Gyang Bere (Jos), Chuks Onuoha (Umuahia), Joe Effiong (Uyo), Paul Osuyi (Asaba), George Onyejiuwa (Owerri),
Emmanuel Adeyemi (Lokoja)
When the National Bureau of Statistics recently published its 2018 third quarter report on the situation of salaries and pensions in the 36 states of the federation, as at September of last year, six of the states, including Kogi State, were listed as owing pension arrears for long periods ranging from 12 to 36 months.
However, Akwa Ibom State, one of the states listed in the report, has been jointly exonerated by the state chapters of the National Union of Pensioners (NUP), Nigeria Labour Congress and other key stakeholders as not owing pension arrears as payments have been made up to April 2019.
In this report, Sunday Sun presents the current situation in the affected states.
In Plateau State, pensioners have been experiencing excruciating pains over the non-payment of their gratuities, which now totals to about N15 billion. The huge sum was inherited from successive administrations.
Some of the pensioners have forgotten when last they received such benefits until the inception of Governor Simon Lalong administration in 2015.
It was gathered that the immediate past administration of Governor Jonah Jang attempted the payment of gratuity to public workers, which had been left unpaid since 1977 and abandoned in1980s, leaving the retirees groaning in penury.
But when Governor Lalong came on board in 2015, he inherited seven months of salary arrears as well as seven months pension arrears.
He promised to pay off the arrears and sustained monthly payment of salaries to public servants. Lalong has kept to his word by offsetting all inherited salaries and pension arrears and sustained payment of salaries in the state.
At the moment, the state is up-to-date in terms of payment of monthly salaries and pension with the exception of some MDAs for the month of April, 2019.
However, lack of payment of gratuity has become a nightmare to most pensioners as the state government needs not less than N15 billion to N17 billion to offset all gratuities and death benefits of retired civil servants in the state.
The Lalong administration made appreciable attempt to offset the gratuity, but the effort suffered a setback due to lack of funds.
Lalong paid five per cent of gratuity to all workers across board in 2017 when President Muhammadu Buhari released bailout funds to state governors. Since then, the project has not been revisited due to lack of funds.
However, Chairman of Nigerian Union of Pensioners, Plateau State, Col. Danladi Daboer, told Sunday Sun that the state is not up-to-date with payment of pensions.
“The present government has tried in the payment of pension, because the governor inherited seven months pension arrears and he paid off the arrears. We appreciate him for that, but effort should be made to pay the inherited gratuities.”
Chairman of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Plateau State Chapter, Comrade Eugene Manji, corroborated what Daboer said and applauded Lalong for prioritizing payment of workers salary and pension, but decried non-payment of gratuity.
“Governor Simon Lalong came on board in 2015 and inherited arrears of salaries, he promised that he was going to offset it; as we speak to you now, he has paid up to April.
“For pension, he allocated some money from the bailout fund for payment of pension, though it was a very small amount due to lack of funds. We have outstanding arrears of pension, it is accumulating every month.
“I can’t say exactly how many months the state is owing pensioners because it depends on the retirement of individuals, but the accumulation of the amount in terms of the quantum of the money should be up to N15 billion or N17 billion.”
Head of Service, Plateau State, Mr Izang Azi, said workers in the state have fared very well under the Lalong administration which made payment of salaries and pension a priority.
He noted that the state has paid salaries and pension up to April, 2019, but added that the payment of gratuity and death benefits of public servants has remained a challenge due to lack of funds.
“Pension is different from gratuity, it is paid on a monthly basis, government is trying in that regard and it has been paying pension to retirees and we are up-to-date.
“For gratuity, we have outstanding of almost N13 billion that has not been paid and N3 billion death benefits, this is because of lack of funds. The government is aware of it and is working to address the problem.
“When this government came in, it was able to pay five per cent of the gratuity across board in 2017 to all the retirees in the state and government is working towards addressing the plight of the retirees,” Azi said,
The pension situation in Abia State has degenerated from irregular payment to non-payment for nearly two years as the chairman of the Nigerian Union of Pensioners, Abia State, Comrade Chukwuma N. Udensi told Sunday Sun.
“We have wondered whether the state government has deleted pension from its annual budget and monthly expenditure profile. We recently expressed profound disappointment over the inexplicable silence of the Abia State government on the payment of pension and the same is contained in a communiqué we issued at the end of our emergency meeting held last month at the Local Government Service Commission hall along Finbers Road, Umuahia. In that communique, we called on the government to take immediate steps and start clearing the arrears at the rate of three months per month as it is now a crisis situation.”
