…says almost 95 percent of all the statutory chairmen of boards and parastatals are from the governor’s zone
A former Labour leader in Taraba State, Chief Dr. Jonah Kataps, could best be described as a no-nonsense activist in his active days. He was the state chairman of one of the largest labour groups, the Nigeria Union of Teachers, NUT, he later became chairman of the state chapter of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, before retirement. Because of his exploits and achievements in the labour cycle, he was appointed as the chairman of the state local government service commission from 2016-2020.
In this interview with CHUWANG DUNGS, Kataps, who is quite passionate about civil servants making the best out of their lives after retirement speaks on the challenges he was confronted with after retiring from service as a teacher, which all retirees are facing in the state.
Fondly called JJ in his active days as a fighter of workers welfare, he sheds more light on the reason why he was relieved of his appointment, the current sad political situation in the state and the need for Tarabians to play politics devoid of sentiments come 2023. Excerpts…
AFTER RETIREMENT, CIVIL SERVANTS FIND THEMSELVES IN A WORLD THEY NEVER PREPARE FOR. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE LIFE AFTER RETIREMENT?
The life of a civil servant is serving and committing almost every energetic gift towards the building of a state, and in the case of my profession as a teacher we are simply committed to our call and the call is for us to serve our community by building products that will move out to the larger community, to the state, to the national and even the world at large.
The challenges the civil servants had over the years is that of not having that enumeration that suit the job description, from my background as a teacher we were train in such a manner that you devoted almost all your time to train your pupils and students for future development. The teacher had no time to put any other thing by the side, we just work tirelessly until retirement, at the point of retirement you discover it is only the little gratuity and the little monthly pension that you are left with.
But that is not even the pains I have for the civil servants now, before some of us retire the situation was becoming dicey, complicated and so poor. And why did I say so, in other clime you have a situation that you have serve for 35 years or you have clock the age of 60 you have your retirement package waiting for you and then you settle down into a life of a retired person and you rest because that is all what the retirement is all about. Some of us our experiences have not been too good, I will give you an example of myself, I served for 35 years, retired on the 1st of July 2015, I did not add one day or falsify any document in my record of service.
I expected that on retirement I will get my gratuity and be enrol in my monthly pension but do you know what I stayed for 25 months without being enrol in the monthly pension, that is two years and a month before I was captured and enrol in the monthly pension. One the 25 months pension arrears was not paid to me, two my gratuity had not been paid to me. So how do you expect me to survive as a retired civil servant?
But that is not even it, the situation now is far being worst than during our time, civil servants in the local government and primary school teachers who retired since 2018, have not been paid for exactly 3 years now, they have not been enrol into pension and their salaries have been stopped, the situation is very pathetic, how can you serve your community, your state, your motherland diligently for 35 years and all the reward you get, is to stopped your salary without enrolling you for pension, is that not a deliberate move of sending you straight to your grave, you discover must of this people that retire are persons that have spent their youthful energy in serving so at the point of retirement must of them are being stroke with one ailment or the other.
Look at the scenario and the case of Taraba is so pathetic that only God can save the situation, formerly in Taraba is only the local government and primary school teachers that were having problems with the issues of arrears but today both state and local government retirees are having issues, the only advantage the state civil servants have is that they don’t stop their salary until when they are enrol for pension, but those for local government and primary school teachers the moment they retire the stop their monthly salary without being enrol for pension.
For over 12 years now those that retire in the state civil service have not receive their gratuity, perhaps only some selected people, in the local governments the case is zero and that is where the largest population of our people are. Some of us are thinking that the better way for civil servants is to find ways of saving for the rainy day the very first day you are employed because of the way things are going now, especially in Taraba the arrears of our gratuity and pension are running into several billions of Naira, sometimes last year it was running into N22 to N23 billion Naira, I wouldn’t know the exact amount now, but I am very sure it is running into astronomical level.
So when are we going to solve the problem, the danger in this is that, I have served as the chairman of local government service commission, I have seen the desperate attempt being made by civil servants to falsify their documents so that they will stay longer in service, because on point of exit they don’t get their entitlements so why won’t the falsify their document and remain in service which I feel is not good for us because the elderly ones are expected to live for the younger ones to take over.
SIR LOOKING AT THE PATHETIC SCENARIO, FROM YOUR EXPERIENCE WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE CAUSES AND THE WAY OUT?
