By Ifeanyi Raymond, Chuma Austin & Ovat Mike
Millions of civil servants and pensioners scattered all over the Southeastern geopolitical region of Nigeria are becoming restless with their plight over the forthcoming festive period of Christmas highly celebrated by Christians who are predominantly domiciled in the this divide as most governors from the extraction have kept deaf ears and blind eyes over their cries for payments of salaries and pensions to enable their families join Christians all over world in celebrating this season which comes ones every year.
This category of persons in Imo State numbering over one million, have been subjected to incessant verification exercises by the State Government with no results possible payments in sight.
Governor Uzodimma, who has severally tagged them ‘ghost workers’ in the State Civil service with threats to flush out, in a bid to ascertain the genuinely employed workers of the state. Some Imolites see the move as a means of prolonging the payment of the said ‘ghost workers’ leaving them to ponder their fate as they are yet to be confirmed as genuine or ghost workers, some have spent over 20 years serving the State in various capacities.
The State government started this unending verification exercises as Sen. Uzodimma assumed the mantle of leadership in 2020 and since then there have been countless of such exercises at the State Secretariat where retirees are also being put through same rigorous process. Some of the affected workers have called on the government to come up with a better solution and save them the stress and expenses of repeated verifications.
The latest round of verifications which was in November, the Imo State Government had promised it would be the last one in order to start paying those who have not been receiving their salaries especially during the festive season.
But some of the civil servants who spoke to News Echo said their anger was that Hope Uzodimma’s government since 2020 has been conducting unending verification exercises for workers in the state.
They alleged most of the verification exercises; they attend yielded no positive result rather they have continued to spend their hard-earned money to transport themselves to the State capital at Owerri to participate in the frequent exercise.
According to most of them who pleaded not to mention their names said: “This is not fair, since 2020, we have been doing verification and no result. We keep coming here to Owerri every month and spending our money.
“Some of us are owed 6 months, one year and 7 months. What do we do? We keep praying for God to touch the mind of the governor to start paying us.
“We pray that this exercise will be the last one. We have suffered and we want an end to this every month verification exercise. Let this government do this and end it let us be happy.”
In Abia State, four workers of the Abia State College of Education (Technical), Arochukwu (ASCETA), reportedly died in September this year.
The chairman of ASCETA College of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU), Mr. Kelvin Egesi who confirmed the deaths said they were attributed to the starvation as workers of the college were owed 32 months’ arrears of salary.
Egesi also alleged that the Provost of the College, Dr. Philip Nto, had threatened to sack him for demanding the payment of his colleagues’ salary arrears.
“The college staff is owed 32 months’ salary arrears and they are dying one after the other due to hunger and starvation.
“No money to feed, no money to pay hospital and other bills. The workers are planning to come to Umuahia to sit down at the Government House, Umuahia until they starve to death. They said, they would come with coffins”, he lamented.
“What again do we do? The governor made a firm promise in July that government will pay five months arrears In August and subsequently pay the rest, but nothing has happened till now. God have mercy.”
Egesi in a statement said his offence was that he demanded the payment of the workers’ salary arrears.
When contacted Dr. Nto denied the allegation, adding there was no way he would sack the union leader unless he failed to do his job or do something to embarrass the governor who appointed him.
Governor Okezie Ikpeazu in what seemed to be a rather desperate and laughable move said women who give birth in government health facilities in the state would get N500 (five hundred naira) and a delivery pack.
According to him, the move became important, since access to quality healthcare wasn’t not cheap.
“Abia State has keyed into the basic health insurance for pregnant women. If you put to bed in any of our primary healthcare centres, you get N500,” the governor told Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily in November.
“Delivery is free; they give you a delivery pack and they give N500 which is running for the vulnerable members of the society.”
The governor, who further defended the move, said it is targeted at vulnerable and poor people and that the delivery pack contains items needed to take care of newborn babies.
“But if you want a certain level of medicare, you should be able to pay,” Ikpeazu noted, adding: “Are you asking a poor woman what she will do with N500? Some people don’t have it.”