This year’s May Day celebration provided members of the union an apt opportunity to express their frustration over the non-payment of their pensions by disrupting the march past segment of the event held by the NLC, Abia State at Ibeku High School, Umuahia, the state capital.
The retired civil servants all wore black attire with black hats to march, they broke protocol by filing into the field with banners that contained some unprintable statements against the government of the day in the state, walking sticks and other supporting instruments to display their anger to the public and organizers of the programme.
In a show of solidarity with their actions, other workers surged into the field uncontrollably, hailing their actions and rare display of courage. Officials of the government made futile effort to restore order, for the march past to continue.
Even security operatives were bewildered as to what to do with the group of unhappy fathers and mothers as any attempt to use force on them may result to something more grievous.
As they got to the front of the podium, where the Head of Service, Sir Onyii Nwama, who represented the state governor, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu and was taking the salute, they sat on the bare ground and rained curses on the government.
They said: “Those who placed us in this condition will never retire from service to become pensioners; they must die before their retiring age.”
When Sunday Sun approached one of them to ask if they were not afraid of being identified and dealt with by the authorities, he said: “We are already dead, the government has killed us as many of our members die on daily basis due to lack of medical care. If we don’t speak out now, is it when we join the others that we would speak. We are not hiding our faces; we would be happy if they can come this night and kill us all so that the plight of pensioners will come to an end in Abia State. By then, nobody will disturb them again.”
Abia State Finance for Commissioner, Hon. Obinna Oriaku, who reacted on behalf of the state government, acknowledged that there are lingering salary and pension issues to be cleared in the state.
“Let me first of all acknowledge the hard times being faced by our pensioners, but also quickly reassure them that the government is working hard to reduce outstanding pensions in the state.
“Today, we have some pensioners earning as much as N800,000 and N470,000 monthly, we also have those earning as little as N5,000 as monthly pension. The governor in view to ensure that right things are done has mandated a committee to review this situation and conduct another verification exercise after payment of two months from the outstanding. The last verification was done three years ago and it has become pertinent that we do another verification exercise,” he said.
He denied the picture painted by the pensioners that they had not been paid for a long time and claimed that government paid them last in March, this year.
Akwa Ibom State chapters of the Nigerian Union of Pensioners (NUP), Nigerian Civil Service Union (NCSU) and the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) have put a lie to the report of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) which said Akwa Ibom is one of the states with highest indebtedness to pensioners.
The state Chairman of NUP, Obong Ekpenyong Ekpo, said he had received his April, 2019 pension alert and from all indications, all pensioners in the state had similarly received their payments.
“Indebtedness of pension in our state is not true. If they say there are some areas or maybe gratuity for certain class of people, I would say, it could be true. But to say month-by-month payment of pension, it is not true.
“There has been a large gap in terms of gratuity, but it is narrowing. There has not been harmonisation of pension for a long time and now we are having a new minimum wage. That will not augur well for the pensioners. Those who went on retirement years back are receiving pittance.
“Pension is a percentage of your earning and you will be surprised that even permanent secretaries who retired many years ago are still receiving as low as N30,000 per month as their pension. So, if we are talking of harmonisation generally, that has not been done in the state and we have been hammering on it right from the days of former Governor Godswill Akpabio,” the NUP chairman said.
He said the union has been making efforts to and sending requests to the Head of Service for the harmonisation to be done, especially in the wake of the new minimum wage.
The state chairman of the NLC, Mr Sunny James, who corroborated the NUP chairman, dismissed the NBS report as incorrect.
“Akwa Ibom State is one of the six states in the country that pays pensioners most. I want to be quoted on that because as it stands right now, no pensioner in the state is owed monthly pension. Nobody is owed any pension.
“The only thing our people are owed is the gratuity, which is end-of-service benefit. The arrears were so much in the past. The government has been able to narrow it down up to 2015 or thereabout. I may not have specific details, but we have been able to narrow it compared to the large gap that had been there in gratuity. For somebody to say that Akwa Ibom is one of the six states that owe pension is a very wrong perception and it’s not correct.”
James equally said that the state was yet to harmonise the pension, a situation that has caused some who retired many years ago to still receive as low as N1,000 as pension.
The chairman of the state civil service union, Comrade Tina Essien, said there was no indebtedness in the area of pension as pensioners get their due at the end of every month and described the NBS report as untrue.
On May Day while addressing the workers, the state governor, Udom Emmanuel, had said he never owed the workers either pensions or salary and that he had to clear the backlog that he inherited from the previous administration.
