The Honourable Commissioner for Information and Communications, in Akwa Ibom state, Mr. Aniekan Umanah, in this interview, gives elaborate explanations on the issue of pensions in the state. Excerpt:
Honourable Commissioner, a lot of people were so surprised that how come the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, 50th years of Golden age, a golden celebration that should been greeted by a whole lot of celebrations?
Yes! It’s very normal. That is his personal policy. He didn’t start today. For those who have always known him, you will understand clearly that he prefers that those expenses and investments that people would have made in merry-making, should be channelled to those members of the society that require and deserve our care. He has always made that very clear. So, what happened yesterday (11 July, 2016), the 50th birthday of His Excellency, a Golden Jubilee was a show of love to the less privileged, a show of love to those who deserve to be loved and cared for.
It happened in different parts of the state. The members of the State Executive Council (SEC), through the College of Commissioners, started in the morning with a special devotion service by 6am at the Government House Chapel. It was led by the Special Assistant to the Governor on Religious Affairs, Rev. Daniel Akwatang. All exco members were in attendance to show gratitude to God for the life of His Excellency, Governor Udom Emmanuel, for bringing him thus far, and putting on his shoulder, the responsibility of the burden of Akwa Ibom State; appreciate the successes he has made and prayed for a greater enablement in the various tasks of running Akwa Ibom State. That was followed by a visit to the children’s home at IBB Avenue where food items and soft articles to support the children were presented through personal contributions of the exco members. The Deputy Governor also attended the event. The governor was not celebrated. We made it clear to people that the Governor preferred giving honour to those who needed our care and love rather than honouring him on his birthday. We continue to pray for the sustenance of His Excellency by the Almighty God, the enablement, strength and wisdom to carry on with the task of running a very complex state like Akwa Ibom.
Did the Governor direct that the money for newspaper publications be channeled to the less privileged…?
He has nothing against newspaper publications. He prefers the less privileged being taken care of at this moment. If you want to merry, go and do that with them. They need to be given a sense of belonging and a hope in this society. I think that is very charitable and we must commend him for such very personal policy.
In 2015 when His Excellency was sworn in, he decided to source for money and pay one decade of pensions and gratuities to local government retirees. These same people are saying they still need this payment. Who is supposed to pay them?
Thank you very much. Let me clarify the issue of local government pension or the pension administration system in the state so that people can understand. Firstly, we have three tiers of government – Federal, State and Local Governments.
The Federal Government has its workers. It is totally and squarely responsible for the salaries, emoluments, pensions and gratuities of federal workers – workers employed by the federal government who worked and retired under the scheme. The State Government is totally and fully responsible for the salaries, emoluments, pensions and gratuities and every financial obligations to workers of the state government or those who retired from the State Civil Service. The third tier of government is the Local Government. Everybody working under the local government system, from primary school teachers to local government workers under NULGE, etc are under the local government payment system. Going by the issue of the demonstration by some local government pensioners asking for payment and so on, we understand clearly that it is their right to ask for their money, but that must be tampered with some heart of gratitude. We need that heart of gratitude because it must clearly be defined here that the payment of pensions of local government workers is the responsibility of the Local Government Councils, not the State Government. And under what they call the Joint Account, they do what they call the First Line Deductions and that is how they sort out salaries, first line obligations, etc. So it is the responsibility of the local government, not the state government and people must get this very clear.
I read some of the placards when I went to them (the protesters) with the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Hon. Victor Antai, and the Dean of the College of Commissioners Barr Emmanuel Enoidem, to talk to them to see reasons and appreciate the effort made by the state in helping the local government take care of these issues. We made them to understand that when Governor Udom Emmanuel assumed office, he looked very critically at the issue of pensions and gratuities of local government workers. He went backward from 2002 and clear ten years backlog of the outstanding. And of course, he has been supporting and augmenting this local government payment because of the paucity of funds that has thrown the local government into financial chaos just as it happens in the state as well as the federal government. These were issues that could have been handled carefully because His Excellency has been doing that, even as we speak, between Friday and Monday, there was an intervention that also ensured that a month’s pension was paid, even as they were protesting, they were receiving alerts. Again, if they said they have three months left, like I said, they are right to ask for their money, but it’s not about making it look like a fight because they are talking with the Local Government Ministry, for ways of assisting and exploring ways and means to make sure that this happens, and the Governor is very particular about it. Anyone who knows Governor Emmanuel would understand that this is one man who doesn’t want any worker to be owed a penny. He believes every worker deserves his emolument, and therefore, he does everything within his ability to ensure that people who work get their pay. He is a man who loves productivity, therefore, he needs you to be paid so that you can be productive. I wouldn’t want to belabour the issue of pensions because it’s a very clear matter and the distinction is clear too. Even those who were making utterances on the radio stations and televisions, calling the Governor all sorts of names, were totally unfounded because they know.
Let me use this opportunity to caution the media organs because there are certain things you don’t put out on air. As media organs, we know that it is not the responsibility of the state government. If someone comes and calls the Governor all sorts of names, I expect it to be edited out because in the first instance we know that is not true and we know it is not the responsibility of the state government. We cannot encourage insults on someone who is not responsible to pay you. Someone who has gone out of his way to augment to ensure that you survive and then rather than show appreciation, you are now calling him names. It’s very unfortunate. I don’t think that is a good way to encourage a leader to continue to support you to grow or survive. Let us rethink our ways.
Some said the protest was politically-motivated…?
