Imo Pensioners Owed Over 20 Months Arrears
• Amid Controversy, Okorocha Goes To Turkey In Wasteful ‘Industrial Fact Finding’
AS many pensioners and unpaid workers were groaning, the Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha, on Wednesday, travelled with about 100 persons to Turkey on what he called industrial fact finding trip. Industrialists and others were on the trip. It was the second time in months, the governor was leading such a large number to the same country.
Precisely on September 4, the Federal Ministry of Finance, Abuja, office bought and secured spaces in some national dailies, and made some publications, on the distribution of revenue allocation to state and local councils by the Federal account Allocation committee for the month of July, but shared in August. It indicated that Imo State government received N3,947,381,392.61, after deductions.
Since Imo is yet to elect Local Council officials for about four years (the former elected officials were sacked by Okorocha), it is deemed that he has been receiving and keeping in custody such receipts. Consequently, in the same manner, the 27 Local Councils received, after all the deductions, whopping N3,094,493,023.08 for the same period.
A few days ago, Okorocha told workers in the state that the Federal Government had restructured monthly deductions of debt servicing from about N1.2 billion out of what it was receiving before and after oil revenue fall of N3 billion and above, to N480 million or thereabout. Meaning a relief. He authenticated his pronouncement by disclosing that the state government had received a letter from the Federal Government to that effect.
In the light of above, he also announced his government had received bailout funds for payment of workers salaries and pensioners’ arrears.
Though, he did not say the amount, but publications made in the national papers as released by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), showed that the state received about N26.806 billion. Put the amount received as published in August together, it showed that about N32b received, less N480m, the rest is the total of what the government had at its disposal.
Okorocha also told workers that his administration expends N1.2b monthly to pay salaries, but vowed to return to what rates other states used. He also directed that if the parastatal workers must continue to be paid, they should raised revenue to sustain them, insisting against the rejection by the about 20,000 workers, to commercialise and privatize some of the parastatals owned by the government.
Based on the foregoing, the civil and retired primary schools pensioners, under the aegis Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP) in the state, renewed call for payment of their over 20 months’ pension arrears. They had refused to present themselves for another round of verification exercise as conducted by the state government at the promptings of the governor. They argued through their chairman in the state, Chief Gideon Ezeji, that they had been verified in 2011 and 2013 respectively under excruciating conditions.
While civil pensioners are owed about eight months, retired primary school teachers claim that they were owed about 22 months.
The governor insisted that more than 40 per cent of those who parade as pensioners are ghost, adding that they had been allegedly colluding with some treasury officials to defraud government. He also showed example of a 74 –year- old man who was caught with his accomplice.
Pensions sources, who preferred anonymity, disclosed that several deductions were made when they were in service, stating that in each case, they were assured that they would enjoy the deductions when they retired, they regretted that instead of having enhanced pensions, they were receiving ‘slashed’ payment. Some even receive about N20,000 monthly.
A group of pensioners known as Retired Permanent Secretaries in Imo, numbering about 95, and led by the chairman, Hyacinth C. Onyekwere, recently went to Archbishop Anthony J. V. Obinna, the head of the Owerri Catholic Ecclesiastic Province at the Assumpta Cathedral, Owerri, on September 6, explaining their ordeal in the hands of the state government under the watch of Okorocha, even when the bailout funds had reached his hands, urging the bishop to pray to God through a special “Holy Mass” for their money to get to them.
They said all pleas to make government pay them their pensions, which are “moral, legal and constitutional right which is not privilege,” Fabian I. Agba said, had remained deaf ears.