Oyo State Governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi
After sustained pressure from the opposition and members of the public, the Oyo State Governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, recalled 1, 499 of the 3, 000 workers sacked from the state’s civil service in July. The governor’s action that has elicited excitement in the state, is in no small measure a smart politics in the face of increasing public scorn, writes Tunde Sanni
Many people knew that the reported sack of about 3,000 workers from the Oyo State civil service was just for a while. But how long the sack would last was what nobody knew.
The Governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, had personally dropped the hint of reprieve for the workers when he declared shortly after the intervention of the state legislature that the sacked workers would be recalled but on the condition that the people of the state must mandate him to recall them. “If it is the general consensus that the recently sacked 3, 000 workers relieved of their positions on allegations of age and certificate falsifications should be reabsorbed, I would not hesitate to do so,” Ajimobi had said.
Sources hinted that some of the affected workers had taken their cases beyond the reach of the governor, getting across to some powerful community leaders in the state who in turn had persuaded the governor to rethink his action. The persuasion had also tallied with the intervention of the lawmakers whose leadership had met with the governor for a revisit of the sack. The intervention of the lawmakers, THISDAY learnt, was one out of the several interventions and pressures mounted on the governor since the announcement was made. Both the ruling Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and leader of the party in the state, former governor, Alhaji Lam Adesina, had condemned the sack, pointing out that the action in a political dispensation could be counter- productive, especially as council polls was drawing nearer.
Before the lawmakers’ intervention, there had been altercation between the ruling party and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The PDP Synergy League through its spokesman, Dotun Oyelade, criticised the Ajimobi administration for sacking the workers and accused the ACN government of using the former administration as a shield to cover up what it called the ACN agenda. The opposition party was furious that Ajimobi was dropping the name of a consultancy outfit engaged by the defunct administration of Otunba Adebayo Alao-Akala to embark on such a mass sack of civil servants. “The Ajimobi administration should stand by its decision and not attribute the sack to the past administration”.
In its view, the setting up of yet another committee to review the case of the sacked workers “is an amateur cover-up for a failed agenda that boomeranged.” Recalling what it termed arbitrarily sack of workers from the Road Management Agency by the present administration, the PDP Synergy League said, “if you add the 3,000 workers already relieved of their jobs and those earlier mentioned, Governor Ajimobi administration has effectively proved to be Oyo State workers’ nemesis.”
But ACN through the state Publicity Secretary, Dauda Kolawole, responded to the PDP tirade and asked those he described as Akala’s protégés to bury their heads in shame over the criticism of the action of the governor. “It is shameful that at a time when men of honour, both in the state and outside are lauding the probity initiative of the Abiola Ajimobi government, Alao-Akala’s protégés are pandering to base sentiments, politicising moral issues and seeking to drag Oyo State back to the Ground Zero of May 29, 2011. We had thought that what the Alao-Akala protégés would have told the world was that those who were accused of fraudulently tampering with their certificates did not do so, or that those accused of violating their rules of engagement did not do so. These are the critical questions that sane people are asking, rather than seeking to politicise corruption.”
But beyond the response to the PDP tirade, the ACN did not hide its feelings that it has not been thoroughly persuaded by the explanation of the government and hence wanted an alternative route to resolve the matter. The ruling party thus persuaded the state legislature to revisit the issue to save the party’s face.
Thus, the lawmakers in line with the party’s directive, summoned the Chief of Staff to the Governor, Dr. Adeolu Akande, the Head of Service, Alhaji Tajudeen Aremu and Chairman of the state Teaching Service Commission (TESCOM) Alhaji Abu Gbadamosi, to appear before it and explain the rationale for the sack.
Akande told the lawmakers that the audit, which identified the workers with questionable records of service, was commissioned by the Alao-Akala administration and executed by a consultancy firm called Captain Consulting. He said government, apart from setting up a panel, headed by the Head of Service, to look into the matter, also approached Captain Consulting to sign an indemnity that if any staff was dismissed based on the report of the firm and the person was adjudged wrongfully dismissed by the court, it (the firm) would be responsible for the damages awarded to such a claimant.
Consequently, the development also generated controversy among the lawmakers as some of them who opposed the action of the governor were reprimanded by their colleagues who described their action as a shame, pointing out that it was incomprehensible for any lawmaker to have advocated that those who falsified their documents should be retained in the system.
But the pronouncement by Chairman of the Ad-hoc committee constituted by the legislature to review the cases of the 3,000 workers, Segun Ajanaku, that majority of the sacked workers were actually guilty of the offences that led to their disengagement from the state civil service was thought to have sealed the fate of the embattled workers. He said some of the sacked workers, having discovered that they had bad cases, decided not to appear before his committee. “From our findings so far, we have discovered that so many of them are guilty of the offences they were said to have committed.”
The government, while wielding the initial big stick, explained through the Special Adviser to the Governor on Media, Dr. Festus Adedayo, that the exercise was imperative to save the integrity of the service while those affected were staff identified to have breached their rules of engagement. The offences, according to the government, range from falsified age claims, falsified certificates, ghost workers who had no letter of appointment or who were retired but were still on the payroll of government, as well as staff who possessed outstanding disciplinary cases against them.
He said the Abiola Ajimobi administration inherited the staff rationalisation exercise from the immediate past government.
As the situation became more controversial, the governor set up an 11-man review committee to look into the case of those believed to have genuine cases and make appropriate recommendations to the government. The review panel, the fourth in a row, was set up to ensure fairness in the sack of workers.
The government noted that the fourth step had become necessary in order to give some of the affected workers, who had claimed unjust sack, the opportunity to restate their cases and prove their innocence. The review panel has the state Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Adebayo Ojo, as the chairman. Government said after painstakingly verifying claims of the consulting outfit, many of the workers who were exonerated by the panel had their names removed from the list and were not affected by the current cleansing exercise.
While the action of the government had received commendations from across the state, including from Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Oyo State chapter, Bashiru Olanrewaju, it is believed that the decision to reverse the action was clearly political, especially that the leadership of the ACN was not comfortable with the effect of such on the party’s rating as talks about 2015 had assumed the centre stage.
Although, the commendation that greeted this is expected to be brief, there is no doubting the fact that the government can still leverage on this, considering the fact that the civil service is a key institution in matters of election, to its advantage. But whether or not it would translate ultimately into any meaningful political gain for the ruling ACN in the nearest future is yet to be determined.
Oyo State workers during their minimum wage protest