Comrade Fabian Ifeanyichukwu Agba is a retired Permanent Secretary from Imo State Civil Service and an active member of the Association of Retired Permanent Secretaries. He was one time Director of Culture and Archives. He hails from Arondizogu in Ideato North LGA of Imo state. In this Interview with our reporter Miss Dorcas Otuokere he spoke explicitly on the significance of Civil Service, pensions and Good Governance. He also spoke on matters arising including the missing bailout fund, Jacob Zuma, the South African President and lots more.
Talking about pension matters, pensioners were in court recently and the court gave a judgment, so far, have there been paid arrears of the pensions?
No! because those surrounding this governor whom he pays are his enemies rather than his friends. We are trained as public officers to tell our bosses the truth in private and defend them to the best of our ability in public. We will defend them in public because they will be acting legally, but the present people say the governor does not listen, as if the governor is deaf. It is just that they are disloyal people. We served under the military.
When Zubairo was here as Military Administrator, we were in his executive council. He wanted to do a number of things but we stopped him. The Igbo man says “if your brother is dancing a bad dance, your eye lids will be scratching you”. The first duty of a civil servant is to defend his boss. How do you defend him when you allow him to make mistakes? If he is not faulted today, he will be faulted tomorrow. I read from the paper that Accountant General of Kogi state has been sent to seventy years imprisonment were those who worked with him his friend?
You tell your friends the truth. The governor is not properly advised. I learnt that they went on appeal asking for stay of execution and I don’t know the kind of legal officer who filed that paper to ask for stay of execution, which means the person is saying don’t pay pensioners. And that is a very unconstitutional act. I am being owed pension arrears of twenty nine months. There are some retirees who are being owed pension arrears of thirty two months or more because the money they paid some time ago they didn’t pay everybody. The governor said he is clearing arrears for this year based on the advice they gave him. He has not paid a kobo for this year even though the court case pertains to establishing the rule that “pension is a right” that you don’t joke with.
Pension is the statutory right of a person. It can only be altered or withheld to his disadvantage in accordance with the law. For instance in the pension’s act, if my wife takes me to court and with court judgment, my pension can be tampered with to maintain my family, and secondly if I am owing the federal or state government, my pension can be tampered with to recover that money. Beyond these reasons nobody tampers with pension. When I was in the close board of Imo Housing, members included the Solicitor General of the state, the Permanent Secretary; there was an officer who retired and was owing the Housing loan money and we said the money should be recovered from his pension. The Solicitor General who came to that meeting was B.C Okorie, he said we can’t do such a thing without getting the person’s consent or the consent of the court. Even in the constitution it is written that pension is not taxable. Why will a governor be deceived to think that pension is an exgratia award which he can toy with? Let me explain what pension is all about.
Pension is to the benefit of the employee and to the benefit of the employer. The employer does not want thieves around him and to prevent primitive accumulation he will sign agreement with his worker that after serving him successfully for a certain period of time and stops work that he will be paying him a particular amount of money in addition. Pension is a deferred payment; there are about three forms of employment in government. Contract officers who are paid endorsement of salary and contract gratuity when they are going, temporary officers who are paid higher than pensionable officers. And pensionable officers. So when you join the government you are either appointed to pensionable office or not. And when you are appointed to pensionable office you will earn less than people on the same rank with you who are not pensionable.
It is your money that they are keeping. This is the first time in the history of pension that a governor has been deceived to get involved in this type of thing. Under the fundamental human right you don’t deny anybody any of his property. After the court judgment, people are still deceiving him to go on Appeal. How can a governor deny people their earned livelihood that is not benevolence? They worked for it. When I left secondary school I could have gotten a job in First Bank or Union Bank because I had connection. They were paying twenty two (£22) pounds without pension arrangement and the government was paying 14 pounds with pension arrangement, so I opted for government job because of the pension and at the age of seventy something they are playing pranks with it. It does not pain me much as an individual but it pains me because of these young ones. They are telling our youths to steal as much as they can because they have no hope. And primitive accumulation has no limit. If someone is assured of his economic security he won’t worry much. In the past, pension arrangement is like this if you retire as a Permanent Secretary you will be earning like a Director who is working. If you retire as a Director you will be earning like a Deputy Director so you have not lost much. Pension is a brother to annuity. Annuity is when somebody pays premium and at a certain time the insurance company starts paying him certain amount. It is unlike life assurance. In life assurance, those who die early take the money of those who live long but in annuity the money belonging to those who die early is used to maintain those who live long.