He said; “About four years ago when I assumed office as the governor of this state, the economic frontiers were hazy and mired in uncertainties. The nation was going though severe economic challenges and the ability of the newly sworn in governors to fulfill critical obligations such as payment of salaries became a huge nightmare. Several state governments owed salaries to their workers and pensions and gratuities were affected.
“To the glory of the only God we serve and worship, and through prudent management of the lean resources available to us, we were able to not only pay salaries regularly, we went ahead to pay pensions and gratuities, an act we are still executing. You will recall that one of the first tasks I performed shortly after being sworn in was to clear a 10-year backlog of pensions and gratuities and I still recall the happiness and excitement you all felt when that intervention was done. The letters of appreciation you wrote to me are still on my desk as I speak.”
Pensioners in Delta State have appealed to the present administration of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa to approve the harmonisation of the backlog of arrears being owed them.
They said the harmonisation would address the shortfall in the payment of arrears of pensions by the government, which opted to be paying 25 per cent instead of 50 per cent under the contributory pension scheme.
Chairman of the Association of Contributory Retirees in the state, Mr Anthony Osaneku, who made the appeal during a chat with Sunday Sun in Asaba, admitted that government has paid the arrears of 25 per cent to retirees up till 2014.
He said approval and implementation of the harmonisation would make senior citizens who served the government for 35 years to “heave a sigh of relief and live like normal human beings.”
Osaneku who said nothing had really changed since October last year when the Bureau of Statistics (NBS) listed Delta State among the states owing pensioners, noted that what they have been receiving were promises that have largely been unfulfilled.
He blamed the immediate past immediate administration of former governor, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan, for the present state of arrears of pensions, saying that when the state keyed into the contributory scheme, the government did not fulfill its part of the obligation by contributing to the common purse, but saw the contribution from potential retirees as part of the state internally generated revenue.
Osaneku said: “When Delta State started contributory pension in 2007, the rule was that government would contribute 15 per cent while workers will contribute seven per cent. Along the line, government reneged and said it could not contribute 15 per cent and accepted to contribute 10 per cent.
“But from that time till when Okowa came in 2015, all the monies workers contributed were taken as IGR, they saw it as revenue to be spent and they spent it, even though they were not remitting their quota of 10 per cent.
“It was like the government was taken unawares when people started retiring in 2010, they did not know what to do. Imagine what could have accumulated between 2007 and 2010? They could have been paying retirees with ease if the money had not been touched.
“What they decided was that government would henceforth pay 25 per cent instead of 50 per cent of the total contribution,” he said.
Besides,Osaneku further explained that even the 25 per cent was a shortfall of what pensioners were supposed to be getting, disclosing that the government chose the old salary structure of N7,500.00 instead of N18,000.00 in calculating the 25 per cent.
“Those who retired from 2010 were supposed to earn what they retired on which was already N18,000.00 minimum wage, but government is using the 2007 salary structure of N7,500.00 to effect the payment of arrears.
“You can see, it is a double jeopardy for retirees. What ACR has been fighting for is for government to use the N18,000.00 to calculate our retirement benefits. We have been fighting this battle since 2011 till date.
“Uduaghan deceived us. He promised and promised until the eve of his departure when he signed what the State Executive Council had since approved, without backing it up with white paper,” he claimed.
Osaneku said when Okowa took over in 2015, the senior citizens met with him, and advocated that government should revert to the old scheme while planning well to enter the new scheme with dignity.
He said the governor rejected their proposal on the grounds that reverting to the old scheme was tantamount to postponing the evil day, adding that the governor, however, agreed to work out the harmonisation since the structure moved from N7,500.00 to N18,000.00.
“He (governor) agreed and has been promising us since that time till now. So, we are handicapped. Many retirees have died without receiving their pension; many are hospitalised; many cannot even get money for hospital fees, they are lying sick in their houses waiting for death,” he lamented.
He, however, stated that from the grapevine, the committee headed by the Commissioner for Economic Planning, Kingsley Emu, which was saddled with the harmonisation responsibility, had submitted a memo to the State Executive Council, and urged the government to urgently approve it and implement it for the benefit of the senior citizens.
Reacting to the plea by the retirees, Governor Okowa through his Chief Press Secretary, Charles Aniagwu, urged pensioners to be patient with his administration, saying that a lot has been done in the last four years to defray the over N30 billion arrears of pensions which he inherited.
He said his administration had been consistent with the monthly payment of pension and arrears despite the harsh economic challenge that greeted the administration initially, as well as other sectors of the state begging for attention.
With just days left to the end of the tenure of Governor Rochas Okorocha, the Imo State Chapter of the Nigerian Union of Pensioners has accused him of crass insensitivity to the plight of pensioners, and being a major threat to the lives of retired senior citizens in the state.
