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Why Civil Servants Aren’t Farmers

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Some parts of Nigeria are currently being used as experimental grounds by their home governments for the unprecedented conversion of the Civil Servants in the employment of these States into what we might term “guinea pigs” for farming duties.

Benue State governor Mr. Samuel Ortom (who jumped out of his former party- Peoples Democratic Party to be made a candidate in 2015) called this unknown practice of indirectly turning Civil Servants into farmers a ‘novelty’ which he said could combat the downturn of the nation’s economy.

He was reported to have in a mild way told civil servants in the state to embrace farming to augment their meager salaries, which may not come at the end of month henceforth.

The governor arbitrarily declared every Friday of the week, a public holiday to enable state workers till the land for agricultural produce.

The Governor thereafter proceeded on two-week annual vacation to as he said enable him tend crops in his farm.

State Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Odeh Ageh, who made the announcement, said the work free day was approved by the 16th session of the state executive council meeting chaired by Governor Samuel Ortom.

Ageh explained that the idea would aid as many workers as possible to produce enough food to feed their families in the face of the current economic reality which has made the regular payment of salaries a major challenge.

According to him, the work free day would commence from Friday, June 10 and would last till the end of July, 2016.

The Commissioner also announced that the governor would proceed on a two-week vacation as part of his annual leave as from Monday, June 13 to work on his farm while the Deputy Governor, Engr Benson Abounu, would act in his absence.

It is safe to argue that in Benue State the state government opted for persuasion and has set out a time line for when this odd practice of conversion of civil servants to farmers would end. But Imo State governor took his version of the modern day slavery practice to a ridiculous heights.

Mr. Rochas Okorocha who is of the same All Progressive Congress with the Benue State governor also decided to declare two days work free days to enable Imo State workers go to farms to in his words “produce food to assist the State’s economy.” In his own case there would be no time line for when this awkward practice will end.

The Imo State administrative under Mr. Okorocha also looked at the rule book adopted by the then old Rivers State’s governor Mr. Clifford Okilo to term his new agricultural rule as “Back to land for Agriculture” even as he stated through his press officer Mr. Samuel Onwuemeodo that the policy of not working Thursdays and Fridays is meant to enable the State Civil Servants invest in agricultural activities.

But unlike his colleague, Mr. Okorocha did not lead by example by showing journalists his new farm land nor did he state for how long he intends to work in his farm but he did something that is not only farcical but patently unlawful when by the stroke of his pen he nullified all annual leaves which are statutory entitlement of the State workers.

This writer is of the firm conviction that it is fool-hardy for State governors to use the parlous State of the economy as a reason to compel Civil Servants to start farming as part of their job specifications.

This policy is laughable, illogical, counter-productive and absolutely illegal and should be abrogated without further waste of time.

The policy is also a breach of the labour or employment law since workers working for their States have valid employment letters specifying the duties expected of them and I am afraid that conversion of workers to farmers is not part of these terms of contracts signed by them.

Government cannot abridge, amend or alter the original terms of employment without proper, adequate and transparent agreement of all the parties to the employment contract.

Let us consult the eight edition of Black’s law dictionary edited by Bryan A. Garner to get some insights on the meaning of contract so as to situate it within the context of our piece on the illegality by the Imo and Benue State governors to convert their State Civil Servants to farm slaves.

“The term contract has been used indifferently to refer to three different things: (1) the series of operative acts by the parties resulting in new legal relations; (2) the physical document executed by the parties as the lasting evidence of their having performed the necessary operative acts and also as an operative fact in itself; (3) the legal relations resulting from the operative acts, consisting of a right or rights in personam and their corresponding duties, accompanied by certain powers, privileges, and immunities. The sum of these legal relations is often called ‘obligation.’ The present editor prefers to define contract in sense (3)….” William R. Anson, Principles of the Law of Contract 13 n.2 (Arthur L. Corbin ed., 3d Am.ed. 1919).

