Enugu Retirees Groan Over Unpaid Pensions, Gratuities
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Enugu Retirees Groan Over Unpaid Pensions, Gratuities

By Ben Aroh, The Whistler

Retired local government workers and their primary school counterparts in Enugu State are being owed about twenty months’ arrears of pensions. Their gratuities were last paid in 2005. This report interrogates their plights, the cause of the non-payment of overtime, and the challenge before the state government.

I Feel I’m Useless – Retiree

Chukwuma Arua retired as a primary school teacher in Isi-Uzo Local Government Area of Enugu State. He retired about ten years ago. Arua told The Whistler that, “With my seven children and wife literally fending for themselves, I feel I am useless. I am sick as you can see. I’m diabetic. I was also diagnosed with an enlarged prostate. My children and wife wake up every day to do all manners of menial jobs for our feeding. If I am healthy, I would have been looking for other sources to feed my family.”

Malachy Eze is about seventy-five years old. He retired from Udi LGA. He said, “Our case is special. Most civil servants should be afraid of retirement if they see how miserable local government retirees are. I have a nagging waist pain that has crippled me. I can’t do anything useful. It is a hopeless situation for somebody like me to find myself in a condition where I can’t even train my children. My ailment worsened because I couldn’t afford the required medical bills. The government is simply not sensitive to our plights. It is as bad as that.”

We’re Praying – Pensioners

The chairman of the state retired local government employees is Mr Simon Abugu. He said, “We are being paid in arrears. We started pleading even before the new government of Barr Peter Mbah came on board. It seems other administrations did not have the political will to settle the pensioners. It is not that the money isn’t there. The new governor has stated that he is after eradicating poverty in the state, which was part of his campaign. Of course, poverty won’t be eradicated without taking care of pensioners. We are praying that we are remembered. We beg the governor because it has become complex. Some of us retired for over twenty months without collecting a dime as a pension. Many of us are sick; some are incapacitated. We really need help.”

The Root Problems – Unionist Explains

Comrade Mathias Okpe was a unionist before he retired as a local government worker. He said, “The problem is that retired LGA workers and primary school teachers’ pensions are paid from the statutory contributions of various LGAs in the state. But it is not effective. It makes pension payments not to be the government’s first-line charge. We want pensions released from the state Joint Account Committee, not subjecting us to what is contributed by LGAs. I heard that LGAs contribute about N300m monthly, which is a far cry from about N400m which is required to settle pensioners monthly. That is why they will pay for two months, and then skip a month to complete the next month. Let JAC earmark our money before they share allocations.”

I Suspect Insincerity – Accountant

A retired accountant, on condition of anonymity, attributed the delayed pension payments to insincerity. According to him, “In the past, after verifications, we are paid. But presently, after verifications, and if anybody is found to have died, the authorities will stop the victim’s pensions there and then, without clearing the arrears owed to the deceased before he or she passed on. Once a pensioner is confirmed dead, the name is removed from the list. What happens to what was owed him before his death? This is fraud. It means the verification is basically to know how many have died. Many have died, and it doesn’t reflect on our welfare. The money recovered from their exit ought to make our payments more regular.

“Again, the state primary school management board receives subventions from LGAs. When a teacher retires, the retiree’s pension payment is transferred to the state Local Government Staff Pensions Board without any contributions from the primary school board that receives subventions from LGA allocations. This makes the number of retirees swell while the allocations remain constant. Enugu State Universal
Basic Education Board has money in excess but is unwilling to fund our pensions. Let them take care of primary school retirees, not push them to the LG staff pensions board without funding from ENSUBEB.”

It’ll Not Be Well With Masterminds Of Our Woes – Pensioner

Mazi Emenike Enebe is from Agbani, Nkanu West LGA. He said those behind the degrading plights of pensioners in the state must pay the price. In his words, “Those that contribute to our downfall will regret it. Already, most of them are suffering from it. None of them was given any appointment in the state by the new government. They shouldn’t. Let them rest to see what applicants see.”

