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WHEN GOVERNMENTS PLAY POLITICS WITH WORKERS SALARIES, PENSION SCHEME AND THE PENSIONERS' ARREARS



By Njoku Macdonald Obinna
Owerri, Imo State .

" Laughter in the midst of tragedy can never be really funny." You may not feel their pains and economic woes except your parents are victims!
Do not take sides with the government because you too shall soon join the club of retirees , and may also be a victim.

Any government that cannot pay workers salaries and pensions, is already a failed one before  the court of public opinion; even in the conservative watchful eyes of the international community.
Payment of workers' salaries , or pensioners'  accumulated pension arrears shouldn't be seen as an achievement by any serious , proactive and responsive government who is truly committed to the social welfare of its workforce and citizens .

Regrettably , in Nigeria , the reverse is the case. Unfortunately too, governments at all levels are guilty  of this social welfare crime against their workforce;  and this predated the present government. No doubt.

Yesterday , frustrated Imo pensioners threw caution to the wind , damned government's directive on maintaining  social distancing in the wake of zoonotic  COVID-19 pandemic;  as they took to the street in Owerri to protest non -payment of accumulated pension arrears by the 'Five Months ' Shared Prosperity Government of Sen. Hope Uzodinma.  As usual , it made the headlines as families whose retired aged parents are victims of this pension manipulation showed strong solidarity.

Just like ' the proverbial devil that fishes in troubled waters' the opposition Peoples Democratic Party in lmo State, PDP,  joined in  a sympathy online protest to cast aspersions on the APC led administration in the state ,  maligning government's conscious efforts to pay accumulated monthly wage bills and clear some pension arrears in the dawning reality of scarce resources as it is becoming obvious that the state's Internal Generated Revenue (IGR) has drastically dropped while funds coming through the monthly allocation from the federation account is nothing to write home about. The reason is not far fetched. No thanks to the lockdown directive necessitated by the coronavirus global pandemic.

Therefore , one may not be accused of sounding immodest to opine that ' Imo State is broke' and may not be able to pay workers' monthly wage bills , not to talk of pensioners accumulated arrears .However , this sorry situation is not peculiar and limited to only our beloved state , Imo, but other states in the federation whose governors are in their 5 years in office. Make  your findings .

Before l quietly sign out, let me quickly put the records straight. Nigerian government has failed the  Nigerian people. A country which borrows foreign loans to pay ' ordinary monthly wage bill' can be said to have succeeded in mortgaging the future of its citizenry. In lmo State , except in the golden era of the late Sam Mbakwe , successive administrations are yet to stamp their names on the sands of time and in the hearts of the people.

From Chief Achike Udenwa;  who governed lmo State during  its relatively dark age between 1999 to 2007 , to Chief Ikedi Ohakim's four years 'Clean & Green Administration.' They all left with accumulated whooping wage bills and pensions running into billions of Naira. It is understandably so since government is a  continuum.

The Owelle Rochas Okorocha's led Rescue Mission Administration , after 8 years in office ; with all its performance political melodrama also left without clearing outstanding workers' salaries and pensioners arrears. At least , my dad is a victim of the ill treatment meted against retired lmo pensioners. He was retired from active service in 1999 after a meritorious and selfless service at the lmo State Housing Cooperation. Since 2015 till date , it has been one -ugly- story-to another each passing day. No thanks to Dr. Henry Okafor ;  whose management of the ISHC  did not put a single smile on the faces of the pensioners  except his ' OWELLE,  SHOW US THE MAN AND GO TO SLEEP CAMPAIGN MANTRA .'

🤓🧐 When  Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha took over the affairs of the lmo State as its governor , he made some  pragmatic steps to restore confidence and reform  the State Civil Service. After almost three months in office , the Rebuild lmo Administration embarked on three -weeks Biometric Verification Exercise to accurately capture the bio- data  of the lmo workforce , fish out ghost workers and fight the corruption in the state pension system. Did he succeed ? He almost. Unfortunately, the cartel and political malfeasance in that sector seem to be too powerful for the government to contain. While the administration's  Lagos and Abuja  based consultancy companies  smiled to the banks , his government ended up not paying about three months accumulated pensioners' arrears brought forward by his immediate predecessor. It's more of ' a vicious circle.'

Conclusively , and from a more broader perspective , economic analysts and financial management experts have simply submitted that the post -COVID -19 era will turn the state pension problem into a fiscal crisis as governments at all levels struggle to pay monthly wage bills of their serving workforce while pensioners remain an after -thoughts. No amount of protests or pressure can change this . And the truth remains that pension plans run by states do not have enough money in their coffers to make upcoming pension payments to retired states' pensioners.

Imo State is no exception !

+ Njoku Macdonald Obinna

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