After offering their services in the highest echelon of leadership in the Abia State Civil Service, the plight of retired Permanent Secretaries in the state is worsening by the day as majority of them are living in penury and in sickness.
Some have even died while waiting to be paid their pensions, our investigations have revealed.
Investigations by our Reporter show that the supposed senior citizens are starving by the day and unable to meet their daily needs because of nonpayment of their pensions and other entitlements accrued to their position before their retirement. The pension and entitlements should have been paid fully by the government on retirement as stipulated in the Civil Service Rule on their retirement.
In Abia State, a Permanent Secretary takes home N460,000 as basic salary. His allowances make it possible for him to go home with between N560,000 and N580,000 monthly. The Civil Service Rule allows him to go home with his basic salary which is: N460,000, while his consolidated gratuity is: between N16million and N17million, depending on the recipients’ longevity as a Permanent Secretary.
It is also gathered that before now, the payment of gratuity to a retiree PS is taken for granted as he/she is given the amount on his way home, hence the hot race and clamour to climb to that level of leadership in the Civil Service before retirement. It was learnt that the payment of both pensions and gratuities of PSs were prompt and stress free before the present administration came on stream. And that also applies to retired Directors.
But alas, the situation is now different in Abia State as retired Permanent Secretaries are owed pension of up to six months without pay. The vexatious aspect of their problem, we gathered, is the unholy cut of their pension from N460,000 to N360,000 in 2020 without their authorization and backing.
According to the source, when they saw the alert in their phones, in May 2020, the retired Permanent Secretaries approached the Commissioner for Finance, Dr Aham Uko in October 2020 to enquire whether it was a mistake and whether the mistake came from his office, but Aham Uko told them pointblank that it was not a mistake but a reality, pointing out it was just a temporary measure to cushion the effect of the hard times on other sectors.
“He said that the reduction was because of a shortfall in revenue accruing from Abuja”. However, in the course of the meeting, he assured them that it would be restored as quickly as possible and that the payment from then will be prompt. We agreed and left his office. He even informed us that they also cut that of retired Directors. Theirs (retired Directors was cut from N130,000 to N111,000 and later to N50,000; that we were not the only people affected the undue pension reduction.
“However, in February 2021, we didn’t get anything as pension but received alert in March 2021 of N150,000 instead of N360,000. Do you know that even at that, the pension is still irregular? Since September 2021, we’ve not been paid”, a retired Permanent Secretary who prefers anonymity cried.
His word, “our gratuities are not being discussed at all by the government. We’re suffering, can’t pay our children fees; some of us have died. This is plight of those who had put in their best in the Civil Service, hoping to start a new life after the Civil Service career with our gratuities and also run our families with our pensions, but all our hope is dashed right now”, the source bemoaned.
Another retired PS who spoke to our Reporter cried “I’m the most hit by this nonpayment. By stroke of providence, I and my wife didn’t have our children on time. My children are in secondary school presently and what else would I do now? He asked rhetorically and added swiftly, “I’m also worried that my wife retired in 2020; both of us are in the same page”.
Another retired PS who spoke to our Reporter with tears welling down his eyes declared, “if not for some reasons, I would’ve taken to keke (tricycle) driving to feed my children and run the family. Every morning, I wonder where the food to feed the family would come from. I and my wife are retired. She retired last year”,
Meanwhile, our enquiry revealed that the retired Permanent Secretaries are planning to drag the Abia State government to the National Industrial Court in Owerri over the unjust reduction of their pension and nonpayment of it as at and when due. But the retirees are at sea on how to raise the amount. Sources informed that after their meeting held last week presided over by Mr Alan Okpokiri, the Chairman of Retired Permanent Secretaries Association, Abia State chapter, the retirees resolved to seek the services of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
But where the money to hire a Senior Advocate will come from became a big challenge. None of them could comfortably cough out N50,000 as a contributory pledge for the funding of the project. The rowdy session led to the suggestion by some of them that an experienced lawyer who is not a SAN be hired to handle the case. But some insisted that their case is just to hire a lawyer but one whose opinion is respected in court and who can win the case for them.
As the argument rose to highest crescendo, the retirees therefore decided to seek the intervention of a third party, the Abia House of Assembly and resolved to make a formal complaint to the House for solution. “If this House option doesn’t provide a solution, then we’ll have no option than to go court to compel the government to pay us. We’ll hire any lawyer”, our source opined.
The proponents of hiring a Senior Advocate cited the case of retired Judges who are enjoying the services of a SAN and pursuing a similar case of nonpayment of pensions at the National Industrial Court, Owerri.
Note: Operation See Projects is an assessment programme embarked upon by thewitness magazine to ascertain the projects built by public officeholders both elected and appointed across the nation, particularly in Abia State in the past 8 years and to make out the impact of the projects on the people supposedly the beneficiaries.
The people are the ones to say it the way it is.
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Uche Nwosu is a two time Shell Petroleum PLC award winner in the year 2000;
He won the Shell Award on Investigative Journalism and Environmental Cleanliness.