By B. N. Etim
Few weeks to Christmas, some retired primary school teachers in Akwa Ibom state and their next – of – kins, protested the non – payment of their retirement benefits by the successive administrations. During that protest, they demanded for the payment of their gratuity, arrears of pension, death gratuity to next – of – kins, 7.5 compulsory pension deduction from salary, among other demands.
While some faceless political groups, without government consent went on social media to condemn the protest possibly because of how magnanimous the governor was in clearing 10 years arrears of entitlements owed those worked in the state civil service; the Head of Civil Service in the state, Elder Effiong Essien, in a statement surprisingly lauded the retirees for keeping the protest peaceful and orderly. Elsewhere, the government could have criticized the protesters or dub them mercenaries of opposition political parties. Instead, the Head of service assured them that measured were being taken to ensure that their entitlements are paid in the shortest possible time.
The Udom Emmanuel administration inherited a backlog of unpaid entitlements including, salaries, gratuities and pensions arrears, dating as far back as 1991, to workers in the local government service commission in the state.
From Lagos state to Benue; Ekiti to Cross River state, retired primary school teachers are facing the problem of nonpayment of arrears of their entitlements. In fact, this problem is reported in almost all states of the federation. For instance in May 2019, some retired teachers from different states who were guests on a TV programme to mark that year’s workers days lament the anguish they were passing through since retirement. They said more than two years after retirement, they were yet to receive any communication concerning their entitlements from their respective state government. Saddening as it were, they said some of their colleagues have died without getting their entitlements; others were sick and lacked adequate medical care. In Oyo state, before the coming of Governor Seyi Makinde, the Pension Baord Secretary, Dr. (Mrs.) Ayodele Busari, reported that primary school teachers used to collect their pension on percentage basis.
As at 2018, Delta state did not pay retirees for three years, according to a survey published by BudgIT, a civil society organisation that collects and analyzes data on Nigeria’s budget. The survey, which tracked the level of indebtedness of all the states of the federation in terms of unpaid salary and pension arrears, showed that Delta State owed its pensioners a total of 36 months arrears. This means that pensioners in Delta state have not been paid since Ifeanyi Okowa took over as the governor of the state in May 2015.
The story was also similar in Imo state, where the Rochas Okorocha-led administration owed pensioners 34 months arrears. This is in addition to the two months salary arrears owed school teachers as well as hospital workers in the state before his exit.
Like Delta, in Imo state pensioners groan under severe hardship the non -payment of their entitlements has forced on them. Abia, was ranked third on the list of state governments owing pension arrears. As at then, the state was yet to pay its pensioners for 18 months.
Crisis-ridden Plateau state in the North – Central region of Nigeria, came fourth, with 16 months arrears. Osun state government owed 15 months pension arrears, Adamawa 13, while Benue was tied in sixth position with 12 months arrears being owed pensioners in the state. Bayelsa state, another oil-rich region, has owed pensioners seven months arrears.
The data from BudgIT were very revealing. For one, they were a loud statement on how the different states cared about the welfare of her citizens who committed their productive years to the service of the state. That Akwa Ibom state was not found among the top defaulting states in payment of gratuities and pensions should not be lost to book – makers that it is Governor Udom Emmanuel who has made it so.
Governor Udom Emmanuel belongs to the class of few leaders in Nigeria who pay close attention to the welfare of civil servants, including retirees. Upon assumption of office on May 29, 2015, Governor Emmanuel took very deliberate steps to pay up arrears of gratuities and pensions, some as far back as 10 years ago. Through that commendable determination, today the state can safely brag that no retired civil servants who worked in the state civil service is being owed either pension or gratuity. No civil servant too who is currently in service is being owed a salary under the present administration.
The only snag which caused the state to get a mention towards the very bottom of the table in BudgIT’s report was the arrears of gratuities and pensions owed to teachers by local government councils in the state.
Note that primary school teachers are under the payroll of the respective local government councils though centrally supervised by the state through the State Universal Basic Education, SUBEB. SUBEB is saddled with the responsibility of ensuring monthly payment of teachers’ salaries/ entitlements through deduction from the local government councils monthly allocation from the Federal Government. It is SUBEB that is empowered by law to pay gratuities and pensions of retired primary school teachers; but the failure of the board to work out a gratuity and pension payment plan for the teachers before Udom Emmanuel became governor, pushed over a liability which the governor has graciously set a plan to address when it was brought to his attention following last December’s protests by the retirees and their next – of – kins.
On Tuesday, 13th January 2020, barely three weeks after the protest, the Head of Civil Service in Akwa Ibom state, Elder Effiong Essien, said in an interview that the Governor, Mr. Udom Emmanuel has successfully secured a fixed allocation from the local government councils for payment of outstanding entitlements of retired primary school teachers. The quick response and solution sought, obtained and put in place by Governor Udom Emmanuel, to address the issue has again spotlighted the governor’s deep love for workers in the state. No wonder civil servants in the state call him, “talk and do Governor”.
For emphasis, the Head of Civil Service in the state who disclosed what the governor has done to address the outstanding entitlements said, “as a talk-and- do Governor, who keeps to his words, Governor Udom Emmanuel had to engage with local government officials to secure three (3) percent monthly allocation from the Joint State/Local Government Accounts Allocation Committee to offset the outstanding pension and gratuity arrears of retired primary school teachers in the state.”
He also revealed that the Governor had in the last quarter of 2019 (September-December) approved and effected payment of entitlements including pensions, short-paid salaries and promotion arrears to 4,461 serving and retired workers.
Governor Emmanuel has got commendations for acting promptly to assuage the pains and sufferings of retired teachers and their next of kins in the state. As a son of a retired teacher, the Governor’s silent and quick action to putting lasting end to this reoccurring issue, marks him out as a man with deep passion for workers’ welfare. The Governor has once again demonstrated his slogan of “reply insult with result”, by going ahead to ensure the retirees are paid. This act of concern by Governor Emmanuel, has elevated his well known welfarist disposition and put to shame naysayers who believe the governor is running a laissez–faire leadership.