Imo State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Declan Emelumba throws more light on allegations that the opposition is allegedly working to frustrate road construction and other projects and concluded that Governor Hope Uzodinma’s performance is now a nightmare for the opposition. He spoke with Chris Njoku
Can you clear the air on the controversy surrounding the payment of workers’ salaries and pension arrears? Why are there still complaints if the state government has paid its workers?
The issues of salaries and pension have been resolved amicably. There are just a few people that still have issues with that, but their money is there. During the Independence Anniversary, Archbishop Anthony Obinna said that somebody told him he received his six months pension arrears, but he stopped receiving in February when the automation started. Some people had issues, but immediately they were resolved their money was paid.
The government is not denying the fact that there are issues. It is the fact. However, what the government has said is that it has set up a mechanism for a fast resolution. So, nobody is really supposed to be complaining, like somebody said he was paid this month and not paid the other month. There is a pension portal in the Head of Service’s office. There is Special Adviser on Pension Matters the governor has appointed to handle everything about pension. The government has said if you have any complaint or issue, go there. IT experts are there working to resolve the issues. The IT experts there will help you to key into the data centre and you will see what the problem is; it is either that your BVN or account number does not tally or your employment history has issues. But whichever problem you have, it would be solved.
We have said it so many times that if you have not received your salary or pension, go to the office of the Head of Service where the matter would be resolved and you get your payment instantly. The governor has given a deadline within which all matters regarding salary and pension should be resolved. If after the deadline anybody still complains of non-payment or whatever, it means the person is not taking the advantage of the provision made available by the state government. Some people entertain the fears of being arrested probably for falsification. This has accounted for why some people are scared of going for their automation.
Why would they be scared?
They have double salary entries and collect salaries on different scales. And even at that, the governor has offered amnesty and said even if you have double entries go to the Head of Service’s office to resolve it. You will only be paid the salary you are entitled to. Nobody will arrest you.
But some workers are still complaining…
I wonder those who are still saying they have not been paid. If they have not been paid, do you think they would be happy riding in the buses the governor has provided with snacks to go with it? If they have not been paid, they would be asking for their salaries, not bus or snacks. So if there are people that have not been paid salaries, they are minute. The civil servants have been paid up to date. Few who have issues are being resolved. That is why you cannot use that to say salaries are not being paid.
Then there are about 1,000 pensioners who were not captured during Emeka Ihedioha’s time. They just kept their raw data there. So we are trying to capture those people who did not even know that they were not captured, and they are there expecting their pensions. That is why I said when you go to the office of the Head of Service, whatever is your problem, you will be told. I will like somebody to come and say he or she went there and his or her problem was not solved, then you know that is another situation.
You know that every new process would come with new challenges, because this government is determined that there will be nothing like manual payment of anything. It must be electronically done. And that is the only way to eliminate fraud, because digitalization is done in such a manner that if you are a pensioner who retired on Grade Level 10, your pension as approved by government Pension Act is there; you cannot manipulate it. But with payroll, people will be adding small money here and there. At the end of the day, they mess up the whole thing.
Can you tell us why roads construction in Imo State suddenly stopped?
Before we came in, Emeka Ihedioha was there for seven months and had already awarded contracts but did not start work because of the rains. We came in the thick of the rains, and not minding the rains, we
went on and people were saying how can he be working in the rain? Doesn’t he know that the rains will be disturbing and the roads will not be up to standards? We then said let’s rest awhile, and people are again asking why the roads are bad. They expect us to be doing the roads in the thick of the rains?
They also forgot that before the rains became heavy, the governor commissioned roads. These were roads he built by taking advantage of the dry weather to do some work. Now the weather is too wet. We will wait until after the rains. We are already planning towards that. Once the rains are over, all the bad roads will be attended to. We have signed an MoU with Julius Berger that when the rains stop, they will start work.
I am also aware that the opposition is doing everything possible to stop them if they can, because they know that it is going to be unbeatable reward. But we already have an MoU with them. We are watching closely with them. Once the dry season sets in, they would come and people will be surprised at the speed with which they would do the work. We know that this will be a nightmare to the opposition. The same opposition is now restless because they don’t have major issues to challenge the government on. There are no longer issues to talk about, so from time to time, they manufacture rumours. Their latest propaganda is to spread the rumour that N10,000 will be deducted monthly from salaries for the bus ride and snacks the governor has provided the civil servants. I want to use this opportunity to say there is nothing like that. The thing is free. The governor made it clear that both the bus ride and the snacks are free. Nobody is going to be charged for anything.
I want to believe that the business of opposition is to engage the government constructively on its policies. But when you don’t have any vision in that direction, you just want to find something that will keep you busy, you will begin to manufacture rumours. And there is something I want to use this opportunity to say: you keep forgetting that this is a presidential system; there is no official opposition. You know we are thinking this is a
parliamentary system of government like in Britain where the opposition is paid by government to be an opposition. That is why when you go to the parliament, you will see the prime minister on one side and the opposition the other side. They are paid by the government to criticise the opposition, and they work very hard to bring down the government of the opposition because that is partly why they are there, so that when they go into another election, they may have the chance of winning.
But in the presidential system, there is no official opposition, because presidential system is considered as winner takes all; there is nothing like sharing power. So, the kind of opposition you find in a presidential system is something that is constructive and visionary, where the governor said he is going to bring in Julius Berger to construct the Owerri, Orlu and Okigwe road, and you say if you are in government, you would have brought in a better company that would be cheaper; that is the kind of thing the opposition should be talking about.
If you noticed, when Emeka Ihedioha was there, we were busy pursuing our case. I don’t think you heard any time we criticised them. We didn’t. We concentrated on getting our mandate back. We could have decided to criticise and discredit anything they did, but that is not opposition because it does not lead you anywhere. But that is what they are trying to do now, but the public is now realising that they are liars. They said the state government wanted to rename the state owned university as Abba Kyari University. Did it ever happen? They said he was going to establish an almajiri school. Did it ever happen? They said he created three emirates in Imo. All those things are propaganda meant to discredit the governor. They don’t seem to have shame.
Some people said the governor is yet to find his footing. What is your reaction on this?
I don’t know what they meant by that. This is a governor that came and within 25 days gave permanent secretaries official cars. Within 28 days in office, he brought life back into the secretariat. Within 100 days, he revived the Adapalm and had water flowing back into the Otamiri River. The same month, he commissioned roads. Today, he has repositioned the civil service, and you can see that the civil service is now much more vision oriented. This is a government that came in January, and by March, the full cabinet was in place. I don’t know what they mean by finding his feet, but if you asked me if there is any government that has found its feet from day one, it is this government.
Remember that this government came suddenly; no handover note, nobody was there to direct or tell you anything. Yet the government was able to find its feet immediately. And in less than one month, Covid-19 came. The government they say has not found its feet has been able to manage the Covid-19 outbreak in such a manner that Imo State has one of the fewest cases. I don’t know how else a government can find its feet if all these indices I have enumerated are not relevant.