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Thursday, 11 August 2016

Civil Servants Are Not Farmers – Onwubiko Emmanuel

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It is strange to observe that some state governments are currently using their civil servants as guinea pigs for farming duties. Benue State governor, Mr. Samuel Ortom, called this unknown practice a ‘novelty’, which he said could combat the downturn of the nation’s economy.

He was reported to have told civil servants in the state to embrace farming to augment their meager salaries, which may not come at the end of each month. The governor declared every Friday of the week, a public holiday to enable state workers till the land for agricultural produce. The Governor thereafter proceeded on two-week annual vacation, as he said, to enable him tend crops in his farm.


The State Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Odeh Ageh, who made the announcement, said the work- free day was approved by the the state executive council meeting chaired by Governor Ortom. Ageh explained that the idea would help workers to produce enough food to feed their families in the face of the current economic reality which has made the regular payment of salaries a major challenge.

According to him, the work-free day would commence from Friday, June 10 and would last till the end of July, 2016.

The Commissioner also announced that the governor would proceed on a two-week vacation as part of his annual leave to work on his farm while the Deputy Governor, Benson Abounu, would act in his absence.

It is safe to argue that in Benue State, the government opted for persuasion and has set out a timeline when this practice of conversion of civil servants to farmers would end. But Imo State governor took his version of the modern day slavery practice to a ridiculous heights.

Governor Okorocha, who is also of the All Progressives Congress, with the Benue State Governor decided to declare two days work-free days to enable Imo State workers go to farms, to use his words, “to produce food to assist the State’s economy.” The governor said the practice will be for one year in the first instance.

The Imo State governor also looked at the rule book adopted by the then old Rivers State’s governor, Chief Clifford Okilo, to term his new agricultural rule “Back to land for Agriculture” even as he stated through his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Sam Onwuemeodo, that the policy of not working Thursdays and Fridays is meant to enable the state civil servants invest inagriculturalactivities.Butunlike his colleague, Mr. Okorocha did not lead by example by showing journalists his farm. But, he cancelled all annual leaves which are statutory entitlements of the state workers.
One is of the conviction that it is wrong for any state governor to use the parlous state of the economy as a reason to compel civil servants to start farming as part of their job specification. This pol- icy should be abrogated without further wasteoftime. Thepolicyisalsoabreach of the labour law since workers working for their states have valid employment letters specifying the duties expected of them. I am afraid that the conversion of workers to farmers is not part of these terms of contracts signed by them. Government cannot abridge, amend or alter the original terms of employment without proper, adequate and transparent agreement of all the parties to the employment contract. Let us consult the eighth edition of “Black’s Law Dictionary” edited by Bryan A. Garner to get some insights on the meaning of contract so as to situate it within the context of the illegality by the Imo and Benue state governors to convert their State Civil Servants to farm slaves.

“The term, contract, has been used to refer to three different things: (1) the series of operative acts by the par- ties resulting in new legal relations; (2) the physical document executed by the parties as the lasting evidence of their having performed the necessary opera- tive acts and also as an operative fact in itself; (3) the legal relations resulting from the operative acts, consisting of a right or rights in personam and their corresponding duties, accompanied by certain powers, privileges, and immunities. The sum of these legal relations is called ‘obligation.’

Apart from the fact that state governments are obliged to respect the employment contract it entered into with her workforce without unduly introducing some strange conditionality, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria of 1999 (as amended) has also made copious provisions making it a legally binding obligation that government is not allowed to turn its workers into agricultural “guinea pigs”.

Section 17(3)(a)(b) and (c) provide as follows: “ all citizens without discrimination on any group whatsoever, have the opportunity for securing ade- quate means of livelihood as well as ad- equate opportunity to secure suitable employment.” “The State shall ensure that conditions of work are just, and humane, and that there are adequate facilities for leisure and for social, reli- gious and cultural life” and “the health, safety and welfare of all person in em- ployment are safeguarded and not en- dangered or abused”.

Globally, the most salient aspects of employment laws state that workers must enjoy basic rights at work which must necessarily include getting a writ- ten statement of the main terms and conditions of employment within two months of starting work. Other basic rights of a worker are: The right to an itemized pay slip. This applies from the day the employee starts work; The right to be paid at least the national minimum wage. How did Governors Okorocha and Orthom arrive at the illegality of converting their workforce to farmers? If I may ask, particularly the Imo State governor, have you set up farm settlement centres and obtained good yielding lands for such an initiative?

Also, Benue state governor should tell Nigerians if his administration has succeeded in getting President Buhari to stop the rampaging armed Fulani herdsmen from destroying farmlands?

Currently, Benue, like most other farming communities across Nigeria is battling Fulani herdsmen.

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