INTERVIEW WITH HEAD OF CIVIL SERVICE 25-05-2022
Gov Emmanuel Has Kept Faith With A’Ibom Workers –Elder Essien
Elder Effiong Essien is a known and familiar personality in the Government and administration of Akwa Ibom State. As head of the civil service of the “State the slow but straight talking gentleman has established himself as journalists interview delight with straight answers to every question about activities of his office and the state government. In this interview with HEIEN UDOFA, editor daily of the Pioneer Group, her deputy OSSOM ASAKA and deputy editor of the Weekend Pioneer CHARLES ETIMETTE, Essien in the usual manner gave fluid answers to questions posed.
In 2019, His Excellency, Gov Udom Emmanuel, appointed you as the head of civil service in Akwa Ibom. How has it been and what are your achievements so far?
Thank you very much. Precisely, June 2019, His Excellency,the governor of Akwa Ibom State, Deacon Udom Emmanuel,graciously appointed me as the head of civil service of the state. I will say the journey so far has been quite interesting. I will also say that it’s been fulfilling because I work with His Excellency, a visionary governor who gives direction as to the affairs of the State in terms of the civil service, industry andall walks of life of the state.
And, as a civil service, we have been able to achieve much in terms of implementing the policies of the governor in aspectsof human capacity development which is part of his Completion Agenda. The human capacity aspect has been that of the civil and the public service. And, in terms of payment of salaries, the service has been able to pay salaries to workers promptly. In terms of service entitlement, like the leave grant, the service has been pay the leave grants of workers as at when due. Also, promotions of workers have been released promptly and other welfare matters that have to do with the service. All these things have been processed through the Office of the Head of Civil Service. And, in terms of human capacity development, this office has been able to process training programmes for the workers of the state.
In 2020 we were able to organize a resident workshop on attitudinal reorientation, a believe in Akwa Ibom State and the Dakkada vision of His Excellency, which we directors up to permanent secretaries were trained so that they could also train people under them on attitudinal reorientation and attitudinal shift to believe in Akwa Ibom State and the vision of His Excellency, the governor.
This year, we also had training for directors and permanent secretaries on emotional intelligence and attitude management for this cadre and a train-the-trainers programme. Thesepeople are to go train the people under them on the principlesof emotional intelligence and attitudinal management. We have done a number of other trainings for various professionals within the service. And, in terms of infrastructure and facilities within the service, we have been able to draw approval from His Excellency and release of funds to be able to change the situation at the state secretariat,where we used to have darkness at night due to lack of power system to light up that environment. So, we were able to provide solar powered lighting system there. If you go to the secretariat in the night, the environment is now illuminatedand people can even work in the night. More so, in terms of facility maintenance, we were able to also get approval. Now, renovation of blocks and construction of new ones is ongoingat the Civil Service Training Center at kilometer 9 Uyo-Ikot Ekpene Road. We have also provided solar powered light in that environment and it’s a beautiful place to behold. Beforenow, it used to be like an abandoned place, but now life has returned to the Centre and it’s having a good picture of itself. We have been able to do a number of things that have touched the welfare of workers in the state. I do not also forget the ongoing automation of the civil service, which is the digitalization of the civil service. We want to improve on efficiency of the service through that process, and the directors and the permanent secretaries have also been trained to be able to create this system when it is completed and put on life. We have been able to do a lot of other things.
You have made mention of capacity building and we know that this is what drives efficiency and effective service delivery among workers. And, recently we have had series of training programmes for workers in some critical MDAs. Is it a deliberate policy that will be sustainable?
For sure, it is something that is sustainable by this government and it will outlive this administration because the legacy is already there as per the need to train workers. It may not be outside training, but a kind of in-house training, which makes it easily achievable.
We know staff welfare is very fundamental to workers and the governor has been doing so well in the prompt payment of workers’ salaries. However, we still have pockets of complaints that touch on gratuity. What is the government doing in this direction because some people say it is being owed from way back 2016. Where exactly are we in payment of gratuities to retired workers?
