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Abia State: Between Confusion & Xenophobia

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It has become common knowledge in recent times that the Abia state government does not seem to be making much progress in their efforts at conveying their justification for the disengagement of non-indigenes from the state's civil service.

At face value most of the excuses adduced for sacking non-indigene appear plausible but on a patient analysis as often catalyzed by public outcry, the decision still begs for justification.

Though the decision may be the call of the governor to make, but the possible long term backlash would fall on the ordinary Abians scattered in the South-east and across Nigeria.

One of such excuses was the issue of Boko Haram , a situation of which every state in Nigeria had a share and still feels the impact. Agents of the government had also tried to justify the action by claiming it was to enable Governor T.A. Orji pay the 18,000 minimum wage, a task also facing every state in the federation.

They have also inferred the action as retaliation for alleged sack of their indigenes by other states in the past. Ironically, though this seems the most logical excuse yet by the Abia state government, it is still largely banal and infantile.

Obvious that the public is still not buying the excuses being ventilated by the Abia government in spite of profuse media blitz, the exchanges seems to be degenerating from issue discourse to attack of persons.

The Abia state government seems to have gone all out to lacerate the image of any person who dares voice a diverging opinion. Most disturbing is the near frenzy at which the aides of the governor, while side-stepping the core issue, lash out against individuals who make even the least innocuous comment over the issue.

This raises the fear however, that the state may be making an inadvertent plunge into a state of mind next to xenophobia, if not worse. They seem to have declared an all out war against non-Abians.

A full page advertorial was taken out in a national daily to take apart Obi Nwakanma and Pini Jason for their views on the issue as published in their newspaper columns. Not even the revered Catholic Bishop of Umuahia, Rev. Lucius Ugorji was spared their visceral attacks for daring to voice an opinion on the matter. The irony is that all these people are non-Abians.

The most sordid of them all seem to be the diatribe let loose on Governor Rochas Okorocha by one Eze Chikamnayo, the Special Adviser on Information, Strategy and Orientation in the Abia state government and published as an advertorial in several national dailies. The piece was titled: 'Okorocha: Leave Abia alone.' It has continued to generate discussions, agitations and condemnations in Imo state. Some commentators even nurse the notion that at the rate Abia is going, some day, non-indigenes may be mauled on the streets.

Ironically, Governor Okorocha has continued to describe the situation as too sensitive for public discussion. Even his immediate aides hardly want to comment on it. In a recent public function governor Okorocha was compelled to broach the subject and all he could say was, 'His Excellency T.A. Orji is our colleague and we are discussing the issue. Igbos need to be unified; we do not have to engage in politics that would disintegrate the Igbo nation. We are still discussing with Governor Orji even at the level of the Governors' Forum.'

When Okorocha was paid a courtesy visit by the leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), he reiterated that retaliation by affected states would spell doom for the unity of the country and assured that dialogue remained the path to toe.

Special Assistant on Media (Print), Ebere Uzoukwa, when contacted over the media attacks on his principal said, 'The media war is totally uncalled for and regrettable. Governor Okorocha has chosen the path of peace seeking to resolve the present debacle without creating more casualties and it should be appreciated. All the same, nobody is interested in engaging the Abia state government in a media war.'

He however commended Okorocha for his peaceful approach to the matter adding that if an independent verification of the Imo state civil service is carried out, it would bare the fact that there are over 1000 indigenes of Abia state currently in the employ of the Imo state civil service.

Another Imo indigene and activist, Hon. Ngozika Ihuoma states that though the sack of non-indigenes may be anti-Igbo and an action directly against the tide of popular sentiments, the governor of Abia state acted within the constitution.

According to him, the constitution provides that every Nigerian is an indigene of a community as in Section 7 (2). And that civil service of a state is for indigenes by right as in Section 207 and 318 (1).

Said he, 'the right of non-indigenes to work in a state civil service is at the pleasure of the governor and on contract as provided in Section 5(2). Revenue allocation is shared among three tiers of government and non-indigenes can only have legitimate claim of employment in a federal civil service in a state.'

Ihuoma however opined that the only option left for any aggrieved state government is to indigenize their own civil service as provided by the constitution. And by implication, retaliate the action of the Abia state government.

However, Imo indigenes seem to have been singled out for recent vituperative publications by the Abia state government and the name callings are not abating either. Commentators in the state are largely of the view that Abia state government got it all wrong.

Not a few argue that the recent stance of the state government is capable of undermining the unity of the South-Eastern states that are presently agitating for the presidency of the country, ahead of the 2015 general elections.

Others have however latched the action to immaturity and incompetence on the part of the Governor, Chief Theodore Orji.

Uzodinma Nwaogbe said, 'It is shameful to hear from very senior members of the Abia state executive that the only option left for the Abia state government to pay the new minimum wage and meet the pressure of returnees from troubled states is to disengage non-indigenes from the state civil service to create space for their own. It goes to show that the governor and his team which sat to deliberate and take this decision went for the lazy way out. They did not do a thorough job, a bit of patience and serious thinking would have gotten them a better idea to the solution. '

He maintained that the argument being presented by the aides of the Abia state governor for the action is appalling and fails all logical analysis.

Another public commentator, Noble Iyke Edoziem in a multiple text message to our reporter said, 'One may have to sympathize with Governor Theodore Orji, who it seems have played into the hands of political wheeler-dealers that really know their job. Really, it would not be far from the truth to say that Orji is presently under siege and helplessly in the clutches of a band of ruthless hatchet writers and jobbers who seem to have all the answers for a lost cause.'

Edoziem argued that in just two weeks, the Abia state government has spent over N6million in advertorials and hack publications in an attempt to get back at individuals who hold views at variance with the state on the sack of non-indigenes.

Continuing Edoziem said, 'Sometimes, T.A Orji comes across as one being in the driving seat and yet not driving the state. How could they, in a bid to justify their actions, solicit applauds for co-existing with their neighbours for so long. In one of their publications, they listed names of non-indigenes who made a success of their businesses in Abia state. It is that bad. It was even pathetic reading the drivel of one Hon. Joshua Ogbonna, an aide of the governor, on how priests from other states preside over churches in their state. Call it whatever name you like, this is a tragic malady that is primitive and totally unacceptable in a 21 st century globalized society.'