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Published On: Mon, Jul 10th, 2017

FG should take over primary school teachers’ salary – Ogbonnaya

Chief Charles Ogbonnaya is the immediate-past Abia state commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs.  In this interview, just before the dissolution of the Abia State executive council and formal hand-over, Ogbonnaya spoke to our man, PETER OKORE in Umuahia, on his experiences as the chief executive officer  of the Ministry of Local Government for two years and made suggestions for the improvement of the Local Government administration. He wants the Federal Government to take-over the running of Primary Schools and payment of teachers’ salaries as well as their entitlements, in view of the inherent problems at the Local Government level. He also recommends the autonomy of the Local Governments system in the country with some moderations. EXCERPTS:

When you were being interviewed for this job on the floor of the Abia House of Assembly, you promised that you would cause ‘Tsunami’ if placed in-charge of the Ministry of Local Government? Two years after, how has it been?
It is true that when I was being screened on the floor of the Abia State House of Assembly, I promised to cause tsunami in the Ministry of Local Government if deployed to man that Ministry.
Yes!. Since I came in as Commissioner in-charge of the Ministry of Local government and Chieftaincy Affairs, I have tackled the problems here headlong. When I came on-board here, I met over- bloated wage-bills and over-bloated workforce.
People gained employments with certificates from non-existing schools and Institutions!. We inherited people who falsified their ages and remained in the Service longer than expected. We inherited people who earned salaries in the Local Government system, while working in two or three other places. I thank God that we have been able to do our best to tackle these problems and we have been able to record huge successes.
 Can we get a few of such successes?
From the numerous exercise we conducted, including bio-metric and physical identifications before salary payments, a total of about 1,350 people gained employments with fake certificates. They have all been shown the way out of Abia Civil Service.
We were able to get across the various institutions they claimed to have studied and obtained the certificates. In response, the various institutions denied ever seeing such persons or issued the fake certificates they paraded from their schools.
Again, a total of 340 persons falsified their ages and remained in the Service until we came-in.  In all, a total of about 1,600 are leaving the Local Government system for various offences.
But this is not all there-in. There are others who have not been discovered and are still hiding under cover of one disguise or the other. If the cleansing exercise we have put on-ground is allowed to continue, all of them would be discovered and shown the way out.
 Any specifics arising from the cleansing exercise?
Oh sure! We discovered, in one instance, one of such persons who earned a Salary of grade level(GL) 27 every month. He earned as a Grade Level 14 officer from the General Hospital, Amachara in Umuahia, and same month earned a salary of a Grade Level 13 officer from State Local Government system. From our investigations, this man earned a total salary grade level 27 officers, every month from two Government establishments, for many years.
Calculate what these amount for the number of years he worked. This was what Abia state lost to one man for that period.
Again, we had some medical officers who earned monthly salaries both from the Ministry and from the Local Government system here in Abia state. There are also police officers and Nurses who collected salaries in Ministries and Local Government Areas.
There is one Nurse who works at Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. and who was also being paid salaries in the Ministry of Local Government. There is a teacher we pay here in Abia, while he is also receiving salaries as a teacher also in Imo State.  There is also the case of another who leaves in Togo and earns salary as a teacher here in Abia state. That was the situation we met on-ground in the Local Government system here in Abia.
 Did you meet any other stinking area in the Local Government system?
Yes! This had to do with truancy. Civil servants posted outside Umuahia or Aba refused to go. Most of them posted, say to Ukwa, Arochukwu or Isuikwuato Local Government Areas, chose to remain in Umuahia and monitor activities there on phone. They are never physically present at their duty posts. They only visit their areas of deployment only on pay days. Heads of departments only visited their Local Government councils of deployment to collect their Impress and return to Umuahia.
In fact, truancy is much in the Local Government system and we are on it.
 What has been the effect of all these checks in the system?
As a result of the exercises we have continued to carry-out, the wage bill for the Local Government system had come down to N24.3 million monthly.
What about the Primary and Secondary schools where there are allegations of fake teachers, inflated salaries for school principals and officers at the ASUBEB and SEMB?
The local Government is in-charge of Abia state Universal Education Board, ASUBEB. We pay them. To be frank to you, the next areas we shall invade after the Local Government system is the Abia State Universal Basic Education Board, ASUBEB) and Non-Tutorials.
Yes! The N800 million we dish-out every month as Teachers salary and for the non-tutorials in the Schools system, is over bloated. In short, we are looking into the fate of personnel in all the 17 LGA’s in the state.
 Do you believe in the Autonomy of the Local Government system?
Yes, I support autonomy of the Local Government system. To begin with, I have served as an elected Counsellor in 1987; served as Transition Committee chairman for Umuahia-North in 2002; served as an appointed Supervisor for Works. So I understand the workings of the Local Government system in-and-out. One unfortunate thing for the Local Governments is that non-players (green horns in the system) merely stay at a position and plan for the Local Government. I believe in the Local Government autonomy.