We have gratuity for the core civil service workers and we have gratuity for primary school teachers. For the state workers, when His Excellency took over administration, he had to clear arrears of gratuities of up to 10 years back. Afterthat, he needed to start from his administration and begin to advance forward. As we speak, gratuities have been paid up to 2016 and there is consistent arrangement for gratuity to be paid. We are making progress and before you know it, 2017 is going to be paid and go on to clear the arrears.
For the primary school teachers, we have arrears as far back as the 1980s and 1990s. Even though primary school matters are concerns of the local government administration, His Excellency intervened and he is paying to clear that backlog of gratuities. As we speak, for the next-of-kin, from the 80s has been cleared up to 2005. For the living pensioners, he has paid up to 2011. And there is this goodwill of consistently putting in money to clear that backlog of arrears. Somethingthat was not there before now. If we had that kind of goodwill,where some monies were set aside to pay that entitlement, we wouldn’t have had as huge arrears as we have now. Since there is that consistency in releasing money on monthly basis to clear the arrears, I believe that before long, that outstanding arrears will be cleared.
Sir, do you believe that the arrears will be paid in the life of this administration?
It can be cleared. You have to think positive. You have to believe that with God all things are possible.
Let’s also look at this issue of inadequate workers in the service. There are complaints that we don’t have enough of the teachers, nurses, engineers and even journalists.What is government doing in this direction, to replace retired workers retired with new hands? Is there any planby government to recruit more hands?
Government have been recruiting and employing. For instance, in 2020 and 2021, over 600 medical personnel were employed into the service, at the state level. At the local government level, 403 medical personnel were also employed into that system. Last year we employed more than 1,000 teachers into the secondary education sector. And, as we speak, the process for the employment of another 1,000 primary school teachers is being concluded. For the technical education sector, nearly 400 technical teachers and instructors are also being processed to be employed into the State Technical Education Board. So this employment has been on and you can’t employ everybody at the same time because employment has to be matched with resources. We still have time as far as this administration is concerned. It is possible to employ more people before the end of this administration.
There is this trend that towards the end of an administration, you notice that a number of persons arerecruited into the service, whereas that government had not recruited such number of persons in the early or mid stage of that administration. As one who understands the service management in Akwa Ibom, do you subscribe to that practice of always recruiting towards the end of one’s tenure?
I will not say I subscribe to what you have said. What I know is that employment is always on the basis of need and available resources. His Excellency, the governor of Akwa Ibom State, will not do things at the spur of emotions. He will do things at the right time and for the right reasons. You cannot take away the fact that there is possibility that more workers would be employed in the service and when this is done, it will be done to the benefit of the service, not because of season, not because of time, but because there is need to employ more people.
The bond that existed between the state government and its workers seems to have been lost as recent happenings and feelings in some quarters point to a love lost between the two. As the number one civil servant in the state, what is your take on this?
I don’t subscribe to what you have said, because I am having a feeling that we are having better and warmer industrial relations with workers and organized labour this time around. That’s why you have the relative peaceful atmosphere in the state. Hardly do you hear strike like the ASUU strike that isover 8 weeks now and another 12 weeks added and so on. Recently, when we had a little misunderstanding with the NUT, it wasn’t quite overnight and the matter was resolved because we have a governor who is a listening governor. He listens and attends to the welfare needs of workers and takes immediate action as soon as the matter is brought to the table. He sees the need to do so.
Currently on everybody’s lips is Governor Emmanuel’s Completion Agenda. I know you are not supposed to be partisan, but do you foresee a situation where workers in Akwa Ibom will support this cause 100 per cent?
