By Abdul- yekin Alli
IT’s a no-brainer that most working people eagerly await their retirement. They realize that they will leave their present office one day and begin to live a quieter life as senior citizens, enjoying the fruits of their long years of labour. In reality, retired workers are hardly idle; more often than not, they will find something doing. Sadly, though, conflicts between state governments and pensioners are routine in this clime, caused in large part by the failure to pay the admittedly paltry pensions. In the case of Ogun State, there had naturally been conflicts between pensioners and the state government long before the advent of the present administration led by Prince Dapo Abiodun. Since the return to civil rule, governments had left outstanding pension bills, and the immediate past administration in the state was no exception. However, since 2019 when he assumed office as the fifth democratically elected governor of Ogun State, Prince Abiodun, himself the son a government worker with a distinguished record of service, has sought to ensure that pensioners get the entitlements due to them so they can more easily navigate the challenges of daily existence.
In clearing the backlog of unpaid pensions when he assumed office, Governor Abiodun made a promise to release a specific sum every quarter to offset the arrears, and to this promise he has apparently kept fidelity. Statistics indicate that within the last three and a half years, he has paid the total sum of N78bn as arrears of gratuity and pensions to workers in the state. But, focused on his job though he may be, there will always be those who question his commitment and patriotism, including political pensioners whose stock in trade is rabble-rousing. Such “pensioners” are always at war with state governors and if you do not look closely enough, you would think that they are patriots fighting for the dignity of senior citizens. Hired pensioners are always available for political purposes, and in Ogun their method is to cast aspersions on the governor, claiming that he is the son of a teacher who does not pay teachers.
Indeed, nothing but crass politicking can explain the blatantly false statement credited to the chairman of the Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP) in Ogun State this week that since 2019, Governor Abiodun had only paid N3bn as arrears of pension and gratuity. He was reacting to the governor’s verifiable statement during the town hall meeting on the 2023- 2025 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and 2023 Budget for Ogun East Senatorial District held in Ijebu-Ode. A breakdown of the state’s monthly pension and gratuity payment shows that in the month of June 2019 alone, the state government paid the sum of N841,238,430.74 as state pension and N 790,588,053.50 as local government pension. In the same month, it paid the sum of N25,566,526.1 as state gratuity. That amounts to N1, 657, 393,010.41. For the month of July 2019, it paid N1,641,771,655.36. Thus, for the months of June 2019 and July 2019 alone, the Abiodun government paid N3,299,164,665.77. The fact is that between June 2019 and September 2022, the government paid a grand total of N78,567,913,997.48, which easily confirms Governor Abiodun’s statement that his administration had paid “over N70bn” as pensions and gratuities since assuming office. Surely, N78bn is “over N70bn.”
The NUP boss, who berated the increase in the quarterly payment of outstanding gratuities from N500m to N600m, should come clean and show anywhere in the world where years of outstanding arrears are paid in one fell swoop. Surely, the Abiodun administration has, despite the financial challenges facing the state, continued to give top priority to the welfare of senior citizens by ensuring the quarterly payment of gratuities and pensions. It is time we stopped playing politics with the lives of people in this country. Pensioners deserve their pay but a government fulfilling its pension obligations does not deserve to be maligned. If it is not appreciated for its noble efforts, at least it should not be castigated. It should be left alone by those who cannot appreciate anything good because it would upend their political positions, make their case untenable and render them completely redundant.
The political game being played by the so-called pensioners is not easy to disguise, yet one hastens to advice that elders should not allow themselves to be pawns in political game. Politicians who have lost out in the scheme of things within the Ogun APC would naturally clutch at straws, desperate to keep themselves relevant by any means. Pretending to be of the Ogun APC fold, they have announced their avowed mission to bring down the Abiodun government, speaking as if the future lies in their hands. The politicians behind the pension politics played this week have done their level best to undermine Governor Abiodun and his administration in the last three and a half years and have failed spectacularly. They dropped the president’s name, saying they would deny him a second term ticket, and failed. They resuscitated allegations of lack of certificates already laid to rest at Nigeria’s apex court and failed. They claimed the party was going to stop him from running for a second term of office and wrote countless petitions against him, but it was all an exercise in futility. Instead of being sent packing, the man has become a rising star in the party. They cower with fright when he wins numerous awards, including the back-to-back honours in agriculture and the recent one on industrial revolution, knowing that discerning Nigerians have seen through their falsehood.
Happily, regardless of the mud thrown at him, Governor Abiodun has shown that he is sharply focused on his “Building Our Future Together” agenda. And the people are behind him.
Alli sent this piece through email@example.com