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Pension: Abia, a poor state; Oriaku’s gaffe

We read with great dismay the shameful buck-passing and mealy-mouthed excuses of Abia State government on the embarrassing 25 months’ pension arrears it owed pensioners in the state as if payment of pension is a favour not the right of our senior citizens. 

In the bunkum typical of Ikpeazu’s vacillating leadership published in Vanguard Newspaper’s website on May 11, 2019, under the headline – How can a state as poor as Abia have a monthly pension liability of N830m? – the Abia State government through its beleaguered Commissioner for Finance played the victim in the contrived protracted pension quagmire that has resulted in hundreds of avoidable deaths.

In trying to exonerate Ikpeazu from blame and also justified the infamy against the pensioners, Mr Oriaku messed up big time by asserting that Abia State has a pension liability of N450m monthly for State and N380m for Local Governments. Embarrassingly, he claimed that virtually every civil servant in Abia State is retiring at level 16 and all want to be Permanent Secretaries.

To bolster his vexed rhetoric, he said Permanent Secretaries who retired in Abia earn N470, 000 while their counterparts in Enugu state earn N290, 000 as a pension.

“Naturally pension shouldn’t be an issue. It should be a small fraction of your salary while you’re in active service, but because of rot, because of the deliberate decisions of these same pensioners which they never expected will come later to hurt them,” Oriaku was quoted to have said.

It shows lack of respect for the frail pensioners who deductions were made from their salaries by the government during their active years in service for the payment of pension after retirement. It’s embarrassing that Oriaku could make such ill-thought statement on behalf of a government that last paid pension gratuities in 2013. 

Why this brouhaha over money that is not a favour but a fund deducted during an employee’s employment years, and from which payments are drawn to support the person’s retirement from work in the form of periodic payments?

While outlining the progress of his administration in February 2016, Governor Ikpeazu said workers wage bill was N2.1b against N2.7b inherited from his predecessor after verifications. Four months later, On June 2, in a news story by Linus Effiong published on Daily Trust website under the headline – 200 Abia workers earn multiple salaries – this same Oriaku said, Abia has a wage bill of about N3 billion a month. Amid these conflicting figures, one is, therefore, tempted to ask if the N2.1 nay N3b wage bill does not include pension allowance. 

Oriaku further made his government object of ridicule when he asserted that Abia is a poor state. This height of deception is unbecoming of a commissioner for finance who has in his possession the Federal Ministry of Finance FAAC Allocation records. 

The FAAC Allocation disbursement series of 2018 shows that Abia State received the FAAC Allocation net sum of N55.3b (excluding LGs funds) in 2018 to rank number one in the southeast region.

Anambra, Imo, Enugu and the Ebonyi States received N55.2b, N54.1b, N53.1b and N44.9b to emerge second, third, fourth and fifth respectively. Abia State ranks 16th in FAAC Allocation earners chat of 2018 above Cross River State that is up to date with salary and pension obligations. So how does this justify the tag of “poor” given to Abia State by Oriaku? 

Unconfirmed report has it that Ikpeazu’s government spent N350 million on the monthly payment of approximately 5000 aides including SSAs, SAs and Technical Officers it recruited yet it complained incessantly of the burdensomeness of pension allowance.

However, since Oriaku couldn’t ascertain whether the wage bill absorbed the salaries of the 5000 aides or the number of Permanent Secretaries (Rtd) in Abia roguishly promoted, we admonish him to stop complaining of rot in a system government is the worst culprit. 

The truth is that aside from these Permanent Secretaries, the majority of pensioners receive moderately even, as low as, N5,000. A sincere government would have cleared the arrears of these low earners while it tries to sort out the big earners. After all, they are the worst hit. 

Oriaku’s rhetoric is a clear indication that there’s no end in sight to this pension brouhaha. It’s either we make this government responsible or risk burying our pensioners’ week in week out.

Signed,
Don Norman Obinna,
Convener, Abians For Good Governance (AGG).

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