By David Odama
The Nasarawa state government has offered to pay the sum of N180million monthly to over 1,500 pensioners in the state in an effort to defray the over N40billion unpaid benefits to the state’s senior citizens.
Recall that some aggrieved pensioners had dragged the state government to a federal high court sitting in Abuja and got judgment garnishing the state government account as a result of the over N40billion unpaid benefits to the retirees by the previous administrations.
Unfolding the state government’s plans to pay the debt, Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, Dr Abdulkarim Kana, who faulted the litigation against the state government by some pensioners, said the position taken by the aggrieved pensioners to take the state government to court was against the initial agreement between the government and the pensioners.
He said the government was not unaware of the accumulated debts owed the pensioners, noting that before they approached the court, they wrote to the government and the state government in its wisdom replied them that it was working towards payment of their entitlement
Dr Abdulkarim revealed that the accumulated debt was so much that even if the government decided to pay, it would not be cleared in 10 years with the annual budget and the statutory requirements for pensions.
According to him,” We informed them of the accumulated gratuity and government will find a way of paying it in instalment to be able to attend other sectors, yet they were not satisfied and went to court.
So, the government dusted the files of those that went to court and began treating their cases. For that reason, six months down the line pensions were not paid. This was during the immediate government of Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura, but before he left office, he paid half.
“Immediately the new government of Eng Abdullahi Sule came on board, he said it was not fair seeing government in court with pensioners because they are our parents and therefore we should settle the matter out of court.
This was one of the first assignments given to me when I became the state Attorney General under the administration of Engineer Sule. We sat and resolved that we would find a way of paying them N180 million monthly.
Remember that this is not pensions but servicing outstanding gratuity. Then came the issue of local government autonomy which the state government said it won’t be bearing the burden alone.
Meanwhile, in the overall accumulation of N40billion, only N10 billion was for state. The remaining N30 billion was that of local governments.”
He, however, informed that the local government was brought in and a MoU was reached that would lead to the settlement out of court with the pensioners and later filed in court supposedly to end the case.
The commissioner said having reach agreement, the case was taken out of court with the target for the commencement of their payments at February, but again it was at that time that local government subventions started dropping to a point where some LGAs could not even pay salaries successfully to their workers.
The commissioner, however, expressed optimism that by Wednesday (today) there would likely be light at the end of the tunnel if the court in it wisdom seat and take the case out of court and unfreeze the state account which as a result of the case filed by the 601 pensioners, has negatively affected the state.
Reacting to the state government decision, the state chairman of pensioners Musa Obakpa, said taking the state government to court was not the solution to their problems.
“As at the time governor Abdullahi Sule was doing everything to ensure that issues concerning the monthly pensions and gratuities were addressed, some few members under the aegis of concerned pensioners rushed and obtained an order freezing the government account. It is not correct to say that pensioners were responsible for workers not receiving salaries before Eid-El-Kabir, because the group of concerned pensioners went to court because of pressure from their counsel to settle him.
“It is unfortunate that the concerned pensioners could not take into consideration the pain their fellow pensioners and civil servants could pass as a result of freezing of the account, especially during Eid-El-Kabir.”
“As senior citizens, we consider dialogue through diplomacy in finding a solution to the problem confronting their members especially now that the present governor had shown a commitment to attending to their issues.”
Meanwhile, efforts to reach the concerned group who went to court was not as successful as none of them offers to speak on the issue.