It is the same with pension. Pension is paid for minimum of five years. It was not even like that before. It was a change that came in 1974. If you retire you will be paid pension for five years. If you take your pension for three years your family is entitled to take the remaining for two years. If you die immediately after retirement your family will receive the payment for five years. These things have not been explained to the governor. One stupid advice given to the governor is the so called verification of pensioners. Government retired the people, gave them all the documents with which they will come for verification and they are calling them to bring the same documents for verification. If I lose all my documents Imo government will reprint them for me. This verification exercise will enable the workers who do it to introduce new names and blow up the thing. The government is by this exercise announcing that it is so irresponsible and does not have any record. Imagine University of Nigeria Nsukka saying I want those who schooled at Nsukka to come and prove that they schooled there. Everybody will be a graduate in Nigeria. It means that the institution is without records.
A pensioner told me that his classmate who has never worked for government was called by name at the Imo International Convention Centre and he went and collected a cheque. The government gives people identity cards for purpose of identifying them when they come to collect their pensions. The verification is when you call their names and they show you their identity cards. If the government wants to know the people who have died there were structures for finding out that. The treasury has names of dead pensioners. Those they pay through the bank sign what is called life certificate every six months. If they pay you face to face when you don’t come to collect your pension the sub treasurer will come to your house and if he discovers that you are dead he will record it. Civil servants were trained and would not take the risk of introducing new names. They are not dirty but this verification is telling them to be dirty.
When we were young, if you have any problem with your job or anybody in the office, you will try to rectify it because you don’t want to lose your gratuity but now there is nothing like that. These present directors in the civil service are living in posh houses because they have gone into looting. There are no records keeping today. During our time before any payment will be done by the government the voucher will be first prepared by the ministry concerned, then it will go to the accounts department, and it will be taken to the treasury, they will check it and pay, then auditors after some years or that same year will check that very record. There were checks and balances in government. You can’t steal government money easily.
Government said its reason for cutting down the amount entitled to pensioners by 60% is because of the nature of the economy, how justifiable could that be?
The slashing of salary and pension is what is causing economic recession. To revive economy government workers should be paid, for them to employ people. Unemployment of youths is caused by the government’s refusal to circulate currency. If I am paid for instance I will not be driving myself. I will employ a driver. That driver now has job and if he goes to buy a shirt because he is paid, he creates job for the man who manufactures shirts. Government cannot revive an economy by withdrawing money from circulation. Thank God for President Buhari who said that it beats him that people can owe other people and go to sleep. If you don’t pay your workers and they are still coming to work know that they are cutting corners. By the government regulation, salaries and pensions are called force charges. Infact pension comes before salary. If we want police men to stop collecting 50 naira from vehicles on the road the government should make sure that their pay is regular.
In the civil service it is an offense to suffer from financial embarrassment. Formally, government tried very much to make sure that workers didn’t suffer from financial embarrassment. Governor surrounded himself with mischievous obedient servants. A civil servant who was also a politician said that he will not be a governor but he will click to a governor and milk the money and when the day of accounting comes he will not be there. When you tell a governor his mistake he will say you are his political enemy. But what is bad is bad. If for instance you knock out people’s livelihood you will not collect tax from them. Now that Ekeukwu Owerri has been demolished the government has also destroyed internally generated revenue. There is what is called Cost Benefit Analysis. When you want to do something you analyze the cost and benefit and the one that is higher.