“A contract is a promise, or a set of promises, for breach of which the law gives a remedy, or the performance of which the law in some way recognizes as a duty. This definition may not be entirely satisfactory since it requires a subsequent definition of the circumstances under which the law does in fact attach legal obligation to promises. But if a definition were attempted which should cover these operative facts, it would require compressing the entire law relating to the formation of contracts into a single sentence.” Samuel Williston, A Treatise on the Law of Contracts & 1, at 1-2 (Walter H.E. Jaeger ed., 3d ed. 1957) (footnote omitted).

“The term ‘contract’ is also used by lay persons and lawyers alike to refer to a document in which the terms of a contract are written. Use of the word in this sense is by no means improper so long as it is clearly understood that rules of law utilizing, the reference is to the agreement; the writing being merely a memorial of the agreement.” John D. Calamari & Joseph M. Perillo, The Law of Contracts & 1.1, at 3 (4th ed.1998).

Apart from the obvious fact that State governments are obliged to respect the employment contract it entered into with her workforce without unduly introducing some strange conditionality, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria of 1999 (as amended) has also made copious provisions making it a legally binding obligation that government is not allowed to turn their workers into agricultural “guinea pigs”.

Section 17(3)(a)(b) and (c) provide as follows: “ all citizens without discrimination on any group whatsoever, have the opportunity for securing adequate means of livelihood as well as adequate opportunity to secure suitable employment.” “The State shall ensure that conditions of work are just, and humane, and that there are adequate facilities for leisure and for social, religious and cultural life” and “the health, safety and welfare of all person in employment are safeguarded and not endangered or abused”.

Globally, the most salient aspects of employment laws states that workers must enjoy basic rights at work which must necessarily include getting a written statement of the main terms and conditions of employment within two months of starting work. Other basic rights of a worker are;

•The right to an itemized pay slip. This applies from the day the employee starts work;

•The right to be paid at least the national minimum wage. This applies from the day the employee starts work;

•The right not to have illegal deductions made from pay. This applies from the day the employee starts work;

•The right to paid holiday. Full-time employees are entitled to at least 28 days a year. Part-time employees are entitled to a pro rata amount.

For well over 17 years Nigeria has practiced democracy and the country even while under military dictatorship has always been subscribed to employment obligations under international laws and Nigeria is a member of the international labor organization.

The above are the basic reasons why in Nigeria even within the context of the constitutionally recognized courts of records a clearly established National Industrial Court exists which is a Practical demonstration that Nigeria is not an Island and therefore must treat their workers in total compliance with legal provisions particularly in the observations of the rights and duties of these workers.

How did governors Okorocha and Orthom arrive at the illegality of converting their work force to agricultural slaves? If I may ask, particularly the Imo State governor, have you set up farm settlement centers and obtained good yielding lands for such an initiative? Again, my question to Mr. Okorocha, are you aware that land is a precious asset in Imo State and is as rare as white falcon which implies that nearly sixty percent of Imo citizens including members if the Imo State Civil Service are not by right landlords? Is Imo State governor in this current dispensation thinking of illegally taking away people’s land to be used for his illegal experiments?

Now to the Benue State governor I want him to tell Nigerians if his administration has succeeded in getting President Muhammadu Buhari to stop the rampaging armed Fulani bandits from killing off the real native farmers and destroying the farm lands?

As I write, Benue just like most other farming communities all across Nigeria are battling the scourge of continuous bombardments by well armed Fulani herdsmen. Does the Benue State governor plan to send his State work force to go and be killed by Fulani herdsmen?

I must conclude by asking for the immediate reversal of these thoughtless policies of forcing Benue and Imo State Civil Servants to go back to farms because it lacks fundamental justice. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE) wrote that “without justice an association of men in the bond of law cannot possibly continue”. The great scholar also concluded thus: “if Justice be taken away, what are governments but great bands of robbers?”

*Emmanuel Onwubiko is Head of Human rights Writers association of Nigeria and blogs @ www.emmanuelonwubiko.com .

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Articles by Emmanuel Onwubiko