Oshiomole Edo State Pension Cheques in January remain Unpaid

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Friday, May 06, 2016 03.10PM / News Investigation, Benin 

Tough times happen to all of us. No matter how well prepared we are, tough times will come: viciously forcing their might on us, causing us to crumble. As mighty as we can feel one day, we can feel just as lost and scared the next.  

This is a fact of life. 

What however is not and must not be a premise for such acceptance of reality is a ‘system-based’ deception that cheats you out of your hard earned contractual benefit – your pensions as a public servant. 

No one needs to feel trapped  under miles of administrative rock to get what you deserve, especially when the approving authorities made a big show of telling everyone you have been paid….even gave you a cheque for same in front of klieg lights for the world to see and even assured you not to bother presenting same cheque as the account would be credited electronically. You had no reason to worry having served the state for decades and had your salaries paid via same means. 

Amazingly, and four months after, you have received no payment and even had to represent same account details for an employer you deveoted your whole life working with and never had problems with as regards payments. 

It is not enough to excuse this with the national economic situation, it  is a matter of sovereign integrity and giving a cheque that could bounce is a deception gone too far, more so by a governor who rode to power on the back of being a former president of the National Labour Congress. It doesn’t get more fuzzy than that. 

The Facts
Edo state government, in dealing with a myriad of issues related to pensions; held a public event on January 17, 2016 in Benin City to signal the administration’s commitment to workers entitlements. The state identified pensioners who retired from the state civil service in 2010 and 2011 to be paid a sum approx. N2 billion and presented cheques to six (6) of them in the public to symbolize this commitment.  

According to reports on January 18, 2016, “Edo State Government paid out a total N2 billion gratuity to 539 pensioners from the 2010/11 class. 

The Governor, fully aware of the burden placed on pensioners by the arrears of pension payments had said “I do not understand why it should take more than two (2) weeks from the time somebody retires to have all the documentation to be completed, Nigeria has gone beyond the age of Mungo Park.”  

He went on: “Let me summarize by thanking you from the button of my heart for your support for this government and for your patience over the period and I assure you that now, the waiting time is over. Gratuities will be paid. Let me also assure you that this gratuity will not be paid piecemeal, not that they will give you 40%, 50% and then you come back another day, no. this present gratuity will be paid in full at once.”  

In his vote of thanks, the Chairman, National Union of Pensioners, Edo State Chapter, Comrade Enaruna said, “From the expression on the faces of the Pensioners, the Governor has done well. I can never thank you enough.” 

Responding on behalf of other Pensioners, Mr. Omoruyi Etinosa Godspower said, “I express my unfathomable and inexhaustible gratitude to the Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, in fact, this is historic. What we are really happy about is your sincerity.” Mrs. Odion Ugbesia Lily, Mrs. Egharevba Kudirat and the Chairman of the Nigerian Union of Pensioners NUP also joined in thanking the Governor on behalf of the benefiting pensioners. 

“The climax of the meeting was the presentation of cheques to some of the pensioners to demonstrate the commencement of payment of gratuities by Governor Adams Oshiomhole while others would receive their gratuities paid into their individual bank accounts. 

Among those that receive their gratuity cheques are Mr. Yesufu Yahaya, Mr. Omoruyi Etinosa Godspower, Mrs. Odion Ugbesia Lily, Mrs. Egharevba Kudirat, Mr. Abhurimen Robert and Mr. Ojo Osagie. On the same day, these persons were told not to lodge/present the cheques at their banks as the state will credit their respective accounts.   

Fig 1: Evidence of Government Cheque Issued 

Early Warning Signals - Defranchising Pensioners and State Finances
It is instructive to note that the original copies of the pensioners "Authority for Payment of Gratuity" popularly called 'Yellow Paper' were collected from the retirees, meaning that technically they have been paid.   

This is not only outside all known accounting and civil service procedures but reflects a poor governance process for pensions by the Secretary to Pensions Board and by extension the Secretary to the State Government (SSG). 

While the pensioners submitted this in good faith, given the public nature of the transaction; the non-fulfillment of this has raised concerns about the sanctity of the action and motives. 

Analysts who have been covering developments in the state wonder why this development has not been resolved and point to a more grander political posturing as the motivation.  

While it is clear that cheques/payments issued past four (4) months issue date cannot be redeemed speaks heavily to the financial condition of the state, the declaration by Governor ‘Comrade’ Oshiomole of an increase in workers’ minimum wage from N18,000 to N25,000 is a red herring and conflicts with the reality on ground. It is safe to conclude that this was not borne out of an sound economic management plan as the state cannot sustain such a plan. 

Indeed, the move has attracted interest by economists and analysts now interested in the stewardship and management of finances in a state unable to meet pledges, cheques and commitments. 

Current Reality/Status
As at today, no less than approx. 100 persons are yet to receive payments including the case of person(s) presented with a cheque in public. 

Enquiries and contacts with key persons in the economic, finance and pensions function of the state for about 6 weeks now only revealed a responsibility chaos better imagined. 

Recall that the Governor had said on January 17, 2016 that, “As the former President of the NLC, I appreciate the value of gratuity and what it represents to the average worker who has spent all his life working. But I am sure you would remember when I assumed office on November 12, 2008, I found that people who had retired 9 years earlier, 10 years earlier, some 12 years earlier, those who retired during the military and those who were retired by Igbinedion government in 2000 and those who retired thereafter, their gratuity were not paid.

Of course, I was very angry with those who were responsible for that delay but they told me they did everything they could, particularly with the mass retirement in 2000 but nobody was ready to listen. But that meant we had so many years arrears of people who had retired, many had died, many were dying and there was no hope of paying their gratuity”.


According to the Governor, “I was angry over this and my first decision was that I will not be dealing with the arrears, I will start to pay those who retired from the day I assume office. But on further reflection, I realize that, that will not be fair to the average pensioner because they were not responsible for their not been paid.”


So I decided therefore that I will have to take responsibility to clear all the arrears but the amount involved was so huge and of course, our revenue is not so much. I observed that once, you have decided to pay that the way the pension and gratuity was being done was based on what I called, ‘Godfatherism’. That is to say, if you know the Governor, or the governor’s wife or you are a relation of the Head of Service, they might put your name for the payment of gratuity.”


So, I tried to reorder it, to remove this favoritism and ensure that pensions were paid, batch by batch. Now, we have been doing that but I think initially, because our resources were small, I said let’s start with at least 10 million naira and I have increased it up to 60 million by the middle of last year. But I look at the number and I realized that if we continue that way, we may never be able to pay everybody and so, realizing that my tenure is coming to an end, I felt I should do more to look for more money to deal with the issue of pension”.
  

The Integrity Issue
We are therefore left with a personal integrity issue here as well as a state sovereign integrity issue.  

Edo State Government – the State Pensions Board, Secretary to State Government and indeed the Executive Governor has to resolve this matter and not pass the buck to incoming administration, whoever that might be.

 

The National Pension Commission (Pencom) may also want to look into this development especially as it relates to “dud cheques” by a state government. This is not how to deliver “labour friendly” interventions and most certainly not one that approximates the personal commitment given by the Governor; who may well be unaware of this development and will need to investigate what happened here to enable him set the records straight. An otherwise good initiative must not become a ruse; that is beneath the office of an Executive Governor of a sovereign state.   

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