EXCLUSIVE: GOVERNOR EMMANUEL IS LEADING A’IBOM TO WHERE IT SHOULD BE –EKEREOBONG AKPAN

 

In this second edition of media chat with the Akwa Ibom State Head of Service, Mrs Ekereobong Akpan clarifies some bothering issues that have to do with primary school teachers, pensions, gratuities, promotion allowances as well as leave grants

It is good to have you Madam in this media chat.

Thank you.

Madam, sometimes government would speak on this side to have done positively while others will speak on the negative side. Let’s clarify this issue. Who is responsible for pension and gratuities of primary school teachers?

I want to thank you for bringing me on board again to clarify on so many issues that have been making the rounds. And as the Head of Service in Akwa Ibom State, I thank I’m in a better position to say what is, and when I talk about what is, I’m on the path of truth. All Nigerians know where primary school is. All Nigerians know where local government administration is. And they all know about federal account, the allocations made to states. I’m sure they also know about joint account that is operated to service the primary education and local government administration.

In our state, we know that government has, many times, intervene, filled the gap when it comes to payment in the local government administration the teachers. And for those of us from Akwa Ibom, we know when Governor is paying, he pays the workers. He does not segregate, with or without federal government allocation. And so, where we have gaps in the primary school payment of gratuities, we know it’s wholly to do with allocations we have from joint account that may not be enough at any one point to service them. We also remember that Governor Udom Emmanuel came into office, nobody prompted him to pay 10 years backlog of arrears. He did it on his own because he is working for the people that he promised he would serve. That was what he did. He paid 10 years backlog.

We are all living witnesses that in 2016, Nigeria has never faced that kind of recession that made a lot of things almost impossible. Be that as it may, in Akwa Ibom State, everyone was paid. There is no person that will come out to say that his/her salary was not paid. When it comes to gratuities and monthly salaries, we all know and different levels of governments also know from which pools of funds that we are paid from. And so, government has always tried to pay and fill the gap. The core service is strictly and wholly under the state government, and in that area, it always pays as of when due. It is on the national dailies and local tabloids where a list of 306 beneficiaries of gratuities that would be paid are published with the details as their pension numbers and reclassified number for 2018. I’m sure they must have gone to the Accountant General’s office for clarification and issuance of cheques.

The Government of Akwa Ibom State is going to spend less than N1.3 billion to pay the 306 beneficiaries. We all know that when it comes to gratuities, it is never in piecemeal. The whole money is paid at once. Pension is running and it is given. In Akwa Ibom, once you retire, you start running your pensions the following month. But for the gratuities, we are going to clear all what came for the core service. We are still working on those of the primary school teachers.

*Is it the responsibility of the state government or the federal government for payment of primary school teachers?*

It is the responsibility of the federal government through the joint account.

*Let’s look at promotion. People complain of being promoted without promotion arrears. Is it that the state government doesn’t have money to pay or not ready to pay?*

Promotion arrears is being paid in Akwa Ibom State. I mentioned the figures that have been paid during the last edition of our media chat, but we are paying according to rules. In the civil service, there is what we call Notional Promotion and Financial Benefit that will accrue from the date of approval. This has been the practice in the civil service from the colonial masters, and we came into existence 31 years ago from Cross River State brought forward. There were those from Enugu State brought forward but now we have those from Calabar brought forward. The practice of Notional and Financial, and for every person that your financial benefit starts from a certain date, you are paid all your arrears, and that is what we are doing. The problem we have is that some of our MDAs are very slow in computation, and once the computation is not out and reappraised to be correct, there is no way the salary consultant can pay. And so, for promotion arrears, we are paying according to the subsisting rules governing the payment of promotions.

I had a meeting recently with the College of Permanent Secretaries where I gave them a deadline to send whatever has to do with promotion arrears to my office else they would be treated as if they are not working. I want to tell you that we are paying promotion arrears according to rules. If you have up to one-year arrears based on when we approved it, you are paid. That is what we are doing. We have not done anything short of the rules required and set in motion. Government of the day will continue to pay promotion arrears.

