Poised to reclaim her place in the annals of local government administration in Nigeria, Ekiti State Local Government Service Commission in the last few days has been criss-crossing the 16 local governments across the state in a two-phased shuttle that tasked the grit and determination of members to save a state in the throe of maladministration and waste in the local government system.
In contention are human and material resources wasting away in the idle chairs across all the local governments in a conspiracy of waste and indolence that is nevertheless heavily compensated. There is also the need to reposition the local governments in their mandate to stimulate grassroots development while also correcting the past anomalies in the service to promote efficiency and boost morale of workers.
Even though touted to be Fountain of Knowledge and Land of Honour, the local governments across the state have in recent times been turned into breeding grounds for mediocrity and cesspool of base instincts, courtesy of a former administration that rewarded patronage above merit in a system that was practically turned to a bazaar for sharing money.
The salvation mission also drew the support of workers, as the trio of the State President of the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), Bunmi Ajimoko; Vice President, Oluseyi Babatunde Olatunde; and State Public Relations Officer, Femi Ashaolu; led workers in the Iabour movement flank of the initiative to post comprehensive results in the quixotic engagements with the congresses of workers to save local government administration from total collapse.
The union leaders all spoke on how they laboured to convince the governor to cede the leadership of the local government administration to local government practitioners, who now take charge in the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development as Commissioner and Permanent Secretary as well as Coordinating Directors in the 16 local governments while the Local Government Service Commission is also composed mainly of local government practitioners.
They admonished workers to prove their competence in the running of the local governments, warning that failure to make a mark will deny them opportunity in future in the running of the third tier of government.
The visits were punctuated for a three-day retreat at the Ikogosi Warm Spring Resort, an intellectual engagement hub ensconced in the maze of Ikogosi luscious hills where Governor Kayode Fayemi’s reform agenda is often incubated to achieve MDG’s protocol to grow the state’s development index, having earlier hosted similar initiatives, notably the May 9, 2013 Executive/Legislative Parley, for mutual cooperation between the two arms of government while the 2014 parley established protocol for the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) for 2014 and 2015 financial years that resulted in a leap in infrastructure development, including growth in agricultural production, education, health, urban and physical planning and tourism.
That initiative emphasised participatory governance as a major plank of Fayemi’s development agenda, which saw to the growth in the state’s development process before a comprador seized the state at gunpoint in the 2014 election heist to shatter the base of a burgeoning local economy.
At each of the local governments visited, the Chairman of the Commission, Samuel Abejide, leading his Commissioners, namely: Alhaja Maryam Ogunlade, Dele Oloje, Bisi Dada, Segun Onaade, Wole Olujobi and Princess Bunmi Agunbiade-Omosola and Permanent Secretary, Mayowa Oyedeji, frowned at the dwindling fortunes in the local government system, regretting that what was left of the grassroots administration was the carcass of the robust system of the past that gave fillip to expansion in rural development.
He explained the mission of the state government in revamping the local government system, warning that it would no longer be business as usual to mortgage rural development.
Specifically, Abejide announced that the Commission had zero tolerance for absenteeism among workers, even as he said that it is evil for absentee workers in faraway Europe and elsewhere to collect money for the job not done while the hard-working staff are denied their entitlements and allowances because of the paucity of funds from which absentee workers also take to feast their nests.
He said: "One thing that we will no longer tolerate is absenteeism among workers whereby those who do not come to work short-change the hard-working ones.
"One thing that baffles me is how the dutiful staff protect the absentee workers who are cheating them whenever checks are put in place to correct this bad practice.
"Surprisingly, it is you dutiful workers that quickly inform the absentee workers on phone about any impending checks on the fraudulent practice that denies you your entitlements in favour of those that are cheating you as if you are their slaves.
"But we will check this trend without the involvement of the commission in what is popularly referred to as Boko Haram.
"Your directors and heads of department will do the job and whoever that cannot direct as a director or behave like a head will give way to those who can do the job.
"The directors and heads of department are to prepare the staff lists of the personnel in their departments in their personal hand-writing to certify that the workers actually work in their departments.
"And if at any point during the scientific tracking we are putting in place to check absenteeism some purportedly certified workers are found to be absentee workers, then the directors or heads of department of such officers will be held vicariously liable for such act of dishonesty and fraud and he and the affected workers will pay for such dishonest conduct."
Assuring workers that all outstanding issues in contention, including directorisation, promotion, absorption, appointment of Heads of Local Government Administration and special pay for health workers, among others, are the priorities of the commission, Abejide charged workers to build a career that commands respect among other services, including restoring the the local government administration to its past glory.
Among other demands by workers surprisingly included a demand to allow local government workers with education certificates to transfer their services to the teaching service.
The scheme that was introduced by Fayemi in 2012 was roundly condemned by local government workers and it became a potent weapon against the governor in his 2014 re-election campaigns. But as it turned out, beneficiaries have discovered that the scheme is indeed the most potent policy that can guarantee career progression with full benefits to adult life. So, far, over 500 local government workers have applied for transfer of service to the teaching service. Their applications are being processed to realise their ambitions.
The intervening two-day Ikogosi retreat entitled: "Restoring Ekiti Values: From Promise To Reality" was declared open by Governor Kayode Fayemi who was represented by his Chief of Staff, Biodun Omoleye, with the Head of Service, Ayodeji Ajayi, presenting the keynote address at the opening of the brainstorming sessions.
Ajayi said that for local government system to rediscover itself, there must be reforms, including professionalism, training, adherence to the application of rules while attempts must be made to re-evaluate local government revenue devices, among other measures, to post better results in the local governments.
He promised to facilitate training programmes at state level that will accommodate local government staff.
For Prof Bolaji Aluko, who also spoke at the parley, the fortunes of the local governments will be enhanced if they can borrow from the state government’s model of governance which emphasises planning and monitoring strategies with measurable outcomes to plan overhaul of the system for better results.
Life after retirement plan and discipline in the service were also dissected while attendees also went through the rudiments of strategic approaches to governance, including budgetting procedures and financing, among others.
The retreat reinforced the import of the visits to the 16 local local governments, including addressing major issues arising from the exchange of ideas in the meetings with the local government chiefs and general staff, as resource persons treated attendees to some essential elements of local government administration system, including governance, discipline, how to build career progression and life after service.
Generally, the visits to the 16 local governments and Ikogosi Retreat are a two-in-one development strategy to reposition the local government system in Ekiti State for better efficiency needed for grassroots development to attain the goals of the Five-Point Development Agenda of the government.
Abejide and his team have led the way in the Local Government Service Commission, and so far the results are encouraging. In no distant time, a fresh lease of life is imminent in the local government administration, as it moves from indolence outposts to the centres of grassroots development.
• Olujobi is Commissioner in Ekiti State Local Government Service Commission, Ado-Ekiti