OJU LG BOSS IN THE EYE OF THE STORM

Otugbeikwu Ominyi
Otugbeikwu Ominyi

Barring any last minute rethink between last week news item on Joy FM Otukpo about Oju LGC of Benue State and the time of putting my pen to paper, what appeared to be the very first unpopular decision taken by Mr. Otugbeikwu Ominyi since assuming office recently as the newly appointed Caretaker Committee Chairman of the council, remained the sack of casual workers hitherto under the employ of the LG.

Contrary to all expectations that the new administration would come with positive developments, Mr. Ominyi, it was learnt, in one fell swoop, axed almost all the council workers on temporary basis, employed by Mr. Bright Ogaji, erstwhile Executive Chairman of the LG. They were called casual workers.

While Mr. Ominyi did that, some of the casuals, however, were exempted from the sack. The ones who escaped the daggers are the few who are serving in the chairman’s office, it was gathered.

Mr. Ominyi’s action did not only draw immediate the ire of the sacked workers, it has also elicited flaks from stakeholders too numerous to name within the context of this write up, with some calling to express their angst at why they feel Mr. chairman has stepped on their toes, by that singular action.

In fact, at last check, my email and facebook inbox had become inundated with the reactions from those who wanted me to know of their pent up anger against the Ibilla-born chairman, who, they say, is beginning to start a fire that he will not be able to extinguish before his tenure expires in just six months.

The new chairman’s created trouble is akin to Dave Odeh’s episode of the “thoughtless”sack of hundreds of the council workers in 2012 or thereabouts, which consumed his image by the time the crisis that greeted that infamous decision of his snowballed into conflagration, and today Odeh hardly walks a free man in the midst of his people who are reputed to be very stereotypical and hardly forgiving.

Whether Dave Odeh was right in sacking the workers or not, nobody was keen to know inasmuch as his action did not improve the lots of the teeming unemployed in the council.

But let us be clear about why Mr. Ominyi’s decision is truly provoking as disturbing as it is to the local government stakeholders — even if it is not so to those who foisted his headship of the caretaker committee on the council amidst the discontent that his position ought to have gone to another council ward other than Ibilla, in the spirit of the Igede sharing formula.

Of course, there is no questioning the power of the council boss to fire, any time, the casuals who each continued to remain on the payroll of the council drawing a monthly stipend of N10 000, especially as they might have been deemed to have overstayed their time of permissibly three months. Going by the rules that is operational in the third tier of government, chairmen of the councils are at the liberty to engage casuals but for only three months after which, any development-oriented administrator would ordinarily do more to morph up the casual workers into full-time staff with their salaries made to be at par with their colleagues’.

Unfortunately, that was not what we saw happen in Oju LG. Mr. Bright Igodo Ogaji, it was, who engaged them but did not absorb them as full time workers before the expiration of his tenure.

Though the blames for the sack of the casuals ought to have been rooted back to, and heaped on the erstwhile council boss, Ogaji, first for his inability to convert them to permanent staff within the light of the legitimate three months, the decision, however, of the new helmsman to rush into sacking them at a time when there is no indication or plan to recruit or employ new workers in a place where the problem of unemployment is already worsened — no thanks to the embargo on employment in the state — was not just rash and a disaster on the part of the UNN-trained council boss, it is akin to, and a pitiable throwback or sad reminder of Mr. Dave Odeh’s dark administration in the history of the council.

Many are already apt to tell Ominyi that, if he is serious and wants to really complement the efforts or drive of his Boss, Governor Samuel Ortom, to rid the councils of thieves and ghost workers, sacking of casuals is a far cry from that objective. Casual workers remain what they are called today simply because of governmental irresponsibility. For you would ask: why is the government not employing or creating employment opportunities for the growing unemployed youths? Corruption in government which is the bane of this country is at the root. Casual workers can be seen. They are not the ghost workers. They are not a problem.

But the problem of the councils including Oju resides with the cashiers, DGSAs, treasurers and more often than none the council bosses themselves. Also, heads of departments and sectional heads all constitute the thieves who connive among themselves to milk the council. They fleece and loot millions under all kinds of sleaze. Look inward, Mr. Chairman. They are the sources of the ghost workers too. These are the areas where axe must dangle.

Please, rescind the decision or screen the casuals to verify whether they are ghost workers or not. And if they are not, give them full employment. But if you can’t change their condition, a local adage says, “if you cannot develop us leave us where we are.”

However, if the chairman wants to be seen to be doing a noble job by the sack of the poor casual workers, he ought to have returned their May 2015 salaries recently paid but which was said to have been withheld by the chairman, back to the treasury and obtain a refund receipt for it, for future reference. Anything short of that makes him come across as another fraudster in power.

It would also serve his interest to remember that, we are aware that the casual workers that he has sacked in a commando fashion all have their official letters of appointment intact. Mere announcement on radio does not amount to a valid termination of their appointment without backing it up with official letters to individual casual worker notifying him or her.

Again, the chairman’s power, we are told, does not extend as long as to make him refuse to pay arrears of salaries that already accrued to the workers before he assumed office, except where we are to understand that such a chairman is criminally precipitating ground for a face off that will outlive his tenure, he is free to stick to his action.

But development is always stalled in the local government because of rash actions of such overzealous chairmen to please their godfathers or benefactors, as they always end up in litigation with the aggrieved.

Well, in his heyday, the chairman has all the powers in the world to fire workers in his employ, but such powers certainly do not include the one for denying the sacked workers of the wage that they already worked for. Doing so has the proclivity to spark off a crisis that will further engender needless disenchantment among the stakeholders and worsen the already beleaguered council that is begging for right kinds of leaders to develop it.

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