Gov. Ikpeazu: Deserted by kinsmen, political associates
With barely few days to exit from the Abia Government House, Umuahia, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, appears to have made up his mind to end his eight-year administration in the boxing ring with the organised labour in the state
And preparations for the final onslaught with the hapless workers seem to have actually begun in March, when Ikpeazu blatantly and deceitfully announced to the world in a national television interview that his government was not owing workers in the state.
With that unconscionable pronouncement, workers, under the auspices of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), felt betrayed and got more agitated.
And, no sooner did he make the contentious comment than his government came up with the spurious report of the alleged freezing of Abia Government’s accounts in 27 deposit banks.
Keen watchers of developments in the state in the aftermath of the huge political catastrophe that hit the governor, particularly with his woeful failure to install his unpopular former Chief of Staff, Chief Okey Ahiwe, as a successor, were however doubtful about the veracity of government’s story.
It was generally perceived by the workers, whom he had betrayed for the umpteenth time in the past, as government’s cock-and-bull story, scripted to further hoodwink them on why their salaries might not be guaranteed, going forward. And, indeed, the fear was to become real in the fullness of time.
Obviously, the insensitive posture of the People’s Democratic Party-led administration has continued to entertain the people with one failed sinister ploy after another to either discredit or place one impediment or the other on the way of the incoming administration, after Ikpeazu’s failed ambition.
Indeed, he desperately plotted to plant an unprepared governorship stooge as himself against a prepared, more popular, acceptable, visionary, focused, strategic, competent and capable administrator par excellence, Dr Alex Chioma Otti, of the Labour Party, now the Abia Governor-elect.
So, when at the end of March, workers could not receive alert for their salaries, it was seen as a fait accompli by discerning workers.
This development threw Abia workers into another huge trying moment of agony and despair, amidst the growing economic difficulties.
Following Ikpeazu’s callous disposition toward the welfare of workers, as evidenced by the undue delays in salary payment, the national leadership of NLC in February directed Abia workers to proceed on an indefinite strike.
The essence was to compel the state government to clear the accumulated arrears of their salaries.
The action was, however, suspended midway after five days to allow for further negotiations.
And having wobbled through to April, with the negotiations broken down irretrievably, the state leadership of labour met and resolved to return to the trenches.
The result is the current dance of shame by Ikpeazu as the clock ticks so steadily against him and May 29 becoming a reality by the day.
So, following the resolution of the Council of Congress in Umuahia, the Chairman of NLC, Paschal Nweke, called out workers for an indefinite strike, beginning from midnight of Monday, May 8.
In a letter signed by the State Secretary of Abia NLC, Emma Alozie, and addressed to all industrial unions in the state, the congress directed workers to resume the indefinite action.
The letter read in part: “The State Executive Council of Congress after a careful deliberation on the plethora of problems Abia workers and pensioners are facing in the hands of Abia State Government at her meeting on Friday, 5th May 2023, unanimously resolved to resume the suspended indefinite strike.
“From the foregoing, all Abia workers, including those in the LGAs, are directed to withdraw their services to Abia State Government and stay at home from midnight on Monday, 8th May, 2023.”
So, at about dawn on Tuesday, all the government offices, including the state Secretariat, Government House, Judiciary, LG Secretariats were all picketed by labour in what many described as the battle royal between Ikpeazu and workers over unpaid salaries.
Regrettably, government activities at state and local government levels have since then remained paralysed.
Alozie further noted in the letter that though government made efforts to pay LG workers in March, “it was like a drop of water in the ocean”.
According to him, teachers and other category of workers have not been paid.
With the workers action, therefore, it became incontrovertible that Ikpeazu lied in his television interview.
Available record shows that various parastatals in the state are incredibly owed between 15 months and 40 months.
The majorly affected government establishments include the Abia State University, Uturu, Abia State University Teaching Hospital, Aba, Abia State Polytechnic Aba, Health Management Board and Abia Line Transport Company, among others.
