Expect More Sweeping Changes At Abia Poly - JOK


* Kalu




By Tony Icheku

Abia State Commissioner for Information, Chief John Okiyi Kalu is constantly under fire, mostly for two reasons: First, the perceived underperformance of Abia State Governor Okezie Ikpeazu and second, for the passionate, no-holds barred defence he often presents to counter such negative perceptions and  criticism of the governor.

Kalu is not just eloquent, he is persuasive and believes Governor Ikpeazu is the best thing to happen to Abia in recent times. He belongs to Governor Ikpeazu kitchen cabinet and recently was among the only two commissioners  appointed and sworn in immediately the governor began his second term

Non-payment of salaries, especially of institutions like Abia Polytechnic, ABSUTH, Secondary School teachers, HMB, Pensioners and a host of others are some issues that continue to dog the Ikpeazu administration

Kalu spoke to theledgerng.com team in his office on these and other issues. Though he spoke days before the sack of about 258 staff at Abia Poly, he captured the unfolding scenario aptly and  we have captioned this first part of his interview to reflect the unfolding development there which he predicted.  Excerpts

 Q: Its almost three months since Governor Okezie Ikpeazu was sworn, except for four commissioners, he is yet to constitute the State Executive Council, SEC. What is responsible for the delay?

There are two ways to look at it. I want to give you a little bit of insight how the governor  thinks. He is bothered about paying pensions. He wants to pay them as much as he can. He also wants to clear outstanding teacher’s salaries as much as he can. He believes that the money he is saving in the past two-three months will help in supporting payment of teachers’ salaries and pensioner’s arrears, that is number one.

Number two, he is working with an already evolved script in terms of what needs to be done in the second term of this administration. So just like in the first term where the cabinet came to be in October, I also expect this cabinet to be in October.

The difference in this time is that he has in place four Exco members. Around this time in 2015, there was only one Exco member – The Attorney-General; But now, we have the Attorney-General and the Commissioner for Information, the Secretary to the State government and the Deputy Chief of Staff already in place. What is important here is that the governor believes that this interluding period will enable him to save money from salaries, remuneration and emoluments of  political appointees and that he can then put that money to clear some of the pension arrears. He is passionate about paying pensioners and clearing the secondary school teachers’ salaries. He is okay with the MDAs, you are here in my office, you can go around the ministries, and confirm that no staff’s being owed in the ministries.

Our challenge is with pensioners, secondary schools and state parastatals that are supposed to operationally fund themselves and they are not funding themselves.

What the government wants to do, because Abians are working in those parastatals, we want to assist them to ensure that every month Abians get paid till we are able to resolve the issues that make it difficult for revenue generating parastatals to pay workers. we want to find out where the money is going to.


Q: The question should be whether these parastatals are generating revenue. Are they making enough to be self–sustaining?

A: That is exactly, the challenge we have, like Abia State Polytechnic (Abia Poly),  for instance – Three, Four, five, six years ago, Abia Poly had 25,000 students each student paying about N55,000/student, that will be enough to cover their wage bill, but even then, when this administration came on board, we inherited outstanding from Abia Poly. Today Abia Poly has about 10,000 students and still carries the same wage bill they were carrying.

So we are saying to the management, increase your student population, that is one way you can increase revenue because the students are the oil you can use to run the polytechnic, so they are responding to that by evolving new courses like mass communication, like fashion designing, shoe making and all that.

Number two, look at why your lectures are going to private polytechnics to lecture for N30,000 allowance, whereas they are taking N250,000/month from you or more; Because that they are going to those places to give the same quality of lecture means that the students are now migrating to those private polytechnics, and when they migrate there, the overhead of those private polytechnics remain low because they are not paying the same rate  that the government institution is paying and they have brought down their schools fees below Abia Poly, and if you are a father you would send your child to the cheaper private poly with consistence in the academic calendar, than Abia poly.

Q: These are worrisome issues, the drop in the students population at Abia poly, does it mean that even the revenue the poly is generating now cannot meet them halfway? 

A:  Lets look at the facts, the intention of the framers of our law was never that state government would pay the salaries of parastatals’s workers, that is why by definition and by law, parastatals are meant to generate revenue and use the revenue they generate to pay their workers. They are not expected to transfer one kobo of their revenue to state government…..

Q: So under this administration, no parastatal have been transferring revenue to the government.

A: Not even one kobo, rather, they spend whatever they make, come to Government House  at the end of every month, and ask for subvention and salary. For most of them, their subvention are not enough to pay off their wage bill. You are looking at N100m–N170m monthly wage bill at Abia Poly. What we pay them as subvention is about N80m monthly. The subvention was meant to support their operation not necessarily for paying salaries  because they need to buy some other consummables.

Now of you go to ACETA, Abia State college of Education, Arochukwu. ACETA has  500 students and 378 workers, and they receive monthly subvention of N30m, how do you sustain that? The question is how do you expect a responsible state government  to be sending N30m/month to an institution where you have only 500 students and 378 workers, it’s a leaking pocket.

