Northern Nigerian Breaking News

INVESTIGATIONS: Inside Cross River wage bill inflation, employment racketeering 

By Patrick Obia

Cross Rivers State is struggling with increasing debt and wage bill, but investigations by CrossRiverWatch gathered that, former head of service, Timothy Ogban, now suspended Civil Service Commission’s Chairman, Mr. Uko Inaku, former Accountant-General of the State, Joseph Adie engaged in an unauthorized employment of 500 people and promotion of some civil servants as Acting Directors and Directors.

The illegal employment and promotion racketeering, without former Governor Ben Ayade and incumbent Governor Bassey Otu’s knowledge, increased the wage bill and added to the debt burden of the government, Patrick Obia reports.

With a workforce of not less than 15,000 civil servants in the payroll as of June 2, 2023, the State’s monthly wage stood at between N2.3 and N3 billion, including N800 million of over 5,000 political appointees during former governor Ayade’s government.

Findings further reveal that the State is still paying a never-used five (5) billion Naira loan debt from Fidelity Bank due to the negligence of the former Accountant-General of the State, Joseph Adie.

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Cross River State is one of the lowest States on the Federal Allocation payroll, standing most times 34, 35, or 36 on the log. As of February 2024, the State received a paltry sum of N6.6 billion, standing 36 on the log with Ekiti State at number 35 and an allocation of N3.9 billion.

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As of December 31, 2023, the State’s domestic debt data is not less than N220.2 trillion. While the State foreign debt stock stands above $211.1 billion. A further breakdown of the data showed that Cross River Governor Bassey Otu took the highest loan, with N16.2 billion from domestic and $57.95m from foreign creditors between June and December 2023.

Further plunging the State into more debt, data from the Debt Management Office says. However, the State government has denied it.

Though Ayade’s political appointees’ wage bill was removed, the state’s monthly wage bill is likely to surpass N3 Billion in subsequent months due to backlogs of pensions and gratuities as well as salaries. While reports of ghost workers continue to rise, Governor Bassey Otu has ordered verification and revalidation of workers in the State.

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Domestic Debt data for the 36 States of the Federation and the FCT, as of December 31, 2023.

Promotion Racketeering

The promotion racketeering spearheaded by former Head of Service, Timothy Ogban, and the embattled suspended Chairman of Civil Service Commission, Uko Inaku, offered underserving promotions from level 9 to level 15 and 16, grade Level 5 to 15 respectively.

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One of those undeserved promotions is Mr. Joseph Okem, a level 9 civil servant employed in 2017. In 2021, Timothy Ogban and Inaku arranged for his promotion to the rank of director and transferred to Cross River State Internal Revenue Service from the College of Education (COE), Akamkpa.

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His promotion and transfer were questioned by College of Education authorities and the State auditor general who suspended his salary for six months; requesting his promotion be reversed and termed it fraudulent. After queries and six months without salaries, his promotion was reversed through a letter signed by Inaku.

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Former Auditor-General of the State, Comrade John Odey said “When I ordered that, I was surprised at the number of notable people in government who called saying I should leave him. I said no because what would be the moral justification for other transactions if I allowed it to stay?

“Promotion of civil servants stopped in 2016 because it is done in batches which the Governor must give approval for it to be done. If you promote people anyhow it will increase the wage bill.”

Employment Inflation

While promotion illegality was ongoing, employment figures inflation was taking place during the same administration. The arrangement to employ civil servants in 2022, was meant to begin with a staff-gap analysis.

The staff-gap analysis would help establish the number of clerical officers, admin staff, planning Officers, and different cadres of people needed to close the gap in each ministry, department, and agency; followed by a compilation of the figures by the HoS were needed to be done.

This reporter learned the procedures were not followed and employment letters were issued arbitrarily based on individual nomination.

 The former Auditor-General revealed: “For Head of Service, the Governor wanted about 100 people to be employed in the service in areas of need. The HoS had written and handled everything and the Governor made the approval on the face of the application; that approval had several attachments being the names of the people.

The governor had signed on the number of names he requested. What the HoS and Co did was to go and detach the last page and elongate the list to 500 names and the author of that letter will now sign at the last page to put the total number in the conclusion meaning you will feel the approval at the surface has been made including all what is in the page. A very smart way of defrauding the system.

“When they did all these things, the hurdle was to put it into the payroll, and for you to put those names into the payroll it had to pass through the auditor general. If it was when the Accountant-General’s Office was handling the payroll, it would have been easy for them to push it but the Governor had

appointed a consultant whose name is SEEAMA Consultant in 2020-2023 to provide a platform where auditor general, accountant general and the head of service will operate meaning you cannot come to accountant general to do something, what is meant to come to auditor general must come to him for vetting. When he vets the payroll, he will send it to the accountant general and copy the consultant.

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Odey added that the duo invited him for a meeting when they knew they could not scheme the additional lists into the state’s payroll without detection. Following his insistence that approval should be gotten from the governor, he was offered a deal to include the names of 300 people he wanted to give employment. And when he refused, explaining that it would be a betrayal of trust given his position as Senior Special Adviser on Payroll, he was threatened with losing his job.

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When contacted for the employment and promotion saga, Uko Inaku shifted the blame to the Head of Service, questioning why Joseph Okem was illegally recommended for promotion. He further denied having a hand in the employment figures inflation. “No way I’m indicted in all these,” he said.

On his part, the retired HoS – Ogban Timothy refuted any wrongdoing, saying “I’m in the village when I come back to Calabar”.

It Will Not Slide; They Will Be Probed – Government

The State government has vowed to probe the actors involved in the corruption. The Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Professor Anthony Owan Enoh who spoke on behalf of Governor Otu told CrossRiverWatch the matter will not be swept under the carpet like any other corrupt practices.

“The government cannot let it slide. What has happened among the key actors has only given the government a deeper knowledge of what to search for.”

The SSG said machinery will be put in place to investigate the matter, adding that Cross Riverians deserve to know the outcome of the allegations.

“At the end of all that, a report will be tabled, and this is when the government will set up its machinery to look beyond the report, we presented side by side under public knowledge.

“I can assure you that the governor will put a stamp on it. We want to handle the matter in such a way it will be very thorough,” the former Vice Chancellor of Cross River University of Technology, said.

Meanwhile, the State House of Assembly has waded into the employment and promotion racketeering, calling for an overhaul and dissolution of the Civil Service Commission.

The Lawmakers expressed disappointment over the conduct of the Civil Service Commission, its suspended chairman. They recommended that it be dissolved in line with the provisions of section 201(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) which empowers the Governor to dissolve and reconstitute any Commission whenever there is a breach of conduct.

This report is produced with support from Civic Media Lab (CML).

This report was first published by CrossRiverWatch


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