A common Igbo adage, which says that when a man’s dance steps are ridiculously out of sync, his relatives cover their faces in shame, has become the order of the day as Ikpeazu’s kinsmen and political allies have continued to distance themselves from him as he continuously “wobbles and fumbles” from one shameless act to another.
The people’s dissension to his obviously weired and ridiculous approach to state matters was made even more manifest during the National Assembly polls, when his own kinsmen rejected him and went ahead to mock and shame him in a subsequent viral video.
More demeaning of a governor on this issue is the stance of his godfather, Sen. Theodore Orji, who foisted him on Abia against all odds.
Without mincing words, Orji vehemently washed off his hands from Ikpeazu’s mess with workers, whom he claimed to have left better, saying that Ikpeazu “should carry his cross”.
Reacting to the protracted unpaid salary wahala in a statement, Orji asked Ikpeazu to take responsibility for failing to pay workers and not associate him with his silly administrative shenanigan.
In the statement entitled, “Ikpeazu should carry his cross”, he stated, “You’re responsible for owing workers’ salaries, not me.”
Narrating his own experience, Orji stated that when he left office in 2015, “core civil servants were not owed any salary arrears, while workers in parastatals were owed not more than four months”.
The statement partly reads: “It’s unfortunate that I am forced to comment and refute the half-truths being dished out by those who through their own bad choices have found themselves in a quagmire.
“For the avoidance of any doubt, neither myself nor my administration is responsible for the staggering salary arrears owed both civil servants, parastatals and pensioners in the state.
“Before my administration came to an end on May 29, 2015, core civil servants were not owed even one-month salary arrears.
“Parastatals were the ones that were owed between two and four months. The records are there.
“At any rate, the arrears were necessitated by the dwindling federal allocation, occasioned by the worsening global economy.
“The price of crude had crashed and the states were getting a paltry two to three billion naira monthly, which was not even enough to run the state, including capital and recurrent expenditures.”
Orji contended that his successor should have cleared the few months of arrears that he (Orji) did not pay because he (Ikpeazu) received bail-out funds from the Federal Government.
“Those who took over from us inherited both assets and liabilities.
“In this case, the government is a continuum. So, if we were owing two to three months, we expected our successors to clear them.
“This expectation was based on the fact that they received bail-out funds from the Federal Government more than three times running into billions of naira.
“Again, the economy had picked up considerably, enabling the outgoing Ikpeazu’s government to chalk up considerable income as can be confirmed by the Ministry of Finance.
“So, why was it difficult for them to offset the debts?
“Again, if for any reason they couldn’t or were unwilling to offset, why did they allow it to skyrocket to between 35 months and 40 months?
“Why did they also owe core civil servants?
“So, basically, I am not the problem. They should carry their cross.”
But,however sanctimonious Orji might sound, one would rightly liken his tale to a public confession by two thieves caught in the act, where one attempts to rope in the other by demonising him, in order to elicit public sympathy and acquittal. Ultimately, both are thieves!
Otherwise, it’s obvious that both administrations displayed the absolute lack of ingenuity to think outside the box to shore up the state’s revenue base, given the huge economic prospects that abound but left grossly untapped.
They were also characteristically wasteful, materialistic and ostentatious in their lifestyles.
Hence, the two and their roguish allies ended up becoming richer than the state and far more opulent than they were before they captured the state as governors.
The evidence of their avarice for material acquisition can be found at Ochendo Close on Azikiwe Road, Umuahia and Umuobiakwa Village in Obingwa Local Government Area hosting Ikpeazu’s sprawling “one-man country”.
All these they acquired for themselves as governors from pedestrian backgrounds even at a time the state economy was bleeding, with increasing poverty rate and alarming infrastructure deficit.
This is the basic reason both successive regimes were patently uninspiring and far less spectacular than their peers, even in the South-East geopolitical zone.
No wonder they could hardly fly in the implementation of sustainable social and economic programmes beyond political rhetoric for the past 16 years. (End)
Sam Okoro, public affairs analyst, wrote from Umuahia.