Q:  And what is Governor Ikpeazu doing about it? 

A: That is why I am saying, Government has told them,  ‘will not give you another kobo until you have started a process of re-engineering and we can see it happening. We are intervening at Abia Poly because we have seen changes, that is even why we decided to re-appoint the Rector, because one, he cleaned up in such a manner that he had about N800m coming in from TETFUND. Before  we came on board TETFUND refused to look their way for reasons a lot of people know, but today TETFUND has given Abia Poly N800m, and they are going to additional N400m from TETFUND again.

Number two, we have seen, that they have embarked on a drive to increase students population.

Number three, we are aware that they want to change the staff structure there. A  situation where they have 80 security staff in that enclosed institution is unimaginable. A situation where you have staff recorded as canteen staff  whereas the institution does not have any canteen, a situation where a senior lecturer is getting more as monthly salary than a professor of ABSU is abnormal,  they use all kinds of things to allocate salaries to themselves via all kinds of remuneration and at the end of the day they hurt genuine workers. If you go to that institution and look at their medical department, you begin to ask yourself, what is  the operational instruction for them. And I know that the operational instruction should be if a student is ill, stabilize and mobilize to a nearby clinic, but when you begin to have a Chief Medical Director, with full complement of staff like three to four nurses, then you know that something is structurally wrong. I was shocked when I found out that a secretary there earns as high as N200,000. These are some of the issues they can change. I have sat here with some of the union leaders, they are also not happy. We have looked at even the certificates submitted by some of the workers; I won’t want to comment on that for obvious reasons. But we cannot make changes there directly. It is a state parastatals, it is semi-autonomous. We have reviewed the report they sent to us from their own investigative panel, on how they can make themselves, operate better, and we gave approved.  Exco approved in April that they go ahead and implement.

I told you that we pay Abia Poly  N80m/month subvention, even though we may not be up to date currently, I can assure you that we have paid up to 38 months of subvention of N80m/month. When we came on board, that institution came to the governor and said, we are owing commercial bank a loan of N2billion, and they are charging so much millions monthly as interest, can you help us pay it and after that we can run ourselves from what we make from tuition fees. Gov. Ikpeazu paid that debt, and they still came back and asked government to assist them on paying salaries, and we continued to pay them the N80m/month. You can verify all these.

Now assuming we had converted that N2b to subvention, divide it by N80m, add it to the 38 months we have paid them, you will see that they are owing us 8–9 months of subvention already paid ahead.

Let me tell you about ABSUTH, when this government came on board in 2015 – you see there are certain things we don’t like to talk about because we believe this government was elected to solve problems and not to pass buck – when we came on board, they presented before the governor, 11 months arrears. That meeting was held precisely in August 2015, and they told the governor we have been on strike because we are owing workers 11 months, pay us these money and we can be able to run ourselves afterall we charge patients.  The governor looked at me and I remember nodding yes, that it makes sense to me to for us to help pay off this arrears. He asked, go and check what their wage bill is. It is more than N149 million monthly. Consider a situation where in one day we paid off the 11 months, that’s what we did. A medical doctor who has receiving N500,000/month would have received N5.5m in one day. You know what they did with it? Those of them that was building private clinic used it to complete private clinics, those that that didn’t have private clinics used it to build bungalows as new private clinics. Then the  patient diversion started from ABSUTH. The percentage of patients started dropping, even the revenue was affected. First, it rose to about N30m/month, then it started dropping, yet every month, they expect governor to drop of N149m to pay off salaries. The staff there earn the highest salaries in the South-East for equivalent institution, just like Abia Poly, indeed Abia state workers in general earn higher than any other South-East state and it is only Gov. Ikpeazu, even during recession who continued to pay 100% till date. Abia has only 4 active oil wells, Imo has 12, Imo dropped workers’ salaries to 12%, Abia did not.

In November, 2016, this administration only made N19m as derivation revenue, yet, we say we are oil producing state,  no problem, to God be the glory, but let it be known that we pay the highest wage bill in the South-East geo-political zone and this government is not owing the workers paid directly by this government even one month, we are not owing them.

I know of a neighboring state where pensioners are being owed 80 months. In another neighboring state a level 8 officer earns N28,000–N30,000/month while a worker on the same level earns N40,000 in Abia and nobody is recognizing the sacrifice Gov. Ikpeazu is making, yet there is no state in the SE without outstanding parastatals salary arrrears,  you can quote me on this. State government doesn’t pay parastatals directly. Parastatals make revenue and use it to run their operations, even at the nation level, there are parastatals with outstanding.

In this state, MOUA, Umudike has cut workers salary by 70%. Two years ago MOUA, a federal parastatals  owed workers for months and then recovered from there. Why is it that in the case of Abia state people are shouting that we are supposed to pay parastatals? Parastatals are given the statutory powers to make revenue, our duty is to remove those that are not performing and we are doing that already and will continue to do that. Already, there are insinuations that certain jobs are merely for political consideration, we would not accept that mindset.



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