Sequel to the downturn in the nation’s economy, a lot of the states of the federation are reeling under huge financial burden as pensions of retirees in the state civil service keep on increasing on a monthly basis.
Consequently, pensioners, like workers are groaning over unpaid pensions and gratuities which have ran into several months with lots of them dying unsung despite serving their country meritoriously for many years.
Most affected states include Akwa Ibom, Imo, Osun Oyo and others where life has become hell on earth for the pensioners owing to huge financial burden of the retirees on the state’s finances.
The Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Finance, Mr Akan Okon, unveiled the crisis facing the state on pensoners’ plight in Uyo while speaking with newsmen in his office.
This is coming as the Imo State Governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha said his inability to pay pensioners their pay and arrears for over 17 months was due to dwindling federal allocation.
The Akwa Ibom commissioner noted that following the lean financial situation in the state, modalities were being worked out to revive the earlier suspended Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) in the state.
Okon said that the reintroduction of CPS would guarantee sustainable pension administration, adding that the state government had already constituted a committee to draw up efficient structural framework for the smooth implementation of CPS in the state public service.
He regretted that Akwa Ibom was the only state in the country not implementing the Pension Reform Act of 2014 explaining that under the Act, provisions are made for states and local governments to adopt the contributory pension scheme.
He said that recent development with regards to inadequate funds affecting all states in the country had made it imperative to adopt the contributory pension scheme in the state maintaining that the CPS would guarantee better future for pensioners as it would facilitate quick payment of retirement benefits.
The commissioner lamented that payment of terminal benefits had been a major challenge to pensioners in the country as some had waited for years to get their entitlements adding that apart from forestalling misappropriation of pension funds, CPS would relieve the state government of huge outstanding pension liabilities.
He therefore appealed to workers in the state employ to embrace the scheme as soon as it is reintroduced.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) recalls that Akwa Ibom government in 2013 pulled out of CPS following the absence of enabling law from the State House of Assembly.
NAN reports that though the state had hitherto implemented the scheme in its service, there were no pension administrators appointed and deductions over the years were refunded to the workers in 2015.
The refunds made by the immediate past administration of Gov. Godswill Akpabio were fraught with irregularities and some workers complained of omission of names and being short-changed. Okorocha said his inability to pay pensions arrears running into over 17 months was due to shortfall in allocations from the Federation Account.
In a statement by the his Chief Press Secretary, Sam Onwuemeodo, in response to last Wednesday’s protest by retirees, Okorocha urged them to wait till the workers’ verification exercise is concluded in the next few weeks.
Urging those who are in support of the protest to desist from the act, he said, “The only area the governor felt and still feels worried with the pensioners is their failure or inability to find out the reason for the delay in the payment of their pensions since such hadn’t happened before now.”
He said the state used to pay pensioners as and when due until the recent economic crunch, adding: “The pensioners do not need to be told that the governor loves them greatly and would have also loved to pay them all the arrears outrightly.
“The economic situation in the country at the moment occasioned by the mismanagement of the country’s resources over the years, which has also negatively affected finances of the states has called for stringent measures in the payment of salaries and pensions,” he said.
He added that the government was equally perplexed to discover that between 2011 and now, the number of pensioners in the state has increased by 500 per cent, and the amount required to settle arrears has grown from hundreds of millions to billions of naira.