The NUP lamented over the huge unpaid pension arrears and gratuities owed them by the state government.
According the Imo State NUP Chairman, Chief J.D Osuigwe, the Imo state government under Okorocha is owing pensioners in the state an estimated N26 billion pension arrears and N30 billion in unpaid gratuities.
“It needs no saying that Okorocha has been the greatest threat to the lives of senior citizens in Imo State. He has deliberately robbed them of their dignity and persistently subjected them to the worst level of dehumanization in recent times.
“Nothing in Okorocha’s policies or body language suggest anything good for civil servants and pensioners in Imo. No people should suffer such tragedy as Imo has suffered under Okorocha twice in their existence,” Osuigwe said.
Also, Retired Permanent Secretaries in Imo had in a petition, dated July 20, 2018, to President Muhammadu Buhari, drawn his attention to the pitiable plight of pensioners in Imo State under Governor Okorocha, adding that the governor had consistently defaulted in the payment of pensions and gratuities since the inception of his administration. The Secretary of the association, Comrade Fabian Agba said: “While some retired public servants are owed over seven years arrears of pension, there is no known record of payment of gratuities since Governor Rochas Okorocha assumed office as the governor of Imo State, 2011.
“It is painful that the frequency of death among retired persons in the state as at today is very alarming. The insensitivity of Governor Rochas Okorocha to this situation is manifest in his assertion that the pension profile of the state indicates that pensioners have not been dying since the creation of Imo state.” While describing the governor’s statement as callous and devilish, Agba lamented the wasteful misappropriation of the bailout funds and Paris Club refunds to the state.
“It is embarrassing that in spite of the efforts of the President to mitigate the suffering of retired workers by providing Paris Club refunds and bailout funds, the Rochas Okorocha government has persistently refused to apply these funds to the purposes they were meant for,” Agba said.
However, currently civil servants in the state are owed one month of salary arrears. Meanwhile workers of parastatals are owed over 48 months in salary arrears.
In the 39 months that Kogi State governor, Yahaya Bello has been in office, the state government has not paid workers and pensioners in the state for 38 months.
As result of this pernicious situation, there is widespread acute hunger and helplessness being experienced by both the civil servants and pensioners, many of who have died prematurely.
In a rare show of commonality Christian and Muslim faithful have been earnestly praying that the state governor state will not secure a second term ticket.
Chairman, Comrade Onuh Edoka and his counterpart in Trade Union Congress, Comrade Ranti Ojo, were once driven by frustration to tell the governor the naked truth that their members were dying on account of not being able to feed themselves because the unpaid salaries and pension arrears.
Edoka recalled that a former NLC chairman in the state, Comrade Salami Ajanaun, died of an ailment because he had no money to treat himself, stressing that the same government refused to pay his pension and gratuities.
In the face of this hardship, investigations, however, revealed that the All Progressives Congress-led administration in the state had received not less than N344 billion in the last 38 months yet it could not pay salaries nor embark on any meaningful project.
The sordid state of affairs compelled the elders of the All Progressives Congress in Kogi State, to petition President Muhammadu Buhari and implored him to withdraw support for the second term bid of the governor.
In the petition, they said: “For the past 38 months, including February 2019 Gov. Yahaya Bello has not paid full salaries to the workers of Kogi State, despite the fact that the state received full allocation from Federation Account as detailed below: N132 billion from statutory allocation, excess crude and VAT; N51 billion as internally generated revenue; statutory allocations to local governments (N111 billion). Total funds received by the state and local governments: N294 billion. The other funds received by the state are as follows: Bailout: N20billion; Paris Club refunds 1, 2, and 3: N19 billion; and refunds from the Federal Government for road construction by previous governments (N11 billion).
The governor had conducted multiple staff screening for both the state and the local governments. And from the report of the screening, the monthly wage bill (state, local governments and pensions) at the inception of the administration stood at N5.8 billion. After screening, this figure reduced to N4.4 billion.
It is evidently clear that the total revenue received by the state government was more than enough to settle all salaries, pensions and gratuities with huge balance remaining for overhead costs and capital projects.
“It is very instructive to note that even without bailout and other funds received outside statutory allocation, Gov. Yahaya Bello could have still paid all salaries including pensions without conducting multiple screening and inflicting pains on state and local government workers.”
Nevertheless, the governor’s media aide, Kingsley Fanwo, said that although the government has admitted owing the workers, the arrears would be paid as soon as the second part of the N30.8 billion bail-out fund is released to the state.