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Pay the pensioners

The Federal Government will next week start deducting the N614 billion it lent to most of the 36 states of the federation in 2016 to enable them pay salaries to their workers and pension to retirees. The money will be remitted to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), which advanced the money.

“We are going to start these remittances by the next FAAC,” Minister for Finance, Hajiya Zainab Ahmed emphasised.

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The advance, which is about equal to the quantum of money the Federal Government is spending on the reconstruction of the Lagos-Ibadan and Zuba-Kaduna-Zariya-Kano dual carriageways and the Second Niger Bridge, was a benevolent bailout for the states that were in dire financial situation caused by recession and reckless spending before the general elections of 2015.

A framework designed to instil more financial discipline among the states and minimise frivolous expenditure while generating more revenue internally, the Fiscal Sustainability Plan (FSP), was agreed and acceded to by the states.

Most of the states used the advance to pay the backlog of salaries and pension arrears; and when the Paris Club refunds were made to them, by the Federal Government, contractors and suppliers too were paid.

However, some of the states did not completely clear the salary and pension arrears with the money from both the bailout and the Paris Club refunds. Benue state is one of the 14 or so states that still owe workers and pensioners.

And it is disappointing that while pensioners in the state are groaning under the agony of the refusal of the state government to pay their arrears of 25 months, the state governor is busy mocking them by saying that he was “ashamed” of his administration’s failure to pay them.

It is not about being ashamed; it is about setting priorities right, applying the resources available to the state judiciously and ensuring that the people of Benue state, including retirees, are no longer taken for granted.

It can be recalled that the Benue state governor, Mr. Samuel Ortom, was for a stretch of his first term in office busy spending huge sums of money on his propaganda against the Federal Government at the expense of the people of the state, especially pensioners.

The unpaid pensioners are now crying out loudly for justice, drawing attention to their painful plight by camping uncomfortably in front of his luxurious abode, the Government House, Makurdi.

The failure to pay pensioners and workers in Benue and other states is sad, especially in the context that most states benefited from the bailout.

It is on record that the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) reported that Benue State received over N12bn meant for the payment of salaries and pensions, but diverted it and paid “over N70m into the account of the Office of the Deputy Governor.”

The report states, “In Benue State, the total debt accrued from staff salaries and emoluments amounted to N12, 503, 439, 787. 48. The state received N12, 503, 439, 787.48 as bailout fund and disbursed N10, 852, 536, 702.96 with a balance of N1, 650, 903, 084.52. Analysis of the documents submitted revealed a double payment of N37, 760, 000.00 in favour of the Office of the Deputy Governor.”

Besides failing to regularly pay frail pensioners their monthly stipends, the Governor on January 8, 2019 told leaders of the Nigeria Labour Congress that his administration does not have money to pay the minimum wage. “If I have the capacity, I will not hesitate to implement the new minimum wage even above N30, 000.”

The snag is that the Governor did not tell the workers that his administration cumulatively received over N113 billion from the Federation Account Allocation Committee in 2018 alone. What of IGR?

Otherwise the NLC leaders would have told him, “Please pay the pensioners.”

 

NOMINATE AFRICAN OF THE YEAR 2019

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