I think we are not able to manage our resources in such a manner to encourage the civil servants to know that the sacrifices you are rendering today will pay you tomorrow. Government suppose to make adequate provision for the settlement of entitlements of civil servants immediately upon retirement, this will motivate those who are in service to know that there services are not going to be in vain, all you need is to set out funds that is meant to settle the arrears of pension and gratuity, there is no two ways about it.
SIR, YOU TALKED ABOUT YOUR PENSION ENTITLEMENT NOT BEING PAID FOR OVER TWO YEARS, SO WHAT ARE YOU INTO NOW OR HOW WERE YOU ABLE TO MANAGE FAMILY CHALLENGES?
Like I told you we are in a very huge dilemma, honestly speaking if you look at the way things are set up now, even those that are serving at local government and primary school levels they have gone for four months, six months without salaries talk less of those who have retired. So survival is just by the grace of God and I want to tell you is not easy at all.
SIR YOU BELONG TO A DYNASTY OF SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE IN THE STATE, YOU HAVE BROTHERS THAT HAVE MAKE GREATER IMPACT IN VARIOUS FIELDS, WHAT WILL YOU SAY WAS THE KEY TO YOUR SUCCESS?
Our Mum, she instill in us while we were growing up, the fear of God hard work, being dedicated, taking responsibility seriously when given opportunity to lead people. With that kind of mindset we grew up me and a few of my brothers that have held positions here and there. But above all we must give thanks to God for his grace and for given us opportunity to serve in various capacities. You can imagine a situation whereby if I wasn’t train by a good mother properly, I wouldn’t have come to lead one of the largest union of teachers as state chairman and the Nigeria labour congress in Taraba state as chairman. So the training, the upbringing and character moulding of a child by parents help in playing a prominent role in what he will eventually deploy in serving the society. Honestly I must give the credit to my late mother she instill the character of honesty, sincerity and the fear of God in us. And in every position that I have held I always put that in my mind as a reminder with the feeling that at the day of judgement I will account for it, that has always propel us as a family to serve credibly in every position we found ourselves.
YOU ARE A VERY ACTIVE VOICE IN LABOUR ACTIVISM, HOW WILL YOU RATE THE ACTIVITIES OF LABOUR IN THE STATE, COMPARE TO WHAT WAS OBTAINED IN THE PAST?
Honestly I will say the labour union as it is obtained now is a disgrace to the common man, during our time you cannot think of doing what is happening now. The labour union has been completely hijacked by government and it’s agents to subdue the voices of workers through the leaders that are supposed to represent the interest of the workers and the common man in the society. In a modern society this is not a good sign at all, unfortunately in Taraba State I must tell you as it is today the labour leadership lacks the capacity in which to confront issues that affects the welfare of workers I think for a reason better known to them.
But I think that it will not be far fetch to say that government undue interference in the selection process of labour leaders in the state has brought the situation to this comatose level. During our time workers had free hands in electing their leaders, I can tell you, yours sincerely when it was time to elect the NLC Chairman in the state, a caucus made up of so many union and industrial leaders in the state, had there meetings and then send there delegation led by Comrade Papa Danjuma Kunini, who came with a team to my house here, and they told me that they have sat in their meeting and they have resolved that they have nominated me unopposed for the position of state chairman and I shouldn’t say know because they have make their consultation as to why I am fit for the position. Initially I was hesitant but my elder brother who was then recovering from is Ill health in my house after a major surgery, though he is now late whispered to me and say when people have come to your house and say they have unanimously nominated you to lead them don’t reject it so I listened to the advice of my elder brother and I accepted the called to serve and we led the Nigeria labour congress in the state from 2007 to 2012 with the fear of God in us.
We were not afraid of anyone in government circle we went out boldly to negotiate fairly, we had it in the back of our mind that in collective bargaining you cannot say you want to go and take it all, when you go you go with options and our options worked out very well for us.
Usually before we go out to negotiate entitlements of workers with government we always have in our kitty option A, B and C if A didn’t work we fall back on B hardly do we go to C so at our time labour in Taraba State put government to there toes, welfare of workers were not being toy with at all in anyway. Promotions were coming, salaries were paid on time and any other consequential adjustment in national issues being it the 12 percent, 10 percent or 15 percent consolidation or the new national minimum wage that came in 2011 Taraba negotiated must of this successfully.
