By Chidi Nkwopara
OWERRI—There is no doubt that Imo State government has fully accessed the bailout fund promised by the Federal Government.
Governor Rochas Okorocha had, during a recent public function in Owerri, confirmed this development.
Okorocha equally announced the appointment of some functionaries to manage the fund. This includes the Secretary to the Government of Imo State, Sir Jude Ejiogu, and his son in-law that doubles as the Chief of Staff, Uche Nwosu.
However, uncertainty appears to be the common refrain among respondents in Imo State, on what the state government had either done, is doing or not doing with the bailout fund.
One of the labour leaders in the state told Vanguard that the state government owed workers and pensioners varying sums before the release of the Federal Government’s N26 billion bailout fund.
Civil servants were owed three months salaries as at the time of filing this report. Workers in government parastatals and agencies were owed between six to eight months.
The plight of pensioners is most pitiable. A few instances would suffice at this point. Retired primary school teachers were owed 18 months arrears of pensions before the Federal Government sent the bailout lifeline. Currently, pensioners are now owed for 20 months.
That is not the end of the long list. Civil pensioners are owed seven months, while local government health workers are grappling with six months of their uncleared salaries. Other local government workers are owed three months and teachers, two months.
Among the parastatals, the staff of Imo Broadcasting Corporation, IBC, are owed for four months, Imo Newspapers workers, seven months, workers of Imo Blue Lake of Treasure, seven months, Imo Palm Plantation, eight months, Arts and Culture, seven months, Tourist Corporation, six months, and the House of Assembly parliamentary workers, four months.
The organized labour had to openly agitate and even went on seven days warning strike before the administration was jolted into action. So far, the administration has paid civil servants and teachers up to September.
The labour leader affirmed that cheques for the payment of local government workers are ready but they refused to take it because
their counterparts in the health sector had not been paid.
“When last labour leaders discussed with Governor Okorocha, we pointedly told him that parastatals were established by law and should not be toyed with. We also told him that there are World Bank sponsored projects, which cannot and should not be toyed with,” the labour leader said.
Pensioners had been agitating for the payment of their stipends, for several months without success. Both the pensioners and the state chairman of Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, Austin Chilakpu, confirmed that the senior citizens had not been paid a dime of their unpaid pensions.
“The bailout fund was intended to clear salaries and pensions and where the affected people have not been paid, no one can safely say that the bailout money has been effectively utilized by the state government,” a senior staff of one of the ministries said.
Another civil servant said: “Our pensioners are dying in their numbers. The civil servants who are crying over their earned salaries
are more than those who are laughing. So, nobody can truly say that the state government has fully utilized the bailout fund.”
Obinna Egu reacts
Meanwhile, the member representing Ngor Okpala state constituency, Mr. Obinna Egu, has taken a swipe at the state government over what he termed “noticeable indifference and insensitivity to the plight of pensioners in the state.”
Egu was visibly worried that many pensioners were dying from hunger, diseases and poverty by the non-payment of arrears of pensions and gratuity.
He made his feelings known on the floor of the House, when he was presenting a petition from one of his constituents, Mr. Richard Abara.
“Considering the unbearable pain these senior citizens were passing through, government needed to do away with rhetorics and pay the arrears of pension.”