Akwa Ibom State pensioners have decried non-payment of their pensions and gratuities despite recent bailouts and Paris Clubs refunds, pleading with the state government to pay their entitlements.
It was gathered that from August 2015 till January 2017, retired civil servants have not been paid their gratuity and Pension arrears, due to perceived embargo on the payment of gratuities and pensions by the state government.
One of the pensioners claimed that from January 2017 till date, the total amount of gratuity and pension arrears were N11billion, arguing that, if the state was given N14.5billion in December last year from the Paris Club refunds by the federal government, the state government should have comfortably defrayed the arrears to make life easy for the pensioners, who had served the country meritoriously for 35 years.
“Those whose pensions have been paid up to date are persons who retired recently due to the implementation of straight transfer procedure by the Head of Service (HoS), Mrs Ekereobong Akpan, where workers payroll is transmitted to pensions payroll without any delay,” adding that, workers who retired between 2015/16 are being owed gratuities and pension arrears.
According to him, “Those who retired from service in 2013-2014 and could not receive their blue papers are also being owed gratuities and pensions, while the arrears it was gathered vary.” He appealed to the federal government to enforce its earlier directive to states, on the usage of Paris Club refunds for the payment of gratuity and pension arrears to pensioners.
However, investigation by Vanguard revealed that, payment of pension and gratuity is becoming more complex, arising from the existence of three categories of government pensioners (The Civil, Primary School Teachers and the Local Government Pensioners).
According to the Akwa Ibom State Secretary of the Nigeria Union of Pensioners, NUP, Obong Comas M. Essien, each of these groups belongs to a particular arm of government which caters for their welfare needs and interest.
He said before 1990, the state government was solely responsible for the civil pensioners which comprised the primary school teachers.
Budget for pensions and gratuities
But from 1990, under Sanni Abacha administration, primary school teachers were excised from the civil pensioners group and put under the responsibility of the local government, when pension which hitherto was under consolidated arrangement became budgeted hence, irregular payment, part payment and non-payment etc became the order of the day till date.
Pensioners may be owed up to three years without being paid because, by that budgetary system, government did not make any department to budget for pensions and gratuities,” he said.
Obong Essien, maintained that, though civil pensioners don’t have problem of gratuity except some arrears of pensions, adding that payment of local government and primary school teachers’ arrears of gratuity and pensions dates back from 2013-2017, except when HoS began the implementation of straight transfers from workers payroll to pensions payroll six months ago.
“That process had stopped pension arrears but, workers under the former arrangement still remain more than a year before they can get their pensions thereby creating pension arrears. We are aware of gratuity and pension arrears within the ranks of local government and primary school teachers which dates back from 2013-2017, when we were invited to a public hearing for 2017 budget at the House of Assembly.
“Therefore, we are not happy with the way pensions are administered in Akwa Ibom and we call on the state government to establish the state pensions board, to remedy all the anomalies and harmonization that exists within the pension management, since our problems were not budgeted for in the 2017 budget.”
The pensioners thanked President Buhari for the release of Paris Club refunds to the state, urging Akwa Ibom State government to utilize the money to alleviate the problems of pensions in the state and harmonization in particular.
The Head of Service, Mrs. Ekereobong Akpan, could not be reached for comments on the matter at the time of this report, but the senior special adviser to the governor on labour matters, Comrade Unyime Usoro said, “the policy before Governor Udom Emmanuel’s administration was that, when a worker retires, government would work out his or her gratuity and pensions and keep it until there is money to pay.
“Government realized that, the process was cumbersome and demoralizing for pensioners to stay for months before receiving their monies.
It now places emphasis on transmitting pensions from the salary payroll to pension payroll. People who retire now as they finish processing their papers will be paid,” noting that, there could be problem with some people whose records are yet to be verified.
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