From your experiences, can you reflect on the era of elected and appointed (Transition committee) Local Government chairmen?
In 2003 we had elected Local Government council, yet teachers were not paid. In fact, that was when the problem of Teachers started. The chairmen refused to pay.  For instance, Osisioma, Aba-North LGA’s, etc, owed for eleven(11) months salaries or more. Yet nothing happened to them, because they were autonomous as was advocated for the local government councils in 1996.
But, in a situation where resources of Local Governments are pulled together and for states to manage it becomes easy to pay Teachers salary, since both receive allocations from the Federal Government.
Yes,I agree with the autonomy of the Local Government, but with checks and balances.
In view of the inherent problems long associated with the Local Government system in Nigeria, what instruments ought to be built-in to act as checks and balances?
The Ministry of Local Government should continue to monitor. But this has be instrumentalized. If Federal Government can take-over payments of Teachers’ salaries and allowances, this will be fine. It will give chance for the Local Government Chairmen to generate their own  money and spend the way they like (without tampering with teachers salaries). If this is done, there will be no salary issues with teachers and they will concentrate to give out their best to our children.
 What’s your take on improving the status of the Local Government system, generally?
At present, Local Government councils get N1.7 billion as wage bill to pay teachers and Local Government staff. With this sum, it is difficult to pay salaries. The Federal Government should look into the revenues accruing to the Local Governments and know how to solve their problems and the problems affecting the poor masses at the rural communities. There should be policies directed toward solving the problems of the poor masses at the grassroots.
Again, governments should get the authentic Lists of the poor so that they can conveniently be accommodated in any government-sponsored amenities. People are suffering at the rural areas because they are not accommodated in annual budgets. Their numbers should be known if they are to be taken care-of. Take for instance, the proposed N5,000 meant for the vulnerable in society and the Free School meal. While some are benefitting from such gestures, others are not in the same country. Why?
I am calling on the Federal and State governments to find a way to specially, empower the various local government chairmen to empower the rural people. This is so because they leave and operate effectively at the grassroots. Impact of their actions will be greatly felt by the people and would define development at the rural communities.
As a stakeholder in Abia politics, what’s  Governor Okezie Ikpeazu’s chance, come 2019? Do you support his second tenure?
His victory at the Supreme Court, which affirmed his mandate, is not the yardstick that should be used to determine Ikpeazu’s second tenure. Thank God that the Supreme Court affirmed him as the rightful governor.
Really, what sells Governor Ikpeazu are activities to justify his 2nd tenure. Take a look from the Eastern Comfort Hotel to Ceramics and see the quality of concrete work going on there. Look at the quality; Grade ‘A’ contractor on site and what he is doing on the Road; with drainages on both sides.
In the next ten (10) years, nobody will touch it. Go to the Idima-Abam road; go to Umunneochi and other roads in the LGA’s and see their quality; all with concrete drainages on both sides. These evidences are there for people to see. Over the years Roads had been our major problem in Abia state. Probably, this why the opposition is not complaining.
Not only that. Go to Faulks Road, Ariaria, Ukwumango, sections of Ngwa Road, Port Harcourt Road and Osisioma flyover, all in Aba etc and see the magic Okezie Ikpeazu is doing. The Port Harcourt Road was a no-go-area before now.
If you see someone doing all these, why would you not ask him to go back in 2019 to serve his second tenure? I know people who have money will still come to throw their money about, when the time comes. But the difference is already clear.
After all, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu from Abia-North served for eight years; Chief Theodore Orji (now Senator representing Abia-central in the National Assembly) served out his second tenure. Would you say Okezie or Abia- South, should not serve-out  their own turn of 8years? This is why I support Okezie for the second tenure.
 What is the relationship of your party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) with other political parties?
Democracy allows for multiple political parties. It is the performance of a political party that sells the party. Our Party,  PDP, was voted out at the federal level by the All Progressives Congress in last 2015 general elections. It therefore, becomes imperative for PDP to go back to the drawing board. I do not quarrel with anybody over party palaver. It is a game we are  all playing. Whoever has a better programme for the electorate, will emerge at the end.
PDP is in factions; Markafi vs Sheriff. Which faction are you?
Our leaders are doing their best. We are law-abiding people. After the Supreme Court ruling, we will decide whether to remain with the party or not.
What’s your reaction on the trending quit order on the Igbo residing in the North  by the Arewa youths in the Northern Nigeria?
Between 1966 and 1967, I saw it all (the great pogrom). It is the same-way, knowing fully the way our people behave. They (the Arewa boys) can kill the men, but let the women and children come back. It is better for the women and children to return. We, men should remain and defend ourselves anywhere and anyhow.
 What’s your advice to your people?
We must be prayerful.  Pray for those in authority, more so, when our governor is doing well. Abians should commit Ikpeazu to the glory of God. Abians should bear in mind that resources are meagre . We must cut our ‘coat’ according to our material. We should manage what we have, with hope that one day things will normalize.

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