Kogi: Okun demands equal rights
Kogi State in Central Nigeria prides itself as the confluence state. That description is apt. The state has a unique advantage of being host to Nigeria’s major Rivers Niger and Benue. Both rivers converge in Sintaku, a point on the outskirts of Lokoja, the state capital. Beyond this endowment in physical geography, Kogi is a pot pourri of ethnic groups, mainly Igala, Ebiras and Yoruba, among others. But in recent times, mild ethnic agitations have threatened the survival of the Kogi flower. Two of the groups, Ebiras of Central Senatorial District and the Okun Yorubas of Western Senatorial District have been crying of marginalization in the civil service, appointment of political office holders and location of developmental projects.
In a recent petition sent to Ibrahim Idris, Kogi State Governor, by Okun Unity Group, under the auspices of Okun Consultative Forum, they lamented the woes of the West and Eastern Senatorial Districts. Copies of the petition were sent to President Obasanjo and the National Assembly, and Kogi State House of Assembly, among others. Entitled; “Okun People As Victims of Ethnic Marginalization, Imperative for Redress,” and signed by one Engr. J. F. Ayo and Faleke Victor, the petition is a catalogue of the perceived injustices against the people. “The metamorphosis of the old Kabba Province to the new Kogi State in 1991,” says the group, “was supposed to be a precursor for joy and rapid development for its constituent people. However, for the Okun people, the effect has only been nightmarish, disconcerting, disgusting, discouraging or even traumatizing and crippling to say the least.
“Both the Ebiras and Yoruba (Okun) have come a long way. Before the creation of the states in 1976, they, along with their Igalla brothers, were part of the old Kabba Province. When states were created, they became part of Kwara State, while the Igallas were taken to the old Benue State. By 1991, when Kogi came to being, the two ethnic groups from Kwara made up well over 50 percent of the population and the workforce. “But since 1991, an unyielding trend of oppression, suppression and repression has run through the whole gamut of our people’s existence and functioning in the state.”
The petitioners backup their claims with statistics. At the inception of the state in 1991, the group claims that its 5,000 indigenes brought from Kwara State Civil Service formed about 31.25 percent of Kogi civil servants. “The Ebiras were about 22 percent, while the Igallas were 47 percent. But the numerical strength of the Eastern Senatorial District (lgalla) has steadily risen from 8,000 in 1991 to over 18,000 or 64 percent in 2003. This is alarming as we are really at the verge of extinction in the service.”
The petitioners say this was possible through a series of retrenchments, gratuitous termination of appointments, questionable dismissals, curious deployments and a skewed recruitment policy pursued by former Governor of the state, Alh. Abubakar Audu. The governor first ruled the state in the aborted Third Republic and he came back for a second term in 1999-2003.
In 1993, the Audu administration, recalled the Okun Unity Group, “carried out a dubious and meaningless restructuring, which led to the decimation of the Okun workforce in the civil service by over 30 percent. During his second term, he employed surreptitious and diabolic tactics of removing promising Okun civil servants through premature retirements, heartless dismissals and termination of appointments …” The Okun petition portrays Kogi State Civil Service as a stinking can of worms; alleging that many civil servants are in the habit of juggling or doctoring their ages, dates of first appointment and other official records. Faleke and his colleague assert that many septuagenarians masquerade as people less than 60 years. “Most of the affected people have been unethically aided by the powers that be to ignore or falsify their dates of birth so that they can stay in service.”
The group also criticized Governor Idris over the appointment of his cabinet members and other principal officials of the state. For instance, eight out of the state’s 16 commissioners are from the governor’s Eastern Senatorial District. Both Central and Western Districts have four commissioners each. There are four Special Advisers from the West, three from the East and one from the Central. In addition, the Head of Service, Permanent Secretary, Government House, Attorney General, Chief Judge and Director of Public Prosecution are all from the governor’s zone. But it is even in the evolution of Permanent Secretaries that the gap looks most apparent. Out of the state’s Permanent Secretaries, 19 are from the East, four from the Central and five from the West. The group gives some examples of senior civil servants from the Central and West, who are made to serve under their junior colleagues from the East as subordinates. “Okun people are getting demoralized, disenchanted and discouraged over the spate of brazen acts of marginalization and discrimination against them.”
Aside appointment, the petitioners criticized the establishment and location of government projects in the state. For instance, in the educational sector, they argue that the state’s only University, College of Education, Health Technology, and Model School are all located in the East. Six of the most senior positions in the Kogi State University, including the Vice-Chancellor and Registrar, are also said to be from the Eastern zone. Out of the civil service staff strength of about 26,000, about 18,000 are said to be Igallas, 5,000 Yorubas and 3,000 Ebiras. The language of business in government circles is also said to be Igalla. But even more striking is the allegation that retired civil servants from the West and Central are denied access to their gratuities. “If these issues are not addressed and put to rest amicably, Okun people may be forced to commence agitation.”
A top officer of the state, however, defended the current administration. “The administration inherited many problems and we are trying to solve them. We can’t do all in a single day, but I know the present governor carries all indigenes of the state along equally,” he asserted. Do the petitioners agree?
Culled from TheNEWS,
By Our VISION magazine, Vol.5 No.4, 2004