By Uche Nwosu
“Go and tell TA Orji and Okezie Ikpeazu that the blood of some of us who died because of hardship following our sack since August 2011 are on their heads”, cried one of the victims of the illegal and wrongful disengagement of workers from the Abia State Public Service, when she learnt that this reporter was in their midst to find out if the Abia State had complied with the court judgment reinstating them.
“Look at us, we’re finished, we can’t pay our bills; children’s schools fees, rent, medical bills, buy food etc, and because of it, over 50 of our colleagues have died while some are critically diseased. What did we do to deserve all these?” she queried.
Indeed, the case of the sacked non indigenes in the public service of Abia State has continued to evoke emotions and outrage whenever it is mentioned in any Abia sociopolitical and economic circles. These public servants were relieved of their appointments in August 2011 by the TA Orji’s government “to lessen the huge amount the government was spending in paying salaries then”.
But was this done according to the rules of engagement or carried out illogically to satisfy a purpose? The sacked non indigenes said there was nothing to show that they ran afoul of the rules of engagement in the civil service order than the TA’s administration wanted to punish them unduly in the pretence that he wanted to save cost of running government.
The pitiable aspect of sacked tagged by the government as transfer to their respective home states was some of them had reached the retirement age and were preparing to bade the service farewell. By this, they forfeited their pensions and gratuities and went home heartbroken after many years in the public service. The teachers amongst them sorrowfully and tearfully bade their pupils and students bye without a formal sendoff.
Initially, they thought it was a joke, but when the termination letters began flying onto their hands and tables 48 hours after the announcement, they realized the reality of kissing their jobs had finally come to pass. The blanket termination of appointments also affected youth corpers who did their National Service in Abia State and were in fact given automatic employment by the same government. The NYSC members were considered to have served meritoriously during their service year.
Their case provoked national outcry, prompting the government to recant. But did so only by recalling those not from Igbo extraction, leaving those from Imo, Anambra, Enugu and Ebonyi states in the lurch.
The government termed it transfer of service to their respective states, but their states said there was no agreement with Abia State government on the matter prior the sack. The Abia government latter claimed that other governments particularly those in the South East zone carried out similar exercises and that it was a retaliatory action. But the other South East governments individually debunked it. So the TA Orji administration was round proved wrong and guilty.
Nonetheless, the victims took their destiny by their hands by accessing the court option. They approached the National Industrial Court, Owerri and after what looked like an eternity, the court on October 14, 2020, ruled that the ‘transfer, sack or termination of appointment’ whatever name it was called is illegal and unconstitutional.
The trial court in a landmark judgment awarded victory in favour of the affected workers (the Plaintiffs) and directed the Abia State government (Respondent) to reinstate them forthwith and pay them from August 2011 to date.
In the judgment, the presiding judge, Justice Galadima voided the sack of the 400 civil servants who sued the government and held that the circular emanating from office of Head of Service (HoS) of Abia State titled “Back loading On Transfer Of Non-Indigenes In The Abia State Public Service To Their States Of Origin” dated August 25, 2011 was unconstitutionally. The workers are mostly teachers
Though, over 4,000 workers were affected, only about 400 who sought the redress in court were favoured. The government, it was said, did not appeal against the judgment it and neither complied with the court ruling. No measure by the Okezie Ikpeazu government to commence action on their reinstatement.
Said Mrs Ihejirika Fidelia, the leader of the group, “Our lawyer wrote Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Uche Ihediwa attaching a copy of the judgment shortly after the ruling, but he has complied to the ruling or replied us”.
Mrs Ihejirika lives in Owerri. She was a teacher in one of the schools in Aba before her sack. She would have retired in 2018. However, in Owerri, this reporter was shocked at the profound level of pains and anguish these people are going through in the city. “This is a great injustice to Ndigbo; that our brother could treat us like this”, she lamented.
They teachers disclosed that following pressures from many quarters outside Igbo land, TA Orji recalled some of their colleagues from other ethnic groups, but refused to bring ones from Anambra, Imo, Ebonyi and Enugu states.
Her deputy, Mr Omeogu Ugochukwu who was also teaching in one of the schools in Aba disclosed that over 50 sacked non indigenes have died due to frustrations and hard times. He said, “When you don’t have money to access medi-care, feed and carry out other family responsibilities at the home front, what else remains, is it not to die?
“This is man’s inhumanity to man. That’s what TA Orji made us to go through these nine years. The worrisome aspect of it is that when Okezie Ikpeazu took over, we appealed to him to look into our matter by reinstating us, but he refused to act”.
In a hall along Asa Road, Aba, where they assembled at the weekend, it was indeed a scene of Babel of voices and lamentations; all of them bemoaning what has befalling them before reporter these years. Cried one of them who was teaching at the Asa Triangle Primary School, Aba, “I lost a close relation because I couldn’t treat her, and right I’m sick and I can’t treat myself. My husband has been bearing the brunt, we’re dying”.
Another teacher at Model Primary School, World Bank, Aba said she was due for retirement before the hammer fell on their heads. “I was on level 15, same with this one”, pointing at the woman that spoke earlier, “when they kicked us out. Not even a kobo did they pay us”, she said.
Nonetheless, Mrs Ihejirike explained that more of the workers who are not covered by the judgment have equally dragged the government to the Industrial Court to get justice. “At the end, we may be over a thousand. We need to be treated like human beings”.
In Enugu Road, Umuahia, another sacked worker, who simply gave her name as Lady Zita urged the government of the Okezie Ikpeazu to save the surviving non indigenes from imminent annihilation by recalling them and formally retiring those who are due for retirement.
Actually, their sacked has diminished the economic value of Abia State. Teachers in Aba are to contribute to the economic growth the once thriving city. This is why, the economy of Aba since 2011 has taken a nosedive since then. Some of them have even relocated to other cities of the country.
Uche Nwosu is a two time Shell Petroleum PLC award winner in the year 2000;
He won the Shell Award on Investigative Journalism and Environmental Cleanliness.