Did the destruction of Ekeukwu Owerri not cost us something? Is the gain so far worth the candle? Civil servants do a lot of analysis. For instance if a governor is given an invitation he does not go until the civil servants analyze the implication of his going there. And in the aspect of speech making. I don’t feel happy when I see our governor making speeches unwritten. Even if he does not want to read his speech, something should be written for him. That is the document people can work with. When a governor makes speeches without writing, he is just blowing gas. And speeches were written then, from the junior officers to the top officers. And before speeches were written some files were looked into. If it is Ekeukwu Owerri that they want to write about they will go and bring all files concerning it. That is why the civil service is the memory of the government. After the ministry of commerce might have started the speech, the permanent secretary will look into it before taking it to the government house and they will look at it there and approve it, then a script writer will prepare it in such a way that the governor can handle very well.
Speech making is not just getting up there to speak with no records. That is speaking without memory. How can a governor know everything? Even in writing oration you look at the background of the person and get some information. When some of us who saw the tail coat of the white man when he was going see all these on-goings, it looks crazy to us. A government statement should be well analyzed, organized and presented. It is still a shock that government signs dud cheques. But there is a law that says signing dud cheque is a criminal offence. So how do you reconcile a government with this offence? The government should know if there are cash surrounding the cheques.
Talking about good governance in Imo state, it is often believed that civil servants have been aiding and abating corruption, how true could this assertion be?
In the present dispensation a lot of civil servants are not involved. For instance a road collapsed around here; if the Ministry of Works is functioning, that road wouldn’t have collapsed. I saved that road from collapsing last year, I would have done same this year but I don’t have money to do that. Had it been I knew I would have borrowed money to do it because the place is an eye soar now. If the Ministry of Works is functioning the governor would have queried them. This my friend here have lived in his house for over 40 years but this year water flooded his house and people were coming to scoop water. Erosion is much in Owerri. It is this construction of roads without the involvement of the Ministry of Works that should have directed the governor well. Perhaps mistakes have been made during the construction, hence my friend’s house, was flooded.
Why are the ministries not functioning?
It is the style of the governor. The governor came and said give me 200 civil servants only. He does not understand that a man is paid by the government just to take care of flowers. If you see him you will think he is idle. But he is an expert. He will tell you the best way to plant flowers and the best flowers in a given area. We are in a modern society where we have specialization.
Since this urban renewal programme started the number of mosquitoes has increased because those drainages are not well constructed to prevent mosquito breeding. There is nothing like expertise in this their urban renewal programme. The friendly enemies of the governor will be telling him to be destroying many things. He has destroyed the Ministry of Works, if governor Ohakim destroyed it, would he have seen it to destroy? If destruction is an achievement.
Ekeukwu Owerri got burnt under Navy Commander Amadi Ikwechegh. They didn’t rebuild it immediately because it was not easy to rebuild immediately. That was why the government built the Relief Market. And if you go to the market you will see that there is a road separating the market. That was after the fire. It was done that way so that if there is fire in future, fire vans can drive in and handle it. Government work and statements are supposed to be authentic. But now we have occasions when government issues statements and retracts it. There is a difference between Okorocha and the governor of Imo state. He is simply sitting on the barber’s seat. It is personal whims and caprice is not relevant. What is relevant is his duty under the law. If he is entertaining his friend like Jacob Zuma came and he took him to his house at unofficial hours it is not our concern. But immediately he uses government time and money to welcome him then we will look at the benefits of Zuma’s visit to Imo people. And he will have to account for it.
I don’t know the kind of government we have now in Imo state. But I am sure it is not democracy. Democracy is the government of the people, by the people and for the people. Those who said don’t remove Owerri market are they not the people? And one single individual says I will remove it. When that market got burnt Commander Amadi Ikwechegh wanted to remove it and Owerri people said no because in every Igbo society there is a market attached to it. Most Igbo markets operated at night. When people come back from the farm, they will now go to the market. But some of them later became daily markets. The people said no during the military regime which is not democracy in any way but at least there is benevolence dictatorship. They were dictators for the good of the people.
