By Amos Aar
THERE are mixed reactions from Benue public following Wednesday’s nullification of all appointments made into the state’s civil service by the outgone administration of Samuel Ortom from May 2022 to date.
The Benue State Head of Service, Dr Agbogbo Ode, on Wednesday disclosed, in a circular obtained by National Record from the Office of the Head of Service, that the state governor, Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Alia, approved the nullification of three categories of the state’s workers to include permanent secretaries and other recent engagements made by the Ortom administration; those on contract appointments and extension of service and recent postings and transfers.
In the circular with reference No. S/HCS/BN/S/CIR/43/V.I/1, dated June 7 and addressed to all Permanent Secretaries, Clerk of the Benue State House of Assembly, Chief Registrar Benue State High Court; Chief Registrar, Customary Court of Appeal, the Secretary to the State Government, Heads of Statutory Commissions and Extra-Ministerial Departments in Benue State, conveying details of the nullification, Dr Ode, stated: “His Excellency, the Executive Governor of Benue State, Rev. Fr. Dr Hyacinth Iormen Alia has approved as follows:
“i. All recent appointments into the State Civil Service made by the outgone Administration from May 2022 to date are nullified with immediate effect;
“ii. All civi servants who have retired but are yet to vacate their offices or duty posts either due to extension of service or contract appointment issued to them are to proceed on retirement forthwith;
“iii. All civil servants due for retirement but who are yet to tender their Notice of Retirement should do so forthwith and proceed on terminal leave as at when due; [sic]
“iv. All Civil Servants and/or persons recently appointed Permanent Secretaries in the State Civil Service are to revert to their previous positions forthwith;
“v. All postings and transfers made in the State Civil Service from October 2022 to date are nullified. All affected staff are to revert to their former ranks, or stations of offices with immediate effect.”
The Head of Service further directed that all permanent secretaries “…are to ensure compliance with His Excellency’s directives without delay.
He explained that “in the instances of movement of officers affected by His Excellency’s directives from their present disposition to other offices as well as those exiting the service, permanent Secretaries and Heads of Administration are to hand over to the most senior Administrative Officer in the MDA while other Directors and Heads of Departments are to hand over to the most senior officer in their respective Departments. All Handing-Over must be concluded on or before Tuesday 13th June, 2023, please.” (His emphasis)
The decision by Governor Alia received both positive and negative reactions from politicians, civil servants who cited extant civil service rules, and lawyers who analysed legal implications of the yet to be ascertained number of workers affected.
The acting chairman of the state chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Hon. Isaac Mffo, while addressing a press conference on Wednesday condemned in strong terms, the sack of civil servants, describing the action as “unlawful, insensitive and callous”.
Mffo called on Governor Alia to, as a matter of exigency, rescind the decision to sack civil servants. “Governor Alia should, therefore, without delay rescind the sack order he has issued to the thousands of civil servants in the state, as to do so will be to save his administration and the state as a whole the ill-wind which the action is bound to generate which will surely do no one any good,” he said.
Speaking on Brothers FM, Makurdi, Prince Livinus Tyodoo, a former Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to Governor Samuel Ortom, also condemned the decision.
“There’s everything [bad] with Governor Alia’s decision to sack indigenes who were [employed] by the immediate past administration. Secondly, it’s unjustifiable to sack people who have been employed using due process. These job vacancies were advertised and all that was [sic] supposed to be done”.
But a development consultant, Emmanuel Adagba, who also spoke on Brothers FM, differed with Mffo and Tyodoo, saying the sack of workers was a step in the right direction aimed at sanitising the civil service.
“The annulment is a right step in the right direction because when the previous administration came on board, all the 2011 staff that were employed by his predecessor were annulled. He said the current wage bill of the state government was much. Didn’t he remember that the employment will add to the current wage bill of the state government?”, Adagba asked.
Still on Brothers FM, a legal practitioner, Mtemdoo Gbagyo, who envisaged the legal implications of the governor’s decision, said as the chief executive of the state, the governor was legally backed by labour laws to hire and fire any employee of the state civil service.
Gbagyo however expressed worry that the executive decision was hastily made, suggesting that it should have been done under the guidance of the State Attorney General to avoid litigations that may distract his government.
“The appointments of those civil servants are governed by the public service rules which in this case is under the Civil Service Commission which has the power to discipline those staff and doing that via an executive order is quite hasty.
“Much as the governor has the power to hire and fire, that should have been done in due consultation and directive or advice of the Chief Law Officer who at the moment is not in place”, Gbagyo opined.
National Record has observed that the employment of civil servants at the twilight of administrations of Benue governors and the mass sack by their successors have become a tradition over the current democratic dispensation.