By Elijah Ugani
The Association of Cross River State Local Governments Pensioners has issued the State government a 21 days ultimatum with effect from 22nd October, 2018 to pay outstanding gratuities and pension arrears from 2015 till date.
The association’s ultimatum was contained in a letter addressed to the Secretary to the State Government which also threatened to occupy all government offices and buildings if their demands are not met.
The letter signed by the Chairman, Mr. Bassey Okosin; the secretary, Mr.Peter Ozah as well as four other executives and sighted by CrossRiverWatch read in part: “What has been of a serious concern is the issue of non-payment of gratuities and pension arrears from 2005 till date, amounting to over #11.5 billion for which this association has made frantic efforts in writing, consultations, appeals without any positive result
“It was based on the nonchalant attitude of government towards our plight, that members met on 16th January, 2018 and took a decision to give the State Government one month notice, at the expiration of which our members across the State were to be mobilised to occupy all relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) in charge of Local Government Pension Administration. This position was duly communicated to Your Excellency via letter No. ACRLGP/014/VOL.1/91 dated 16th January, 2018.
“In a meeting hosted by Your Excellency on this issue, you promised a monthly release of NGN100,000,000.00 with effect from February 2018 to cushion the effect of many years of neglect in paying the outstanding gratuities and pension arrears. Between February and October 2018, the amount had risen to NGN900,000,000.00 (Nine Hundred Million Naira) which is grossly inadequate, relative to the over NGN11.5 Billion required to settle these liabilities. It was based on this promise that our planned occupation of government offices was suspended.
“A directive was given to verify pension records including authentication of pension payroll, possibly to ascertain the actual financial requirement for Local Government Pension Administration. That exercise has since been concluded which should have made government to now take a decision on how to properly fund the Local Government Pension Board.
“Unfortunately, this exercise was merely seen as a delay tactics to further humiliate, frustrate and compound the already bad situation of Local Government Pensioners. The anxiety aroused by the promises made by government ended up in pains and agony. It therefore calls to question, why members of Local Government Pensioners ever accepted to suspend an action that was properly put in place. From all indications, government has no intention whatsoever to keep faith with the promises that have to with the survival of Local Government Pensioners.
“We are aware that between 2016 and 2017, the Federal Government released tranches of bailout funds and Paris London Club refunds to States, to settle retirement benefits of retirees and Cross River State also benefited. Notwithstanding this federal government gesture, Local Government Pensioners were shortchanged.
“Recently, we have it on good authority that the Federal Government has released yet another tranche of bailout funds to Cross River State which has created an ample opportunity for government to meet the promises to Local Government Pensioners. It is therefore, unjustifiable for Local Government Pensioners to fold their arms and watch government further deny them their entitlement, after our counterparts in other states have been paid their retirement benefits up to date.
“Having exhausted all efforts through writing, consultation and appeals which have failed, we have no other option than to take our fate in our hands. Therefore, at the enlarged Exco meeting held on Thursday, 18th October 2018, the Association resolved to revisit our earlier plan to occupy relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies, and to give government 21 days ultimatum to attend to our demands.
“This exercise will commence at 12.01am on the day following the expiration of the 21 days ultimatum, which is 13 November, 2018, and will not be called off or suspended until our demands are met.
“We therefore call on Heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies to make adequate provisions which include: Dwelling place, toilet facilities, health facilities, feeding arrangement, transport and logistics to cover over 6,000 Local Government Pensioners that are billed to be in Calabar throughout the period of this exercise.
“We therefore ask all those connected with the issue under consideration, to do their best to ensure that these elderly persons (senior citizens) are not exposed to unwarranted dangers. Government will be held responsible for consequences that may arise as a result of our action.
“While we commend our members and sympathisers for their understanding when we cancelled the previous arrangement against their wish, we strongly appeal and assure them that having proven that government has never been serious with the welfare of Local Government Pensioners and their promises cannot be relied upon, we will do all within our power to sustain the impending exercise.”
However, the Cross River State government has said that it does not owe salaries to workers in the State and local government systems.
A statement signed by the Commissioner for Information and Orientation dated October 26, 2018 read: “(The) Government wishes to state clearly that all workers in the Local Government system, including Teachers, Health Workers and all category of Pensioners have been paid their salaries up to October 2018.
“This clarification has become expedient in view of misinformation being peddled in some section of the media aimed at painting the administration of Prof, Ayade as being insensitive to the welfare of workers especially those in the Local Government Service.”
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