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Fr Alia And His First Two Weeks, By Sesugh Akume

Fr Alia And His First Two Weeks, By Sesugh Akume
June 10, 2023

In his first two weeks in office as the Benue governor, Reverend Father Hyacinth Alia, as far as media reports go, has done four major things: He made a few appointments, mainly of his personal aides namely the chief of staff, principal private secretary, and chief press secretary; as well as the secretary to the state government and head of the civil service. Second, he has ordered the dissolution of boards of all extraministerial departments, and agencies. Third, and most recently nullified all recent appointments into the state civil service made by the outgone administration from May 2022 to date.

He ordered retired officers who are yet to vacate their offices or duty posts either due of an ‘extension’ or contract appointments to proceed on retirement, and those due for retirement but are yet to tender their notices of retirement to do so and proceed on retirement.

He further stated that all promotions to the rank of permanent secretary from January 2023 to date are invalidated and the officers are to revert to their previous designations. In like manner, he nullified all postings and transfers made in the state civil service from October 2022 to date and ordered the affected staff to revert to their former stations or offices.

Lastly, he has been trading words with the opposition PDP and his predecessor, accusing them of looting the state whereby not even a single official vehicle was left for him as all were taken away, also that he not inherited an empty treasury but inherited 187.56 billion naira in debts.

First, it’s critical to note that none of the things he’s done in these first two weeks has any direct useful, beneficial effect on the good people of Benue who invested so much hope in him. The very first moves are usually quite significant and symbolic.

Apart from the appointments he made, which are rather coming in too slowly, I think the cart was put before the horse with the board dissolutions and reorganising in the civil service. With regard to the board dissolutions, it’d have been much better to announce replacements to the boards—after all, he had three months (March to May) to know who fits where best—rather than sacking the existing board members, leaving boards vacant and creating vacuums. Nobody knows how long they would remain so but the business of government must continue round the clock.

Someone prayed on social media that he hopes with the the changes in the civil service, the sons and daughters of ‘nobodies’ who know no one would be employed based on merit in a fair and transparent process. My response was that we pray too much on basic, pedestrian issues. This prayer would’ve been needless had Alia simply handled it better, and answered the questions that would naturally be on people’s minds.

It’s not just about sacking people. Was there a staff audit with the public made aware of its outcome: the staff strength of the state, the number of ghost workers found, how the ghost workers got on the roll in the first place, how to prevent the reoccurrence? Making the public aware of the wage bill with ghost workers and without and whether Benue has a sufficient work force (it is clearly inadequate) would’ve been helpful.

Furthermore, the amount owed in remunerations and pensions, and how to make up for these. There are workers who haven’t been promoted some for five years or more. This audit ought to cover these and offer assurances. For those to proceed on retirement what is their fate? When are they getting their severance packages. Even those whose appointments have been terminated were duly employed (irrespective of whether some have issues with the process) and the state government owes them. Would there be a new and merit-based recruitment in a fair and transparent process to make up for the shortfall in the staff requirement? In my view, this is how to carry people along and would be more meaningful, leaving no one in doubt or hoping and praying.

There isn’t one single mention on these, only a statement that reads like a military order with repeated uses of ‘forthwith’, ‘with immediate effect’, etc. It’s all an appearance. All puff with no substance.

In my opinion, these are more urgent and important than sacking people to give the impression that one is working.

The action of sacking people itself was a knee-jerk one, not well thought out, with unintended consequences to manage afterwards. For instance, school is presently in session. Among those sacked are teachers, what becomes of the schoolchildren they teach, their exams in the next few weeks, etc?

How would the adjustments be made for the schoolchildren to not miss out on anything? I believe that were this considered and the teachers replaced during the holidays for instance, nobody would have felt any inconvenience nor would it have been late too late a change to make the changes.

From the above, I also fear that Alia may be overreaching and wanting to run everything by himself as has been done since 1999, instead of letting the system run like a proper bureaucracy. What, for instance, explains the recent decree issued from Government House about the reorganisation in the state civil service, when there’s a substantive head of the civil service to handle that, whilst the governor handles bigger issues he alone can?

I also fear that Alia is setting himself up to appear as the victim who inherited a rotten system, in the manner Buhari blamed the ’16 wasted years of PDP’ for 8 years, and in the end left Nigeria in a worse shape. Alia’s excuses and blame games have started too early in the day. If the outgone regime took away all official vehicles, how many were they and what does it take to have them returned if he’s stranded and can’t go about with his duties? Isn’t better to retrieve the vehicles rather than having the accusation hanging on the neck of the outgone regime in order to have something to hold on to, to keep blackmailing them?

The outgone governor has replied to Alia that taking along all vehicles is the (wasteful) tradition that has been in place since 1999, as all his predecessors did same; that the last state executive council approved their doing so, and so it’s perfectly legal and lawful, and that the usual tradition is for the outgoing regime to procure vehicles for the incoming one, but Alia had declined gesture, preferring to procure vehicles suiting his taste upon his inauguration.

Alia asked PDP to seek forgiveness from the people, I wonder what forgiveness he’s talking about after the people issued their ‘non-forgiveness’ verdict at the polls by voting PDP out, and voting him instead! It’s beginning to appear that Alia’s strategy is to keep taunting PDP and the outgone regime and eliciting responses from them to keep Benue people busy with the needless, fruitless exchanges as an alibi for nonperformance.

Everybody knew Benue was heavily indebted, it’s why he was voted to sort out  and hopefully not incur more bad debt due to greed and avarice. Everybody knew there was a rot in the system, it’s why the people invested their hopes in him to fix it.

In his first two weeks, Father Alia hasn’t shown that everyday people in Benue are the centrepiece of his policy by connecting with them by his speech and actions. The words and actions have no direct bearing on the people. He hasn’t  yet demonstrated capacity to inspire confidence that he knows what he’s doing, and carried the people along to arouse the hope that he has his priorities right, and ready to deliver on his mandate. Hopefully, he’ll get his act together as he’s just two weeks in office.


Sesugh Akume, a public policy analyst, writes from Abuja.