Ex-Pensions Board Chairman Explains

Nana Ogbodo headed the state Local Government Staff Pensions Board under ex-governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi. He explained that “When Ugwuanyi’s administration came in 2016/2017, there was the Paris Club refund. Gov Ugwuanyi devoted the state’s intervention wholesomely to the payment of arrears of gratuities, pensions, and salaries. Gratuity was paid last in Enugu State in 2001, before Ugwuanyi’s administration. That means the administration before the last one did not pay up its tenure. The one that succeeded it did not pay anything at all. But Gov Ugwuanyi went back to 2001 to pay from it, which he paid for up to five years. Arrears of leave allowances were about 10 years, and he cleared them.

“It is compelling to note that those who ought to have handled it timely, by reasons best known to them, left it. Gratuities were last paid in Enugu state in 2001 before now. So from 2001 to 2016, there was nothing like payment of gratuities. When there was this Paris Club refund, he doled out over N2bn to handle the payment of gratuities from 2001 to nearly 2006.”

On the merger of primary school retirees and their LG counterparts, Ogbodo, a lawyer, said, “Sometime in 2002, the retired teachers which used to be under the Accountant General’s office were moved to the LG staff pensions board, which increased the number of pensioners, without a corresponding increase in the funds. Then, the Pensions Reform Act 2004 disengaged the pensioners from the federal government completely. It now rests on the state and the local governments alone.”

Light At The End Of The Tunnel

The chairman of, the Joint Public Service Negotiating Council, Enugu State, Dr Ezekiel Onwe, expressed hopes that Gov Mbah will salvage the plight of pensioners in the state. According to him, “What gives us hope is that the leadership of the Nigerian Union of Pensioners wrote a memo to Gov Mbah recently. The promptness he responded to the demand for Labour gives us hope that things will change. For instance, the issue of pensioners of seven core parastatals in Enugu State was raised. He promptly ordered the review of their biodata which was captured by the Ugwuanyi administration in 2021. He responded within two days. We are optimistic that there will be change.”

Onwe added that efforts are being made to harmonize pensions being paid to state retirees because ‘some earn as low as N450 a month’.

Quoting him, “Since 1999 till date, there is no pension harmonization in the state. While we agitate for payment of arrears and regular pensions, another pathetic angle is the harmonization of pensions. The rule has been that any time there is salary adjustment and implementation, the proper thing is to harmonize pensions. Some pensioners earn N450 as a pension. There is a worker who retired in 1979. He is alive. Some earn N1000. If there has been harmonization over time, especially with the minimum wage that has been implemented, no person can earn as low as that. This amount can’t be transported the person to Enugu for verification.

“Most pensioners are sick, old, and require extra care. We appeal for the harmonization to be implemented because of subsidy removal and the dwindling value of naira. But with the way our new governor has come to build the economy of the state, and changing the dynamics of governance, we hope that he will look into harmonization and payment of arrears of pensions.”

What Gov. Mbah Has Done

Gov. Peter Mbah recently set a committee whose terms of reference include verifying and determining all outstanding pensions and gratuities due to local government staff and primary school teachers; verifying and determining the total number of local government retirees that are primary school teachers and local government staff; to recommend an appropriate plan or module for payment of all the verified pensions and gratuities, and to submit their findings and report within three weeks of its inauguration.

The committee has Dr. Nnamdi Nwankwo, a Catholic priest, as chairman. The members are Donatus Achi, retired permanent secretary; Comrd Ike Ekere, state chairman, Nigeria Union of Pensioners, Enugu chapter; Theophilus Nweke Odo, state chairman, Nigeria Union of Teachers; Comrd Ken Ugwueze, state chairman, National Union of Local Government Employees; Adenike Okebu, senior special assistant to the governor on revenue; Larry Oguego, human rights activist; Chinedu Ngene from the state audit department; and Prof Obiamaka Egbo, special adviser to the governor on public finance, who serves as secretary.

Speaking on the plan of the state government for the welfare of the pensioners, the state information commissioner, Mr. Aka Eze Aka, said, “After the verification, what is owed the retirees will be cleared. It is business unusual. The government is determined to clear whatever is being owed them.”

Elder’s Advice

An elder statesman, Nze Joe Aneke, advises the Mbah government to improve the welfare of pensioners in the state.

According to him, “How a child mocks his father will befall him in his old age. Let this government earn its highest glories by prioritizing the welfare of pensioners in the state. It will be a legacy project. State pensioners should also access the National Health Insurance Scheme as a right.”

This story is produced with support from Civic Media Lab.

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