Commander Amadi Ikwechegh listened to Owerri people and after building the Relief market he later rebuilt Ekeukwu Owerri market. After rebuilding the market he still allowed some people to remain at the Relief market. But if it is this type of crazy government, they would have chased people away and closed the market. And that is why some people say that military government is better than this present government because during the military government you could be in the bar saying something against their policy and few days later, you will see them reacting to that thing, by making it known to the people that they are not punishing them.
I don’t know of any military governor that owed salary. But now civilians take pride in owing people. And there is one thing I was taught in administration. “It is not a success to explain failure. But you explain success despite the obstacles. Now we have a government that gives excuses for failure. If you are incapable of solving the problem then why are you still there? Some governors will say that the previous government ruined the place. When you were campaigning did you not know that the past government ruined it? Why did the people vote for you if they did not believe in you?
In terms of developments and social justice would you say that Imo state government has missed the dream of the founding fathers who fought so well to remove the scar of war from our war affected state?
I don’t know the objective of the present governor. You do not grow by subtraction. To destroy any permanent structure is subtraction. I expected him to be adding to what existed before which is called the joint incrementalism in administration. He is behaving as if he wants a virgin land to build his taste. And to get that his taste means that all these structures will go. And how do we recover money to replace these things.
These things are not useless. Governor Ohakim was another artist like him. But he was different. Governor Ohakim listened to the civil service. He did not like the Government House when he came. He knocked down that place and people started shouting. After the people’s reaction he stayed clear. He now went to Nekede side and acquired a land and said he was moving the Government House to that place which would have been a good thing if this present government continued with it.
When Okorocha leaves we will be left with nothing after all these destructions. When you destroy what we have it is a minus. If he did not destroy the Ministry of Works that place would have been giving Imo state millions as rental. People should have used it either as offices or residential houses and they would have been paying rent. But it has been knocked down. If another governor comes and destroys all these things he has built where has Imo gone to? Development and growth is by addition. When Imo people reacted, governor Ohakim listened to them and went and built Ahiajoku Centre and there was a multi-purpose hall there which the present governor has brought down and rebuilt but the cement and rods we used then have gone.
Now I heard he wants to remove the prisons and police station from there but these things cost money. And it is not just the cost of the structure but the assets being destroyed. If you go to some schools in England, some of their houses are more than a hundred years old. If you go to Dan Anyiam Stadium some buildings behind it that were destroyed were not up to ten years. Those shopping malls he knocked down were recent buildings that were built as permanent structures.
There was a place in London that the government wanted to remodel, when they saw the cost of remodeling it and the benefit they abandoned it. It is not when the governor sees a structure and he will say “I don’t like it therefore it should be destroyed”. This is not a government for the people. It is just propaganda that we are seeing. Okorocha said that Imo people will know that he is doing them a favour. It is an insult to the people who elected him. People like me who did school certificate at the time he was born will now see him and appreciate him. That thing that he wants to do that he can’t explain to the people now and he is waiting for them to grow up he should forget it.
In politics the governor is the number one citizen but he is not voted in as a legislator. He is not a law maker. During the colonial era there is something we call sounding the ground. If a policy is going to come it will be filtered in gradually and people will see it and the government will watch people’s reaction. If people don’t welcome it the government will stay clear. If it requires education they will give the people education.
Today the press has been concerned with stories about the bailout fund, having been conversant with civil service rule, are you comfortable with the channel through which the money was disbursed?
Section 120 of the constitution is clear on that issue. Any government money that is paid into a private account is irregular. The money should be paid into the consolidated fund of the state and you don’t take a kobo out of it until the House gives approval and the House works according to the budget. People to implement the budget are there, so why do we need a committee to handle the fund? If the money is appropriated for something the officers who are responsible for it will handle it. Setting up another committee means the money is for their pockets.