In fact Taraba became one of the role models, the national executive council of NLC adopted in negotiating agreement between labour congress and government. Our pattern served as a template for other states to study, so many states were coming to Taraba to come and get our template to see how they can implement it in there various states. And I can tell you that during our time we negotiated one of the best and most enticing monthly payments or emoluments to civil servants ever in the history of NLC in the state, and why was it possible? Because we worked as a team, no betrayers among us, people were committed, workers were committed and once we discover there is going to be breakdown in our negotiation, we give notices and once we give notices it was total strike and it was totally complied to by all workers.But today the story is different, you have a situation that even workers among themselves are not united but divided in the NLC.
Unfortunately when you have experience leaders not being involved in activities definitely you have this kind of situation they are facing . I don’t want to blame anyone of them because he who pays a piper dictates the tune, otherwise are you telling me that the Nigerian union of teachers or the local government union don’t have officials, but look at what is happening your members will stay for six months without salaries and you are not saying anything.
IN SUMMARY ARE YOU SAYING THAT THE LEADERSHIP OF LABOUR IN THE STATE HAVE BETRAYED THE INTEREST OF WORKERS?
Of course as I told you government have interfered, they have hijacked the machinery of electing the leadership of all the labour unions in the state, and as long as they are doing that things won’t change, of course those that are doing that, they are doing it with the thinking that they want to have the temperature in there control, that’s not a good philosophy, the best thing is to allow workers to elect leaders of their choice and find a way of working with them that is what makes it a democratic society. When you want to hijack leadership of various union so that they will not protest poor policies of government that is dictatorship, that’s no longer democracy unfortunately that is what is obtained here in Taraba.
SIR, YOUR LIFE HISTORY CAN’T BE COMPLETE WITHOUT MENTIONING THE POSITION YOU HELD AFTER RETIREMENT, WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED BECAUSE THERE ARE A LOT OF CONTROVERSIAL STORIES AFTER YOUR EXIT?
I am the kind of person that always want to give glory to God for everything and try to do my best when given opportunity to serve, I was appointed as chairman local government service commission in April 2016 to April of 2020.
And no doubt I can tell you that we did our best, I want you as a Journalist to go round all the local government areas and you can also go to the commission to asked questions, and no doubt you will hear that the 7th local government commission was the best service commission ever put in place since the creation of this state in 1991.
We gave our modest contribution with my team, I had a very wonderful and supportive management staff and the members were dedicated. We believed that the purpose of bringing us on board is to carry out major reforms in that place which we did. From 2016 the annual report which is the cardinal document produce by the commission and distributed amongst the 36 states and the FCT, including other organs of government within the state that hitherto lied in comatose, were produced for three successive years, 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Our annual report came out on time, you can go to the commission archives and retrieve this documents, if I can recalled rightly the only time the commission had ever produced such a document was in 2008 just once but you can see during our tenure for four years we successfully produced three editions. Of course that of 2020 wouldn’t have been ready because we left in April.
For our tenure not being renewed that’s the mandate of the executive governor and for whatever reason that he refused to renew it that’s best known to him. For me my assessment is purely political, I belong to a political camp and our leader is Rt. Hon. Abel Peter Diah, the former speaker and there is no how I will be retain, simply because he had a disagreement with the governor on reasons not make known to some of us, even at this time that I am speaking with you, so there is no how we can abandoned our brother for selfish gains me, JJ, I wouldn’t do that.
WITH THE ISSUES YOU HAVE HIGHLIGHTED, DO YOU SEE POLITICS AS ONE OF THE ISSUE HINDERING DEVELOPMENT IN THE STATE?
The issue of political vendetta are so glaring, otherwise how will you explain a situation whereby I was the only chairman of a statutory body in the whole of the state from Taraba central and when you removed me or refused to extend my mandate why didn’t you retain the position of the chairman of the commission in Taraba central, why taking it to Taraba south, almost 95 percent of all the statutory chairmen of boards and parastatals are skewed to one zone, only with some given to Taraba north. What kind of government is that, that’s not fairness, that’s not equity, there is no justice in this. But that is a matter for another day. For us we have done our four years we have left, some people are there now, it is left to the world and posterity to look at our stewardship over this period and assess us whether we performed or failed woefully.