There are some MDAs that have not submitted their screened staff for the promotion of 2017. It is a big problem. We have barely two months to the end of 2018. And then there are some MDAs lacking behind in submission of those due for promotion in 2017. How will government act? Even the white men who brought the civil service know the processes involved, and so they came up with the notional promotion and the financial benefit that will accrue. The Government of Akwa Ibom State is paying and will continue to pay promotion arrears to all the officers that are qualified to have it. Some that are talking do not understand the workings of the civil service, and I want to say without any fear of contradiction that we pay according to rules.

*So, in civil service, there is something like fiat service…*

If you are given fiat promotion, you can be paid. But if the rules, you don’t follow due process to get there, you can’t have it because government is networked for checks and balances to make sure things are done properly.

*There is another notion that promotion letters are not being given to even those that are being promoted. How possible is this?*

We have a big problem. I once told labour leaders that the persons they are fighting for are also workers. In people in your union are workers and they are the people to make things work. I told Civil Service Commission to release all the promotions that we approved to different MDAs then send the list to the salary consultant so that at the end, he would crosscheck the lists that are sent from different MDAs with what was sent from the source. I also told the different ministries to follow up and release the letters to officers concerned. It is a simple process. The promotion letters are addressed to my office as Head of Service in charge of this unit. The next I do is minute it out to my Permanent Secretary who will also follow up so that the admin person will do the needful and give the letters to him. At the point of minuting it out, he should also minute it out to the account section that will do the needful so that everything will follow, but somehow, some of us are a bit slow. There are those who are exceptionally hardworking, but there are those who do it as if government business is not their own business.

*Any sanction to such act?*

Off course. If have just ordered a representation of a ministry to query somebody that did something wrong, because we cannot continue like this and things are getting worse by the day.

*Another area that requires your clarification is the issue of leave grant. What is really going on with leave grant?*

Leave grant in Akwa Ibom State is paid. Leave grant for core civil servants is normally between September and November, and 2018 is no exception. The first batch was paid in September and the second paid in October. Those who have received their salaries have seen the increase if they were scheduled. The last batch will be paid ending of November. We have been consistent in payment for the core service, but not the same with those in primary school and local government administration.

*Why?*

If we are following from what happened, we still have issues with that arm of government in their payment of leave grants. I remember I came on board and this problem came up, I asked the labour what happened that we have such backlog of payment of leave grants. That was before Governor Udom Emmanuel took over office. Leave grant is a right of all civil servants. How come they were not paid whereas those in the core service were paid consistently and you kept quiet? Be that as it may, I want to say that we started from somewhere to payment primary school teachers. We have paid some local governments their 2016 leave grants and would be completed and then move on to 2017. We still have backlog from 2012 or thereabout and would be paid.

I discussed this with the Governor and he said these are my people and my workers, whether they are in the local government service or in the primary sector, we have to pay them. And so, for those who are still serving, we are going to pay. We have been paying the local government workers for 2016 also. More than 20 out of the 31 local government areas of the state have been paid for 2016. The good news is that we are going to pay 2015 and 2017 leave grants to all the local government workers.

*At a blow?*

Well, we are going to pay before year runs out. If we don’t pay all this month, we should clear all by December.

*It was recently stipulated that the employment opportunity the state government opened for the civil service is a scam. Can you through more light on this?*

Thank you for that question. If somebody that is so mindful, despite the hardship we are experiencing, wants to pick people that have been in the job market for a long time and the persons that the governor wants to help are turning up to say it is a scam, that means it has reduced the number of people we will contend with during the interview session. How can somebody think that a whole government would give a website for people to reach on to and apply, published to the entire world – a responsible and responsive government – and then somebody said it is a scam. It is so sad. For a man that has integrity. For a man that thinks Akwa Ibom should be moved from where we are. If we were to have cottage industries everywhere, it would take the load from both the state and federal governments because there are Nigerians who are willing to work. It is not a scam. We want to employ.

*What happened to the 5000 teachers that were employed and some either given appointment letters legally or illegally, and political opponents feel they can also use that to discredit your government. Is there anything done on this issue?*

It is rather sad that somebody who thinks well for the people is always attacked. And it takes a great mind to bear attacks that come from people who are not well informed. I have said severally that we had to divide batch by batch – first, second and coming up with the last batch of civil servants that were screened, took the exams and passed, and well-documented. All of them that qualified will be given the opportunity to serve this government.

