By Julius Oweh
The beauty and attraction of the civil service job be it at the federal, state or local government level is the security of job and the payment of pensions and gratuity after meritorious service either of thirty-five years or attainment of the age of sixty years.
That explains the dedication of civil servants to their jobs and acting as the engine room that fires the implementation of government projects and programmes for the benefit of the people. It goes without saying that without the active support and co-operation of the civil servants, politicians elected into office cannot see the fruition of their electoral promises. However, with the down turn of the economy, that attraction is no longer there and these men and women after using their salad years in the service of motherland are sometimes left in the cold without their benefits being paid. The situation is becoming more precarious more so that some state governments cannot even pay salaries to workers in their service.
However, the situation of Delta State is different as the Okowa-led administration is resolutely committed to addressing the plights of these senior citizens and putting smiles on their faces. According to the Delta State Finance Commissioner, Chief David Edevbie, as at October 2016, the state government owed pensions stood at N9.3billion. But the story is different today as recently the government released the sum of N2.2 billion to address the plights of pensioners.
Speaking to the press recently, the public relations officer of Bureau of Pensions, Mr Toju Oteri said that N600m will be used for the payment of retirement benefits while N2.2 billion will be deployed to defray the backlog of government counterpart contribution to works Retirement Savings Account up till December 2017. The image maker of the Bureau of Pensions also disclosed that the Delta State government has been releasing N150 million monthly since January 2017 and that the government recently raised it to N300 million as part of government effort to clear the pension arrears in the state.
The state governor, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa last year, in one of the town halls meetings, revealed the determination of the government to minister to the welfare and the needs of the pensioners. This is how the governor explained it: ‘When we came on board two years ago, we were told that the government was owing pensioners. We have been paying and have injected a lot of money. So at the end of every month, for the old pension scheme and the contributory pension scheme, pay about N1 billion on pension alone‘.
Thus from the actions of the state government and policy pronunciations, it is crystal clear that the government is working round the clock and given the financial constrains to regularly pay the benefits of the pensioners. And this was corroborated by the Head of Service, Mr Reginald Bayoko on the settlement of retirees and payment schedules to pension funds administrators. He promised that the government will sustain the monthly release of funds to pension fund administrators irrespective of the economic situation. Bayoko argued thus :‘ The pensioners‘ pains, anguish, disappointments and forlorn hope have become a strong challenge that must be surmounted if any meaningful gain is to be made out of the scheme in the long run‘.
On the part of labour in the state, it has lauded the government for the release of funds to clear the backlog of pension arrears. Comrade Lawson Efenudu, chairman of Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria, Delta State branch and vice chairman of Trade Union Congress (TUC), Delta State appealed to government to sustain the tempo of the release of funds. Listen to Efenudu sentiments: ‘Delta State Government sustained the release of the sum of N300 million monthly from January 2017 to date to address backlog arrears of accrued rights of retirees. The precarious situation we had in 2016 made government to owe deductions across board. The N2.2 billion released again alongside the N300 million is to clear all outstanding deductions in the contributory pension scheme. I commend the governor for the political will in tackling pension related issues in the state‘.
In a recent parley with newsmen in Asaba, the interim chairman of pensioners‘ union in Delta State, Comrade Sunday Ozobiani commended the state governor, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa for the payment of gratuity and pensions to the senior citizens, imploring him to sustain the tempo. Ozobiani stated that since the payment of the Paris Club money to governors across the country, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa has used the money meant for the state judiciously in monthly settlement of retirees and infrastructures. He therefore called on the governor to sustain the tempo and look up to God for everything that he was doing for mankind, stressing that retirees in the state would support him massively come 2019. Comrade Ozobiani, however, called on the governor to prevail on the office of the Head of Service and the Bureau of Pensions to fast track the payment from 2014 to 2016 to justify the governor‘s good intentions to pensioners.
It is on record that the state government regularly pays salaries of workers and when the government hosted pensioners fund administrators from Abuja not too long ago, the state governor laid bare the policy thrust of the administration as regards the payment of workers’ salaries and pensioners’ entitlements. Hear Governor Okowa : ‘The state government takes very seriously the affairs of civil servants in the state and our agenda is to ensure that we have a robust and functioning civil service and to make sure that pensioners who have served government will be taken care of by the time of their retirement.
Despite the challenges the nation has faced in meeting with the obligations of paying pensioners, our administration will continue to ensure that our pensioners both at the state and local government levels receive their entitlements as at when due and hopefully we will get to a level where no pensioner will be owed and will not go through any stress to receive their benefits which usually lead to them queuing for long periods of time‘.
In deed and in truth, many pensioners in the state are eagerly waiting for that day that their pension would be paid in time without waiting for months and years to enjoy the fruits of their labour. With recent actions of the government and the pledge of the state governor, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa, pensioners in the state are in for happier times when their pensions and gratuity would be paid in time so that they could sit in comfort and luxuriate after their many years of dedicated service to Delta State and indeed Nigeria.