dragged to the gallows by the same people. It is important for a leader that he understands that he is there by the goodwill of the people, and by some degree of good fortune, not because those he has been appointed to lead are sub-humans to him.

Owelle Rochas Okorocha had said it several times that he is a no respecter of due process, arguing that due process delays governance. His Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Sam Onwuemedo took it a step further by telling a live radio program that the administration he serves cannot afford to obey everything the Constitution says or abide by every pronouncement of law courts, because that would make it difficult for them to do many things. I have not heard that the Imo State House of Assembly summoned the Governor or his Chief Press Secretary for questioning over such a terrible disavowal of democracy, and this failure on the part of this arm of our government drives home the tragedy of leadership my people have found themselves in. I called into the radio program on the day the Chief Press Secretary made this unfortunate statement and reminded the Chief Press Secretary and the Governor that they are some of the biggest beneficiaries of democracy and Constitutionalism. The election of the Governor and his subsequent swearing in could not have happened if those who lost out as a result of that did not obey the Constitution.

From just granting an interview to some journalists in which he was quoted as ‘recommending’ that civil servants across the nation should have their work days pruned down in order to cut cost, the Governor issued a statement just two days after, directing civil servants in the State to take two days off every week, in order to have time to engage in farming or any other private business.

By this directive, civil servants in the State are supposed to be at work from Monday to Wednesday every week, while the remaining two working days ofThursday and Friday are to be used by the civil servants to go to their farms in line with the State government’s policy of encouraging agricultural development. While the statement does not say what will become of the salaries these civil servants are supposed to be earning, the Governor’s earlier pronouncement, indicating that this policy will ensure that civil servants’ salaries would be cut down in order to meet up with developmental aspirations of government, especially in this critical economic state of the nation.

The policy of having civil servants come to work from Mondays through Friday from 8:00am till 4:00pm or more as the case may be is not a mere verbal pronouncement or a policy that came from issuing press statements. This is something that has to do with the laws of the land. The Federal and State Civil Service Commissions, who are charged with the responsibility of creating and implementing rules and regulations for all Nigerian workers, are creations of the Constitution, and before any part of the rules they have set out can be altered, it has to go through the normal processes to amend such laws.

I do not believe that any part of the Nigerian Constitution is cast in rock, such that it cannot be changed, but any person, no matter how lowly or highly placed who does not feel comfortable with any part of the laws should know how to go about correcting such laws or provisions of the laws. This directive is one of the several affronts on the legislature by Governor Okorocha. Someone once told me that the Governor runs the State like there is no one in it, and I think I am beginning to chew that statement more seriously than I ever thought I would.

To be sure, I am for reforms. I do not believe that things should continue being the way they have been just because they have always been that way. Whatever has to be done to ensure good improvement in our economy and to improve the living standard of the common man should be seriously pursued, I am also in support of reforms and policies of government that ensure optimum productivity on the part of the Nigerian workforce. However, any reform that intends to sidestep the Constitution of the Federal Republic is not only anti-democracy, but also anti-people, because the people are protected by the Constitution. If a Governor can wake up one morning and decide to make pronuncements that are not in tandem with the Constitution, then, what makes such Governor think that the citizens will not borrow a leaf from him someday and  take actions they feel are right and exigent, without deference to what the laws of the land says about such actions?

Encouraging citizens to return to agriculture is not on its own bad in anyway. The Back to Land program of the government may be a beautiful idea, but it can be actualized without having to punish civil servants by reducing their salaries or even sacking some of them as it is being rumored to be part of the long term agenda of the government. This is just like asking that Governors or political office holders across the nation should be sacked, just because a good number of them are nor performing well in their given assignments.

Previous governments in the State and at the Federal level have constantly pursued agricultural development programs and agenda that benefited civil servants and other citizens without subjecting them to some deliberate forms of pain in the name of compelling them to return to agriculture. This is also not the first time government is providing loan facilities running into Billions of Naira for small scale farmers and civil servants. In fact, every government that has come into power since 1999, has provided one agricultural loan or the other, without as much as contemplating the reduction of civil servants’ salaries.

The Governor makes it look like subsistence farming is strange to these civil servants. The Governor and his advisers would be making it look like they fell from the moon, if they think these civil servants, especially the junior civil servants have always survived on the pittance they are paid as salaries. There is hardly any civil servant in the State who is not involved with one form of subsistence farming or the other. This is the only way most of them could have been surviving without seeing their salaries for some months, and even when these salaries come, it is hardly enough to solve some of their most basic problems.

The essence of following due processes and the established democratic channels before carrying out change of government rules like this one, is that it will ensure that more and more government functionaries, non-governmental organizations and ordinary citizens get the opportunity to discuss and offer their own opinions on such issues, so that the government will be able to arrive at more workable and less painful decisions. For instance, by the time, this kind of issue comes up for debate either on the floor of the House or at public forums, the government will be made to remember that there could be people who do not even have access to lands on which to farm, while some civil servants may be suffering some health problems that will make it difficult for them to engage in farming or any hectic job.

Governor Okorocha’s background as a trader must have really affected him, hence his sheer and shameful ignorance on the importance of bureaucracy in running the State, it is regrettable that our Governor does not know those on whose shoulders the major job of running this nation lies. In discussing this issue with a friend, I reminded him that the State and indeed the entire nation can run smoothly with civil servants being in charge. Conversely, the State and the entire nation would grind to a halt, should all the civil servants down tools for just one day, but it would mean nothing if all the political office holders are pulled out from office for ten years. In the event of a coup de tat, for instance, it is civil servants who immediately take over the running of the country for as long as the junta remains in power. The few politicians who are accommodated are just to give some diplomacy to the coupists.

Very importantly, nobody will take this governor or any other governor or even president seriously when they talk about economic recession till we start seeing them showing clear signs of suffering from the same. Is there any rule that says the masses must be the ones to suffer whenever there is economic crisis, while those in government continue cruising in the best SUVs and enjoy the best holidays, while their children, wives and even mistresses ostentatiously squander money on frivolities? Till we notice a drastic reduction in the noisy convoy of our Governor, his deputy, and other functionaries of government, we shall keep insisting that they not only pay workers their salaries, but also pay them higher salaries than they are paying them at present and on time, too.

Imo workers have been dribbled many times before now, so, no one should be surprised at the speed with which they rejected this directive from the Governor. The writers of our Constitution understood that civil servants need some spare time for farming and other private businesses, hence, the idea in leaving Saturdays and Sundays as work free days, while civil servants are also entitled to one month annual leave and seven days casual leave. These are enough for civil servants to engage in anything they wish to engage in, to augment whatever they are getting from the government.

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