Industrial crisis looms in Abia over “further verification” exercise

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From Boniface Okoro, Umuahia 

Industrial crisis appears to be looming in Abia State following a recent directive to civil servants to upload their credentials online by Abia State government.

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The directive seems to be stirring a row between government and organised Labour.

This is because the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) have classified the directive as another form of verification exercise, but government has disagreed.

Last week, the Abia State Head of Service, Dr Queen Ngozi Obioma, had directed all civil servants in the state and local government systems to upload their credentials online, saying it was part of the ongoing verification exercise.

Recall that the Abia State Head of Service, Mrs Queen  Ngozi Obiom, last week, issued a directive informing civil and public servants in the state to upload their details on a government verification portal.

The directive read: “Following the ongoing staff verification exercise in the state, all civil and public servants in Ministries, Departments, Agencies (MDAs), and the seventeen (17) local government councils are requested to upload the following documents with effect from May 10, 2024, to May 31, 2024.

“They are, All academic certificates (FSLC to the highest qualification), as well as professional certificates (if any), first appointment and confirmation letters.”

The directive continued: “Other service documents inclusive are: conversion, transfer of service, advancements, approval for In-service training, and Gen 35 for each promotion earned and birth Certificate.”

But NLC and TUC rejected the directive, advancing the reason that government should have taken them into confidence with regard to the exercise.

In  respective memoes to Chairmen/ Secretaries (TUC), All Affiliates, All Abia workers in MDAs and the 17 Local Government Area Councils, dated 10th May 2024, both NLC and TUC, directed workers in the public and civil service not to comply with the government directive till grey areas were ironed out.

The TUC memo read: ” RE : VERIFICATION EXERCISE IN ABIA STATE:”

“The attention of the State Executive Council of the Trade Union Congress, Abia State Council, has been drawn to the public service announcement over the radio by the Head of Service Abia State, directing all workers of Abia State in all MDAs and all the seventeen (17) Local government council to go on-line and upload their documents for another verification exercise from the 10th to 31st of May 2024. 

“The State Executive Council (SEC) having carefully reviewed the consequences of the previous verification exercise which left most Abia workers with unpleasant tales of non-payment of their salaries for months untold to the delisting of their names from payrolls, etc. resolved as follows: 

“That it is not only insensitive but an act of negligence in the part of the government to take such a vital decision affecting the workers in Abia State without involving the Labour Centers. 

“That inspite of the fact that the TUC pointed out all the challenges witnessed in the first verification exercise, the government kept mute and now decided to impose another round of verification nay hardship on Abia workers. 

“That this intended verification exercise will not only inflict financial pains on Abia workers but will further impoverish them in the face of the present economic hardship in the country, transportion wise etc. 

“The State Executive Council (SEC) of TUC urges the State government to as a matter of urgency put to a stop this purported verification so as to avert industrial crisis in the State. 

“The State Executive Council of the Trade Union Congress, Abia Council, hereby directs all members of her affiliates and, indeed, all Abia workers in various MDAs and the 17 Local government council not to participate  in any online verification until there is a formal discussions between the State government and  Labour in this regard.”

The memo was endorsed by Comrade George Okogbue, State TUC Secretary.

NLC, in a similar memo, also warned workers in the state to distance themselves from the exercise until Labour was satisfied with the reasons for its desirability.

Addressing newsmen last Monday after the weekly Exco meeting, the Commissioner for Information and Culture, Prince Okey Kanu, denied that the directive to the civil servants to upload their credentials online constituted another verification exercise, as alleged by the leadership of TUC and NLC.

Prince Kanu explained that what was rather going on in the MDAs, as well as the 17 Local Government Areas was the upload of workers’ credentials online.

“Government is not embarking on any verification rather what is going on is that workers were asked to upload their credentials online. 

“And like they say, there is always no smoke without fire. The government had planned to make certain appointments from within the civil service and when the  files of some senior civil servants were brought forward, it was found out that there were no papers (necessary documents) in those files.

“There were  questions as regards the credentials with which  these  civil servants were working with. On what basis were they employed? On what basis have they been promoted over the years? Questions and more questions.

“It got to the point that the state government decided on a-show-your-credentials exercise but just to make it easy for workers so that nobody congregates together to do all that, the government directed that the  upload of the credentials be carried out online.

“So, that’s not a verification exercise but suffice it to say that asking workers not to embark on that exercise without interfacing and finding out what exactly is the issue, is not fair to the state government.

“Recall too that over the weekend, the NULGE Secretary issued a letter to that effect as well. So we are using this opportunity to disabuse the minds of our civil servants and members of the public who may have been misled by the false alarm and wrong narrative by the Abia State chapter of the NLC,” the Commissioner explained.

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