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Why civil servants aren’t farmers – by Emma Onwubiko

Why civil servants aren’t farmers – by Emma Onwubiko

Image shows Governors Okorocha and Ortom

Some parts of Nigeria are currently being used as experimental grounds by their home governments for the unprecedented conversion of the Civil Servants in the employment of these States into what we might term “guinea pigs” for farming duties.

Benue State governor Mr. Samuel Ortom (who jumped out of his former party- Peoples Democratic Party to be made a candidate in 2015) called this unknown practice of indirectly turning Civil Servants into farmers a ‘novelty’ which he said could combat the downturn of the nation’s economy.

He was reported to have in a mild way told civil servants in the state to embrace farming to augment their meager salaries, which may not come at the end of month henceforth.

The governor arbitrarily 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 to as he said enable him tend crops in his farm.

State Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Odeh Ageh, who made the announcement, said the work free day was approved by the 16th session of the state executive council meeting chaired by Governor Samuel Ortom.

Ageh explained that the idea would aid as many workers as possible 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 as from Monday, June 13 to work on his farm while the Deputy Governor, Engr Benson Abounu, would act in his absence.

 It is safe to argue that in Benue State the state government opted for persuasion and has set out a time line for when this odd 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.

Mr. Rochas Okorocha who is of the same All Progressive Congress with the Benue State governor also decided to declare two days work free days to enable Imo State workers go to farms to in his words “produce food to assist the State’s economy.” 

In his own case there would be no time line for when this awkward practice will end.

The Imo State administrative under Mr. Okorocha also looked at the rule book adopted by the then old Rivers State’s governor Mr. Clifford Okilo to term his new agricultural rule as “Back to land for Agriculture” even as he stated through his press officer Mr. Samuel Onwuemeodo that the policy of not working Thursdays and Fridays is meant to enable the State Civil Servants invest in agricultural activities.

But unlike his colleague, Mr. Okorocha did not lead by example by showing journalists his new farm land nor did he state for how long he intends to work in his farm but he did something that is not only farcical but patently unlawful when by the stroke of his pen he nullified all annual leaves which are statutory entitlement of the State workers.

This writer is of the firm conviction that it is fool-hardy for State governors to use the parlous State of the economy as a reason to compel Civil Servants to start farming as part of their job specifications.

This policy is laughable, illogical, counter-productive and absolutely illegal and should be abrogated without further waste of time. 

The policy is also a breach of the labour or employment law since workers working for their States have valid employment letters specifying the duties expected of them and I am afraid that 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 eight 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 our piece  on the illegality by the Imo and Benue State governors to convert their State Civil Servants to farm slaves.

“The term contract has been used indifferently to refer to three different  things: 

(1) the series of operative acts by the parties resulting in new legal relations; 

(2) the physical document executed by the parties as the lasting evidence of their having performed the necessary operative 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 often called ‘obligation.’ 

“The present editor prefers to define contract in sense (3)….” William R. Anson, Principles of the Law of Contract 13 n.2 (Arthur L. Corbin ed., 3d Am.ed. 1919).

“A contract is a promise, or a set of promises, for breach of which the law gives a remedy, or the performance of which the law in some way recognizes as a duty. 

“This definition may not be entirely satisfactory since it requires a subsequent definition of the circumstances under which the law does in fact attach legal obligation to promises. 

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