Every money coming into the state should be paid into the consolidated fund or into any account established by the state law or by the constitution. And the process of removing the money is also established. If that bailout fund was paid into the Imo state account, pensioners would have all been paid, because the Accountant General will be doing her duty. My father used to say that the animal that cannot be dissected is the animal that has not been killed before. The government is not a new thing and money has been coming in. So why setting up a committee when there are existing procedures of handling the money.
Rule of law is the basic essence of government. If we cannot respect the rule of law then what we are practising is anarchy. Government is meant to live within her income. In fact government is more thorough in living within her income. If a man who is a billionaire spends carelessly, he becomes bankrupt. These pensions and salaries are rights you can’t wish away. All the governor is doing is to pile debts for future governments. When EFCC came here and I start hearing that they traced some money to the Chief of Staff I started wondering. The Chief of Staff is not in charge of the government house, the man in charge is the principal secretary. There are so many mischief makers there. Tomorrow the Chief of Staff may fall out of favour with the governor and he may be sacked, will he be called to come and give account? And if he steals money and is sent to jail, what have we gained? The position of the Chief of Staff is not even in our constitution. That even reminds me of one of the funny abnormalities happening in this state.
The Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Sam Onwuemeodo is doing the job that is not his own. When he speaks for the government, what does the Commissioner for Information do? He is not supposed to issue press releases. Press releases are issued by the Ministry of Information. His duty is to look at press calls that come to the Government House. Now that there is no commissioner for information, the permanent secretary for information should be issuing those statements. If you watch, at the federal level it is Lai Mohammad that issues press releases.
Press secretaries should handle personal issues of the governor. This press secretary is not sworn. The whole thing is crazy. The Ministry of Information has staff in all the local governments, do they send reports to Sam Onwuemeodo? They send to the Ministry. Does he attend executive meetings? So what gives him the authority to talk for the government? Does he have the files? Jacob Zuma came here and people started attacking the governor, he issued statements replying. Well he is replying for Okorocha not for the Imo government because if it is for the Imo government it should be Ministry of Information that should talk not him, he does not have the facts. There may have been previous relationship between Jacob Zuma and the past governments which I don’t know, it is the Ministry of Information that will search for the files. Why will Okorocha destroy the memory of the state which is the civil service?
Sir briefly talk about free education in Imo state?
Free tuition is not free education. Students in FUTO are having free tuition. A friend of mine has a child in FUTO and a child in IMSU. He spends more on the child in IMSU than the one in FUTO. When you talk about free education in primary school it gets me confused. I understand that SUBEB is a federal creation and they are supposed to cater for free tuition. So which one is Imo state giving? Assuming it is free education and you give free education to Imo State University and Polytechnic what happens to Imo children in ALVAN and Nekede? Are they not Imo citizens, are their parents not paying tax?. Are you paying for the school or for the people? If Okorocha is claiming to give free education, he should give to every Imo state student no matter where the person is schooling. Is he saying it is a crime for Imo citizens to study outside Imo state? It is really suspicious.
A lot of things are confusing in Imo state. I don’t see how a head of state, Jacob Zuma will come to a state in a country without paying courtesy visit to the President of that country. I don’t know whether Imo state has seceded from Nigeria. If anything had happened to him in the course of his movements in Imo state it is Nigeria that will answer for it. Who is Okorocha to answer for it? He should first report to the Nigerian President who, if he is not coming will give him an officer who will escort him to Imo state, who will be with him throughout his stay and report back to the President. As an officer when we were trained if you are passing through the territory of another officer you will pay him a courtesy visit. In a traditional society, if a man is travelling he will send messages to different chiefs. This is a strange phenomenon. The civil service should be rebuilt. A lot of things are strange in this state. During the colonial era, there was nothing like monthly clean-up because there are people that are employed to do those jobs. It is creation of employment. How can you tell an old man like me to do clean-up without expertise. People are always saying that the governor is in a hurry to deliver and we are applauding him. Now look at the Imo state taxi, out of hurry they wrote Taximo instead of Taxi Imo or Imo Taxi. What is the big deal in writing it correctly? Imo citizens may feel it is style but by that inscription the government is out to Tax Imo people, so they should be ready.