Whether or not politically-motivated, what is wrong is wrong and what is right is right. What is right is that they have the right to their pay. What is wrong is that you don’t have to insult a man who is struggling to see how he can help you get paid even when it is not in his responsibility. We must not do the right thing the wrong way. Even if you are asked to, and you are getting alert, will your conscience not tell you that you are doing something wrong? What will you achieve with that? The economic situation now demands that everyone comes to the understanding that we must change how we do things. We must change how we live and we must show appreciation and continue to pray for the survival of the state and the country at large.
There are some local governments that the allocation was about N75 million in May and by the time you take away all the first line charges, it will amount to N100 million. So they are in deficit of over N25 million from the starting point, that is how you get into this issue of outstanding and debts because several of them are running on minors. That is where the state government comes to augment, even the salaries of those working in local government, I’m aware of the augmentation done by Governor Emmanuel to ensure that the workers within the local government system get their salaries. We must be grateful that these are happening. Times are hard. Things have changed.
A situation where you have a wage bill of over N5 billion running into N6 billion and you get allocation of N5 billion, what do you do? You are thrown to point one because you don’t even have enough to pay the workers.
Don’t you think His Excellency’s intervention in 2015 was wrongfully presented?
I think sometimes when a man is good, people tend to want to exploit that heart of care. That is the citation that he has to approach carefully and respectfully. But he cleared the backlog. Some of them were carrying placards with the inscription ‘thank you for paying the old backlog. Pay it again’. I said yes they were looking for the right thing but in a wrong way. The Governor cannot sit down and be a happy person to listen to some of those comments. But with then, he is the leader of the state and they are his people. I know he will tamper with some mercy and show them the heart of love. Even as they were protesting, he (the Governor) was making arrangement to see how he can solve some of the financial problems of the state. We should show appreciation. As a matter of fact, no worker in Akwa Ibom State is being owed salary.
I was expecting the local government pensioners to carry out their industrial action at the Local Government Secretariat…?
I thought so too. That is what they ought to have done, not the way to Government House. Government House is not the organisation owing them. But then I think they were only trying to draw the attention of the leadership of the state.
Just as late Prof. Chinua Achebe said that children don’t cry when they are with their baby seaters. They only cry when the parents are at home…?
Exactly! But they can cry responsibly as adult. You can also request and demand responsibly. If you have a delegation that can say, “oh we have just receive money, thank you very much sir. We know it’s tough, but if we can get another or if there is any window that we can get this clear, we will appreciate it. You have done it before and we know you can still do it again. Please look at our matter.”
That is requesting and demanding responsibly. Nobody is saying that you cannot make your demand, but how are you making your demand? How are you getting on the road fighting and you are getting alert on your phone the same day and you are not mentioning to the people and the media that you have received alert? I expected them to say that even as we are demanding, we are getting alert, and please we need more. We must have this distinction very clear. The state government is not responsible for local government pensions. What has been happening is intervention and augmentation that His Excellency has been doing. And I know he won’t stop assisting.
Don’t you think that an average Akwa Ibom person needs some level of moral reorientation? The way we talk to our leaders. The way we disrespect situation is alarming these days…?
If you listened to what I said at the beginning, I said running a complex state like Akwa Ibom State is so complex in terms of how we carry on things. How we try to run down our people, our leaders. It did not start today, that is where the moral reorientation comes to play. The Dakkada creed says it all. We must live beyond biases, ethnicity, and gender. We must rise to togetherness. The respect and moral issues are all encapsulated in this creed. If we understand this thing, I think we will do better. I don’t think we need to be running down our people. If you see what they write in the newspapers, you will be wondering what they want to achieve. Publishing a clear falsehood against somebody and the writer has a conscience and knows that what he is writing is a lie. The churches, families and everyone has a lot of work to do to ensure that we respect our leaders. Anybody that God has made a leader must be respected. Forget about the person, look at the institution that he represents. The institution of the leadership of the Governor of Akwa Ibom State is coveted institution that must be respected. It must be seen as that epitome of respect in the state. I’ve seen in other states in Nigeria where people respect their leaders. So Akwa Ibom people must learn to respect their leaders.
You said the state is not responsible for local government pensioners, how about state government retirees?
People retire everyday. So there is no way you will not have outstanding gratuities. Paucity of funds also makes it difficult to always have a clean slip in terms of outstanding gratuities. It is an unending cycle.
Let me use this opportunity to thank Akwa Ibom people for the support given to His Excellency, Governor Udom Emmanuel, so far. He has shown clearly that even in the paucity of funds in the face of economic difficulties, he is able to get some things done. No state government in this country has this kind of achievement that we see here during the first anniversary of His Excellency’s administration. The roads, education and everywhere, he is managing to ensure that the state is kept afloat and he has not lost sight of the primary objective of his governance which is to provide for the people infrastructure, good life, light, security and so on.
He is making those investments – construction of roads, funding the educational system, funding the healthcare system, sustaining the free education programme, constructing more roads even in the difficult economy. He is doing his best to keep the work force happy. Payment of salary has become an achievement in Nigeria today. In many states, you can see some are having a backlog running to nine months, but here in Akwa Ibom, it is zero month because we earn as at when due. We must appreciate our Governor and continue to pray for him even on this occasion of his 50th birthday. Let’s pray for him as he has turned Gold. Let God grant him the heart of gold to continue to work and lead for the people of Akwa Ibom State.
We thank you for your support and understanding, to the pensioners of local government, please take it easy. Have patience. The government cares for you and will continue to care for you ,Do your best and be committed. The Governor loves you all.