But as far as I am concerned the seventh local government service commission was one of the most outstanding because we carry out a lot of reforms which you can investigate and confirm. For instance if you asked staff of local government they will tell you that they have never seen a situation where their promotion hitherto being carried out in proxy and in most cases being handled by a syndicate with distorted records were exposed. This issues were brought maximally under control, because we succeeded in organizing strict and physical promotion examination and this took us almost six months in carrying out this activities day to day and we were carrying out this activities from 8:am to 6pm and sometimes even beyond that time in other to catch up with the backlog of promotion that hitherto lingered over the years and we decided to effect corrections of distorted records of service that some people decided to manipulate within the system by falsifying records. All this thing we did them within the period I mentioned.
Another pathetic thing that we tamed when we assume office in April 2016 was the issue of casual staff of that office that were not paid for thirteen months. And I can tell you before we left office casual staff were not owing the commission one Kobo in the name of salary because some of us being labour activist couldn’t withstand a situation whereby casual staff were not paid. Why do you even call them casual, they provide almost all the services required by the commission and you allow them to stay for thirteen months without salaries that is unthinkable and very irresponsible but we are glad within our period we were able to do that.
FROM YOUR ANTECEDENT AND TALKING ABOUT POLITICAL IMBALANCE, PARA VENTURE THE GOVERNOR REALIZE HIS MISTAKES AND REACH OUT TO YOU, WILL YOU ACCEPT TO SERVE THE STATE AGAIN?
No I will never and I will not again serve this failed government in whatever capacity.
I will not accept any appointment to serve this government let them do there thing they way they want and live, the next government that will come I may consider to take an appointment if by the special grace of God I am giving the opportunity but I will not serve in a government that is skewed towards marginalizing people for no reason. Taraba state was created out of three division, Muri, Wukari and Sardauna and if you look at the whole set of power rotation, it has just been within Muri and Wukari, the highest Sardauna have ever gotten is secretary to the government of the state as political appointment, only recently in 2015, Rt. Hon. Diah emerged as Speaker in the house occupying the third position. In a state like this one we must look and consider the political antecedents to see how you can balance power, now you have taken the number three position from a bloc that make up the creation of this state, what do we now have, nothing simply because you had a disagreement among you, the disagreement that some of us went into rain and sun to ensure this government was voted not even for the first time, we ensure it was voted for the second term in 2019. That’s not how to play politics.
My advice to the ruling party in the state is, if you do not implement the report of the reconciliation committee set up by the party itself in the state and you want us to fly into 2022 and 2023 there is going to be a lot of problems in this state, because you cannot just come climb on the shoulder of people and assume power after getting first and second term you render those people useless and not important and you discard them as if they are nothing. That is not how to play politics.
WITH THIS KIND OF POLITICAL SITUATION, WHAT IS YOUR ADVISE TO TARABIANS AS WE APPROACH 2023?
Taraba people should be very careful with the kind of choice they will make in 2023, in any case I piety the person who will take over from Darius in 2023. There are a lot of issues on ground, what is the debt profile of the state for example, what are the payments of arrears for pension and gratuity, what are monthly payments of staff of local government and primary school teachers, what are position of even the state civil servants in terms of promotion, there annual increment and many more. We have to pray earnestly to God to bring out a candidate that has vision, direction and the capacity to move Taraba to the 21st century. Let us therefore drop every anything that has to do with sentiments, and look for a competent person that can lead, what I mean by leading people, I mean someone that will run an inclusive government that all sectors of the state will be carried along. As it is now, Central Taraba have been marginalized in terms of political appointment in this government
ANY PLANS FOR 2023, ARE YOU CONSIDERING CONTESTING FOR ANY POSITION?
The issue of contesting or not contesting in 2023, honestly you know how our political set up is, it is not people like me that will come out and tell the world that I will come out and contest. You know how the system is, the Nigeria electoral process have been hijacked by money bags and there is already apathy in the set up and people are disenchanted. A lot of credible candidate who want to come out and contest they cannot do so due to lack of funds, financially they are handicap, unfortunately for the Nigeria political system that is where we are today.
You cannot contest for even a position of a councillor in a ward without having enough money to move around and campaign, I can tell you from experience it is not easy if you are not financially buoyant, so money plays a very key role in the election process. But if by the grace of God something happen along the line and there is electoral reforms and people ask me to come out and contest for any position, why not it would be a thing worthwhile to consider. But like I told you, I belong to a group and as far as we are concern we have a vision and a mission, while looking at 2023 we will be guided, we wouldn’t want to step out and make comments that might not be to the overall interest of the movement we represent. But If the Lord permits that something should come why not, we are always prepared anytime to add value to governance in our society.