*So those who were unable to score half of the mark….*

We tested them on the use of English. We didn’t test anyone that read Engineering or Mathematics. The reason was for their ability to communicate with their students. It was very revealing that while some did well, others did not do so well. It was a school set English and nothing more than that because we didn’t want a situation where somebody would say he/she left school for long and must have forgotten. This one was for the ability to communicate.

All what we are saying is that, for those who were given the opportunity served and started running their salaries after the first two months. I also want to add that for those that we have taken on in the primary school, about 3000 of them, the money for them to be paid has been set aside because we don’t want the problem of arrears. From N100 million to N300 million a month, in three months’ time, it becomes N900 million and that becomes a problem. Once you start work, at the end of the month, you are given your money.

There are some who would pick up an appointment letter and go home to sit down and wait for somebody to send a special invitation to resume duty. Normally, we have a place where you have to indicate when you started work and your ministry will confirm. For the 5000 persons, remember we are looking at a very difficult period where you take on people, pay them, fill your purse and bring in new ones. I once discussed with the Governor on the need to bring in the 5000 persons at once and he told me to be conscious of the minimum wage which we will have to pay.

Every responsible and responsive government or person takes a lot of things into consideration. When these people come up, they have to be paid and we are all conscious of the fact that we had to discuss on estimate, making provision for next year to provide for the workers whom God will spare their lives. So, there is no way you will bring people on board without providing for them. It is not just the 5000 persons, we thinking beyond that. The ones that are saying it’s a scam, once they come on board, they will be paid. Remember it is not all of the 5000 people passed the test. And so, it cannot be come one come all. We have provided for those that passed the test and would be taken on board and taken care of.

*What is the position of Akwa Ibom State in the minimum wage?*

When the issue came out and states were required to put in their contributions as to the way forward, our state also did put a position paper. Nigerians know that N18,000 minimum wage does not take the workers home, and all the states agreed to this but the ability to pay is the problem. That is why the states have come up with the idea of pay N22,500 and Labour says No. I remember our state agreed to pay whatever would be agreed upon. Not just by our government, because it has to be collective. We know that there some states of the federation that are owing salaries because of inability to pay. Labour now said if the federal government pays N30,000, what would the states pay? Our own state will key in to what the governors’ forum will agree to pay. We will not be an exemption.

Akwa Ibom will not be left out in the payment of whatever will be decided on the minimum wage. We all know we have a prudent manager, the one that pays with or without FAC account. The one that pays without money dropping from the federal government to the state. However he will do it, he will manage and Akwa Ibom State will pay.

*Since the advent of this administration, what can you put forward as an achievement in the education sector? What are the structures put in place by this administration to make sure that education is followed to the latter especially at the primary level where it is free as well as the secondary level?*

I will not limit myself to the education. There so many things this administration has done to better the lives of Akwa Ibom people. But to be specific to education, we have new intake in the primary education. And from time to time, government has been supplying materials to our primary schools. This is on record because we pay counterpart funding and then the Universal Basic Education Board (UBEB) will give us whatever, then we supply the materials, teaching aids, etc to our primary schools.

We also have new intake of teachers in the secondary school section that are helping. The first batch of teachers released were science teachers. Akwa Ibom State and public schools did Akwa Ibom people proud. They went for a competition in Lagos State and came out tops in the whole federation. A public school in Etim Ekpo, Northern Annang to be precise, put up an experiment on water purification and came out tops against other big private schools in the country. A boy and a girl went to represent Nigeria in Sweden and came up second or third place on water purification, using the local elephant grass also known as Napier grass. That means the schools that the Governor injected life of science teachers paid off.

Our children are doing well not just in the science area but generally. Some times last year, the pass rate in different subjects was also graded and Akwa Ibom came out from a distant position to a positive ranking. So in the area of education, we are looking at our technical schools.

The Technical School at Etinan Mbioto 2 has been fully furnished and that is extended to other technical schools. If you furnish a school with facilities, you also need people that will be able to use those things for the good of our children so by tomorrow, we know Akwa Ibom State was created big, and is still big in different aspect of endeavours.

*What have we been able to achieve in the area of sports?*

Governor Udom Emmanuel, upon assumption of office, discovered that not everyone that would be Ufot Ekong to solve a 30-year old Mathematical problem, but there are some who can do the Osen Bolt running and become something. And so, we have Aniekeme Alphonsus, a raw talent from Obot Akara, currently in the US running. Akwa Ibom people have won severally. We have most of them in Akwa United Football Club and the ladies in Ibom Angels performing excellently well. They come out either first or second. Anything less than that is not good enough for Akwa Ibom state.