While the money may be seen as little, the governor maintained that “at least it will pay their way back home”….really? And then what?
The government’s position was put forward by the state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Eze Chikamnayo, at a press conference addressed by the media team of Abia Government recently.
Unpaid salaries and pensions are becoming a major political issue in Abia with the opposition persistently putting the administration of Okezie Ikpeazu on the firing line over the plight of workers and pensioners.
But Chikamnayo exonerated Governor Ikpeazu from blame saying that the he was not responsible for overpopulating agencies and parastatals with redundant staff over the years thereby making it difficult to pay salaries.
Some of the agencies and parastatals affected by the unpaid salary bug include the Abia State University Teaching Hospital, Aba (ABSUTH), shut down by workers over 22 months salary arrears, Abia State Polytechnic Aba, 31 months, Abia State College of Education Technical Arochukwu (ASCETA), 33 months, Health Management Board, 33 months, among so many others.
The commissioner said that the management of the state parastatals had over the years engaged in uncontrolled recruitment of staff usually for political experiences without considering the economic consequences.
According to him, it was Senator Theodore Orji that “started doing something” when he was governor to lay some kind of foundation for Abia, adding that Ikpeazu remains focused and resolute and working sequentially to deliver on his promises to Ndi Abia.
“Governor Okezie Ikpeazu is rebuilding Abia for posterity,” he asserted.
In the contrary, the Transition Committee Chairman of Onitsha North Local Government Area of Anambra State, Honourable Patrick Agha-Mba, said Civil Servants working under the present administration of Governor Willie Obiano, are getting their dividends of democracy apart from statutory salaries.
He said the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA)-led government in the state is running a workers-friendly government.
He said the governor has made repeated pronouncements that he would pay workers the new national minimum wage and that all efforts had been channeled towards strengthening the Internally Generated Revenue of the state to meet the current demand to make the new minimum wage a reality.
“Governor Willie Obiano’s policies and programmes geared towards improving the welfare of workers in Anambra state, he added.
Agha-Mba, noted that the relationship between all organised labour, NLC and TUC and the Anambra State Government was not only cordial but also beneficial to the workers emphasizing that Anambra was the only state in the country that has reviewed workers’ salaries in the last seven years.
“To be frank with you, workers in Anambra state are enjoying compares to other states of the country. The secret is because of the business opportunities that surrounds the state. Some of the workers have vast knowledge in businesses to supplement, due to the economic situation of the country.
“Our workers in Onitsha Council Areas, that is Onitsha North and South, cut across tribe, ethnic and religious backgrounds. We have workers who are Yorubas, Hausas and Ibibio, they are all doing very well. You can take my word for it or very it if there are any doubts”, he concluded.
Ebonyi State Governor, David Umahi, had earlier suspended salaries of civil servants from Effium Community, in Ohaukwu Council of the state, over the lingering crisis in the area, which recently resulted in the abduction of five construction workers.
Umahi also announced the removal of the coordinators of two development centres in the area, adding that he will approach the State House of Assembly for a way forward on the chairman of the council and the two members of the House from the area.
He announced the suspension in Abakaliki during a security summit organised by the founding fathers of the state and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), among others.
The governor alleged that although perpetrators of the killings and destruction in the area were funded from outside the state, some stakeholders of the area also fund the violence.
He said the government could no longer afford to pay their salaries, which he said, was being used to sponsor killings and destruction of property in the area.
“Recently, unknown gunmen killed five construction workers on the state’s Ring Road project, which traverses the area. These workers know nothing about the crisis was here to help the state.
In Enugu State, civil servants salaries have been regular.
News Echo findings reveal that the Enugu State government also owes its civil servants and pensioners several months of arrears. There reports that the state government led by Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi have been paying civil servants as at when due. The state government paid civil servants twice in each December.
It would suffice to say, most civil servants and pensioners in the South East will only look up to God in prayers for their respective governments to pay salaries and pensions due to them more especially this yuletide season with the continues hike in food prices and what not.