Thank you very much. I’m not partisan but I’m not ignorant of politics. The workers in Akwa Ibom State, even during this last Workers Day, all drummed their support for the administration of His Excellency, Deacon Udom Emmanuel. If they have enjoyed so much of the welfare that the governor has dished out to them during his tenure as a governor, everybody will want to follow the direction because they have seen the governor as the leader. And, everybody will want to follow the direction that the leader points for them to go. So I don’t have any doubt that workers in Akwa Ibom will vote differently from the direction His Excellency, the governor,gives or prescribes during elections.
In 2017, the state government acquired 300 hectares of land for a housing estate for civil servants. To what extent has that estate been developed?
The land for affordable housing scheme for civil servants is actually in Ibiono Ibom and Ikono axis. It is not far from Uyo and is off Uyo-Ikot Ekpene Road. The development of the estate is ongoing. The only issue that one can quickly point to is the provision of infrastructure that will make that place very attractive for workers to move in.
The second one is off the University of Uyo Teaching Hospital at Ikot Ntuen Nsit, which has been completed and workers have taken the housing units there. There are still prospects for the development of more estates for sufficientaffordable housing for Akwa Ibom workers.
What categories of workers are the beneficiaries and what are the terms of payment?
The terms of payment for this housing unit is based on the National Housing Scheme guideline and is for workers who have subscribed to the National Housing Scheme. It is a rent-to-own arrangement of payment. You pay a token and take over the building, then you pay small amount over the yearsdepending on the number of years you still have in service. Ifyou have a very long period in service, your monthly payment will be reduced, but if you are retiring soon, the amount you pay may increase so that the full payment for the housing unit is completed while you are still in service.
Sometimes government’s laudable projects like the housing scheme for civil servants are hijacked and you endup seeing others, like businessmen, buying those houses?
Not the workers’ affordable housing scheme.
Sir, how many units are there at the affordable housing scheme at Ikot Ntuen Nsit?
As at when they were completed, the estate had well over a 100 units.
Talking about recruitment of workers, the last batch of recruitment into the state civil service were secondary school teachers and feelers have it that these persons are yet to receive salaries. Is this true? If yes, how soon will their salaries commence?
Those people are receiving their salaries from the month of May 2022. I have signed for their integration into the payroll system so they will receive their salaries. The number involved and the process involved to authenticate every person before uploading into the payroll system took some time. We have concluded that and they will be receiving their salaries.
On the recruitment into the Technical School Board, we are aware that some people were screened but they are yet to be called to pick up the employment. How soon is that going to take place, Sir?
That process is squarely in the hands of the State Technical School Board. I know the process is on and as soon as possible those people are going to be engaged.
When in 2023 Gov Udom Emmanuel will not be there again as the leader, what kind of governor do you wish we should have? Also, is it true that you don’t have political ambition? If the answer is yes, why?
I will like to have a kind of governor that will continue from where Governor Emmanuel will eventually stop by 2023. The resources we have is for Akwa Ibom State and for Akwa Ibom people, so any area that the present administration has invested the resources of the state and may leave maybe nearly completed, the next administration should see to it that such is completed for Akwa Ibom people to benefit from the resources that has been put in place, so far. You can see His Excellency building on the foundation of previous administrations. He doesn’t despise and say I did not start this so I will not lay my hands to complete it. That is the kind of leadership I expect to see. One that comes in and also has his own vision and at the same time continues with the long term vision that has been put in place for Akwa Ibom people in terms of maritime development, industrialization of the state, educational development and other areas. That is the kind of administration I expect in Akwa Ibom.
And for the aspect of picking nomination form, collection of form is not closed, so you cannot foreclose the fact that I can resign as head of service to go and pick form. Even the serious ones, there is nobody that put in their money to buy the form; people bought the forms for them. So, maybe thePioneer Newspaper will want to sponsor the head of civilservice by buying the form and come to negotiate with mewhether I will accept it. It has reached a point that accepting the form is being negotiated.
Thank you, Sir, for granting us the interview. It has been a very enlightening session.