We won the AITEO Cup that others have been struggling for. It has a lot to do with leadership, it has a lot to do with somebody that is forward-looking and somebody with integrity because when you lead, other good things follow you naturally. Honour would be bestowed on your because you are a man of honour.

We have the Itam Sports Centre even though people are complaining of the size, demanding for more lawn tennis courts. We have a place that people can go and run especially in this restive period for the youths all over the world not peculiar to Nigeria or Africa. Youth restiveness is everywhere, but if a young man can utilize the energy he has positively, the good in him can come out. That is what our governor is doing. We have sporting arenas everywhere that would help us move our children forward. We have our children that are engaged in sporting activities because of the facilities provided. What this administration is doing is to encourage our children to come out and direct their energies to positive things.

*What is the feeling of the people of Akwa Ibom State generally about Governor Udom Emmanuel? You are very close to the civil servants. How do they see him and his brand?*

To us in the Civil Service, Governor Udom Emmanuel has performed beyond our imaginations. We cannot hesitate to support him. There is no month we don’t receive alert of salary payment before the end of the month and that is major for a civil servant. The Bible says that the labourer should expect his wages. We do not work for a month and wait for another month for us to be paid. We are paid as at when due.

Since the Governor came on board, he has promoted over 30,000 workers including those in the parastatals, agencies and junior officers within this short period, and they are enjoying their salary levels in their new grade levels promoted to. The government also gives a revolving loan for vehicle grants. We have car loans to civil servants. We may not have enough for everybody but we follow the rules.

For the workers, I have sent out circular because we are going to have houses on owner/occupier basis. That is not a scam. If you can pay the small premium within 15 or 20 years, the balance is paid over 15 to 20 years while you are still in service. The Federal Mortgage Bank came here recently and promised to build 102 units of houses for civil servants in Akwa Ibom State. It will be completed within eight months. If we can have up to 1,000 houses within one year or thereabout, then we can have civil servants living in their own houses. If you used to pay N600,000 for a two-bedroom apartment, it can be spread out so that you pay less every month for your own house while living in that house.

Our Governor is working addressing every sector, civil servants, primary, groups and all his policies are not left out. We are paying pensions. If sitting civil servant collects salary this week, pension is paid the following week. A retired Permanent Secretary testified collecting his pension a month of retirement. What else can civil servants look for? We give him our support.

*What is level of the state government’s involvement in the federal government programmes especially the school feeing programme?*

Akwa Ibom State Government is in total support of the federal government’s programmes including the school feeding, N-Power programmes, money market for traders and the rest. If we are not in support, how will we benefit from the federal government? We have more than 10,000 Akwa Ibomites enjoying N-Power programme posted to different places. They are paid directedly into their accounts. We are part of Nigeria. We are looking at a situation where we can train Akwa Ibom people on business proposals writing so that they can benefit from what the Bank of Industry is doing. If you cannot write a good proposal, there is no way you can benefit.

*People are complaining about the poor hygienic condition and malnutrition in the school feeding programme where the pupils are fed on bread with stew. What advice would you give to the federal government?*

The way we eat in Nigeria differs from culture to culture. An Akwa Ibom child is not that type that eats bread with stew. I’m sure it’s in another part of the world. We are noted for quality hygienic condition in the state.

*What do we expect from the civil servants because it is believed that they get lackadaisical some times and hardly come to work or treat files?*

In every twelve, there must be a Judas. I give kudos to my workers because they are doing well. If they were not driving the policies and the five-point agenda of the Governor, we wouldn’t be where we are because all the MDAs drive one policy or the other, and that is the engine room of government. But there are still some that are not yet keyed in, living in the past. I appeal every day that if we do not change our attitudes, the altitude will still be very low, and I want every person to move forward. If we don’t move forward, then we have a problem because the world is moving forward and Akwa Ibom is moving forward.

We have a leader that is in a hurry to take Akwa Ibom to where he has seen where we should be, and that Akwa Ibom requires you and I where you are a civil servant or doing your private business, because the running of government is not a one-man business. Orchestra is not run by one person but a group. All of us must be involved in whatever we are doing.

*Thank you very much Ma for always giving out time to talk to us…*

Thank you for having me.

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