They wore long faces, looking anything but happy. In fact, the map of hunger was etched on some of their faces. Dressed in black outfits to reflect their mood, they painted a pathetic picture of frustration and helplessness. As they marched through the major roads of Aba, the commercial nerve centre of Abia State, they sang songs of solidarity even as they displayed placards that conveyed their messages including the fact that about 56 of them are now dead without getting their entitlements.
Last week Thursday, some of the disengaged non-native civil servants in Abia State again took to the streets to express their displeasure over the way and manner they were relieved of their positions by the state government and the way they are being treated afterwards.
Why they were sacked
The workers in the public service, numbering about 3,500, were sacked in 2011 by the Abia State government because they were not indigenes of the state. Interestingly, the disengaged workers are mainly from sister-Igbo states namely; Imo, Anambra, Enugu and Ebonyi.
Justifying the action of the state government, Governor Theodore Orji had reportedly said: “If Abia is chasing other people away, we are only copying what others have done to us. It was a question of observing fairness and equity. When I have the opportunity to serve the Abia State people, I have no apologies to make to anybody. What I want to place on record is this: I wonder where people were when Abia-born people were being chased away from other civil services.”
However, following strident condemnation of the action, the state government announced the recall of the sacked workers. It was gathered that what the state government did was merely to recall a handful of the disengaged workers. By so doing, the government effectively broke the ranks of the affected workers.
“The picture being painted is that the workers, who were sacked because they are not indigenes of Abia State, have been recalled by the government. The purported recall was on the internet and reported by a section of the media. But the truth of the matter is that only a few of us were recalled. The purported recall was aimed at breaking our ranks. So, you can meet somebody who will tell you that he or she was dismissed at that time but had been recalled by the state government as promised. Many people out there do not know the true situation of things because of the propaganda machinery of the state government. Instructively, some of those who were purportedly recalled are still not getting their entitlements. The public is being deceived by the state government. Many of the sacked workers no longer come out because of sickness and hunger,” volunteered one of the sacked workers.
Investigation revealed that the non-recall and non-payment of their entitlements has taken a grave toll on the affected workers. Many of them can longer play their natural role as breadwinners of their families even as their children have dropped out of school. When sickness comes, they only pray and expect divine healing because going seeking proper treatment is out of it. Because of hunger and sickness, about 56 of them have died as at October last year and still counting. And if there is any plan by the state government to actually recall or pay them their entitlements, there is nothing to show.
A civil rights activist, Comrade Chukwuemeka Mba, told Saturday Sun: “I was informed that about 56 of the sacked workers have died as at October last year. Some died out of frustration; some died of shock of losing their jobs, particularly in the manner it happened.”
On February 4, the sacked workers went to town in a peaceful manner to bring their plight to the knowledge of the people as well as appeal to the government to have a change of heart. They took off from Asa Triangle by Christ the King’s Church (CKC) and marched along Asa road through Jubilee road, passing through York to Ahia Ohuru and Ehi roads.
People trooped out to catch a glimpse of the protesters even as many were shocked at the development because of the propaganda in government media to the effect that all the sacked workers had been recalled.
However, the demonstration did not end without any incident. It was gathered that an attempt was made to disrupt the outing by people suspected to be agents of government.
According to Comrade Mba: “Some persons suspected to be agents of the ruling clique attempted to halt the protest but were ignored by the protesters as they quietly marched along distributing fliers with the title: How long shall our plight continue. A young man also came, asking one the protesters some questions. I asked him if he was a journalist and he said that he was a State Security Service (SSS) officer.”
The protesters ended at CKC where they assembled to send a petition on their predicament to God in prayers. The prayer session was, indeed, a solemn exercise as they poured out their hearts in supplication. It was heart touching seeing the men and women shedding tears openly.
Mba further said: “The disengagement of over 4000 workers from the Abia State workforce constitute not only violation of fundamental right, it is also fraught with many implications to any society where such injustice is allowed to stand. Hence people have a right and duty to protest wherever human right is violated.
“The purported recall of less than 10 per cent was in partial compliance with the advice of a judge at the National Industrial Court Enugu, in a stalled court proceeding on the issue. Over 3000 of the sacked workers are passing through the agony of the freak incident.”
One of the leaders of the protesters, Mr Ugochukwu Unogu, said that they were resolute in their demand for the workers’ recall. “We ask for total recall, not selective recall. We are really suffering in our father’s land,” he stated.
Commenting on the development, human rights activist, Barrister Prince Ukaegbu called for the resolution of the matter without further delay even as he regrets that Igbo could be so badly treated in Igboland. His words: “Their plight requires immediate and unconditional resolution. It is a tragedy that Igbo could do that to their brothers and sisters. In fact, all forms of injustice being meted out to Igbo must be stopped forthwith.”