The back to land policy for civil servants has further exposed the government’s dilemma

Unable to work out a more coherent strategy for shoring up the economy of his state, Imo State Governor Rochas Okorocha has proposed a three-day working week and a two-day off for the state’s work force. The bizarre idea, which he said took effect from August 1, 2016, is based on a new policy called “Back to Land for Agriculture”. But this weird idea cannot be supported either by law or common sense.

According to Okorocha, who unveiled the policy at an interactive session with traditional rulers in the state last month, government workers would henceforth work from Monday to Wednesday while Thursday and Friday would be free for them to till the land on their farms. Workers on essential duties and those involved in internally generated revenue (IGR) drive, as well as political appointees are exempted from the policy, which the governor said arose because the state could no longer depend on monthly allocations from the Federation Account for survival.

A similar policy had been enunciated by Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue, who declared one-day off for public servants in the state to engage in farming, though he pegged his policy to just two months.

But public servants in Imo State are already kicking, contending that it is unconstitutional and violates International Labour Organisation (ILO) laws. The state chairman of the Ni­geria Labour Congress (NLC), Mr. Austin Chilakpu, said Okorocha does not have the constitutional power to determine working days in the state, adding that the ILO also prescribed 40 working hours from Monday to Friday while public holidays rec­ognised by the federal govern­ment are listed in the calendar.

Without a doubt, the current economic recession has tasked the wits of the managers of the nation’s economy and the evidence before our eyes is that they do not have a grip on what to do. If the cause of the prevailing hardship could be traced to past years of profligacy, the incompetent handling of the economy in the last 15 months has compounded the woes of many Nigerians, wrestling them to the ground.

There is no better evidence of a dearth of thinking than the failure to take responsibility, as most of our political leaders have persisted in not only blaming the past for the nation’s current troubles but have also continued to take wrong-headed options. One of such is this new three days a week policy of the Imo State Government.

Anyone who has an elementary knowledge of the dynamics of the nation’s economy would find little difficulty in understanding that one of the fundamental causes of the economic downturn is extreme low productivity in the public and private sectors. Was this not why in spite of spending about 75 per cent of our income on recurrent expenditure, we have failed woefully to generate enough to close the huge gap in social infrastructure? How then could a reduction in work days in aid of a nebulous policy to boost agriculture raise the state’s abysmal productivity level, especially where financial aid and the implements to boost agricultural activities are not made available to the civil servants-turned-farmers?

Clearly, apart from its deficient legal and constitutional standing, the Imo State Government’s three-day a week working policy is an embarrassingly lazy approach to resolving a nagging economic problem that requires more reflective and intellectual thinking. We therefore say without reservation that the governments of Imo and Benue States should reverse without further ado this wrong-headed policy. Although there is no doubt that agriculture is one of the key options in the national efforts to diversify our economy, much more thoughtful policies than the one under consideration is required to move the nation in the direction of that noble path.