Gov Ugwuanyi’s Compassion For Pensioners
German new-historicist Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote that: “I love those who do not first seek behind the stars for a reason to go under and be a sacrifice, but who sacrifice themselves for the earth, that the earth may someday become the overman’s.” Nietzsche was defining a principle of a Superman in this excerpt.
In his views, such a man is always on a mission to break generational jinxes. The man is a liberator, bringer of hope and connector to the Divinity.
Up until the coming of Rt Hon Lawrence Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi as governor of Enugu state, civil servants in the state who were on the verge of retirement were like the Irish airman that foresaw his death in W.B. Yeats’ classical poem. They dreaded retirement because of the pathetic situations their colleagues who retired faced. But they must retire to face the man-made karma awaiting them! It was so inhuman and piteous that some retirees saw pensions and gratuities as fairytales. That was the situation until the coming of Gov Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi.
The governor came and saw the situation, and fought it to a total standstill in the face of the nation’s recessed economy and the consequent meager resources that accrue to the state from the federation allocations. Today, the story has changed for the better.
I recall a certain pensioner in Udi local government area, who, after collecting her cheque for her pension arrears, broke into tears. I had gone there under the auspices of the Enugu LGA News, a publication of Enugu State Ministry of Local Government Matters. The frail woman managed to utter to me: “Tell Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi that if I see him, I will embrace him. He has breathed life into me anew.” I indeed saw in a woman a life come back.
The apparent interrogation is: why were the pensioners owed so much both in gratuities and pension arrears before the coming of Gov Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi? I also recall that successive governments in the state had excess funds to buy assorted cars for traditional rulers and local government councillors in the state for luxury. Although the gesture was not undeserved, but one then imagines why the statutory obligations of pensioners, who served the state with all their hearts, were not given the required priorities!
Welcome to the preposterous story: the last time gratuities were paid in Enugu state before the intervention of Gov Ugwuanyi was in 2001. By implications, from 2001 to 2016, retirees wallowed in fantasies. May God grant the souls of those who could not bear the trauma of this inhumanity joyous moments in the beyond!
Such was the situation when Dr Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi climbed the rostrum. Like the biblical messianic foray, he handed the state over to God. When the Paris Club refund was paid to states across the federation, Gov Ugwuanyi in his magnanimity and nature of always radiating with compassion, doled out over N2bn to settle the payment of gratuities and pension arrears of the state’s pensioners, including retired local government workers and primary school teachers. It spanned from 2001 to nearly 2006, thus breaking the jinx of the debt that had ossified over the years. This year again, he has intervened with quite over N300m to ameliorate the burdens of pensioners. That was how pensioners in the state breathed life anew.
Although not all the pensioners have been settled their gratuities, nonetheless there are lessons to learn from the Gov Ugwuanyi example. It is the lessons of love and sensitivity, and more importantly, prudence and administrative savvy. Before embarking on this daunting task, he conducted a biometric verification exercise where each pensioner appeared for documentation, and afterwards keyed into the pension database. This provided the Ugwuanyi government the platform to obtain the actual number of the pensioners in the state, and how much each of them was being owed. Aside this, he merged all the pensioners in the state under one category. Hitherto, pensioners were categorized into three batches alongside regular ones, and they were being paid their monthly pensions accordingly when funds were made available. This practice brought about inequalities as it encouraged sharp practices because everybody struggled to move from the batches to join the regular pensioners.
The pension operations were therefore computerized, thus removing the cumbersome nature of the pension administration in the state. This has given a new lease of life to pensioners who today have seen light at the end of the tunnel.
The crux of this piece is how to be compassionate to the plight of pensioners the Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi way. It was not only Enugu state that got the Paris Club refund from the federal government, but many states chose to utilize their funds for other projects rather than providing succour to the pensioners who already have no gravitas. Today, it is probably only in Enugu state and Anambra state that pension issues are still alive in the southeast region of the country. Checks at the federal level will even bleed the heart.
For the state’s civil servants [a discourse for another day], Gov Ugwuanyi has also not failed even in the face of delayed federation allocations to pay their salaries on the 25th of every month. That is how to be a leader on a mission.
The contributory pension fund scheme which the federal government and some agencies in the private sector have adopted, no doubt, is the panacea for pension issues in Nigeria. Why civil servants at the state and local government levels have shown cynicism over it remains a mirage. No doubt, the failure of previous contributory fund schemes, such as in the housing and health sectors, might be the reason. This nonetheless calls for enlightenment campaign by concerned authorities to make workers realize that the scheme is the only way out of the present pension quagmire. Enugu state should key into this scheme because after Gov Ugwuanyi’s administration, no one knows what is next. Again, pundits have rightly asserted that the current pension scheme is not sustainable in the long run.
Also recruitment at the local government level should be regularized. The current trends where employment is seen as a charity should be dissuaded. Workers should be employed as a result of necessity rather than to show off. A situation where some local government workers have no assigned duties but still get their salaries, allowances and promotions is retrogressive in all ramifications.
This is the time to do this.
Disclaimer: This article is entirely the opinion of the writer and does not represent the views of The Whistler.