*State pays highest in eastern Nigeria, earns least *Now ready to fight back to save state
Abia State has witnesses many scandals in its civil service especially certificate forgery, employment of persons with forged papers, wrong placement of persons due to fake certificates, salary rackets and self-awards of wages.
Many of those with such backgrounds have retired with huge benefits and many more are in the system, all leading to over bloated wages and pensions.
Now, the Abia State government says the weight is biting too hard and wants to fight back.
Abia State government is to overhaul its civil service to correct anomalies that resulted to the over bloated monthly pension wage bill currently faced by the State.
Abia has a monthly pension liability of N450m for retired state civil servants and N380 million for retired local government staff.
Obinna Oriaku, State’s commissioner for finance, who disclosed this in an interview with journalists at the State secretariat, Umuahia, observed that several years of rotten civil service system in the state was responsible for the lofty pension arrears and outrageous wage bill bedeviling the state.
He noted that improper and undeserving promotions in the civil service led to excessive increase in salaries, which resulted to the current problem of high pensions in the state.
Reacting to questions on the recent protest staged, by some pensioners on May 1, 2019, in Umuahia, described the situation of Abia on issue of pensions, as fundamental, which must be addressed for the state to move forward.
According to him, “It is a fundamental problem that has nothing to do with Governor Okezie Ikpeazu. It’s a problem that we’ve been able to diagnose and identify where the problem is from.
“I’m very careful when I talk about pensioners, because, some of us are well groomed in African culture, because you’re talking about old people, who are our mothers and fathers.
“But as a government, we take responsibility of whatever goes on, as it affects our standing with pensioners.
‘At the inception of this administration, the Federal Government asked the entire states to sum up their outstanding liabilities, by way of pensions, gratuities and salaries.
“We did that and the total outstanding of Abia State was about N39 billion. This includes gratuity of over N20billion and the other ones outstanding pensions and salaries. This happened five months into Okezie Ikpeazu’s administration.
“While other states like Imo were getting N30 billion, with others getting N28billion and N35 billion, we got just N14.2billion. Most times, if you want to address issues, you start from the root. This is where the issue came from. N39 billion against N14.2billion, definitely there were issues”.
He reiterated that the current problem in payment of pension in Abia was self-inflicted. “How can a state as poor as Abia have a pension liability of N450million monthly for state and N380million for Local Government? What this means is that you are using almost N1 billion to service pension on monthly basis.
“Pension is a major issue in Abia and you can’t address it without addressing the fundamentals. And what are the fundamentals? The truth is that those figures were built on false premise.
“Naturally pension shouldn’t be an issue. It should be a small fraction of your salary, while you’re in active service, but because of rot, because of the deliberate decisions of these same pensioners which they never expected will come later to hurt them.
“These people worked in civil service, some of them were offshoots of Owerri (old Imo State, where Abia was carved from in 1991). When we arrived here, they threw away everything that civil service is known for to the winds.
“In Abia, we have pensioners who are retiring as bosses. Virtually everybody is retiring at level 16 and all want to be permanent secretaries, which is a major issue, because as permanent secretary, you earn what you were earning in service as pension.
“Today, permanent secretaries that retire in Abia earn N450,000, which is huge. The same permanent secretary that retired in Enugu state is earning N290,000, as pension. Why wouldn’t our pension overhang be high with this kind of issue?
“There is no way we can run government for four years and be proud that we were only able to pay salary. You have seen it that we are not only paying salary, but we are also doing other jobs. So, definitely, something must give way for us to get things right.
“We don’t want to sack people. We only want to address the fundamentals, to reduce pension wage bill and the entire wage bill of the State.
He continued, “I have told you that massive promotion of the retirees gave rise to this wage bill of N450 million. Secondly, if we must return this state back to its former glory, all of us must be on the same page. And that is the truth that will vindicate all of us.
“I can never benefit anything from telling lies. I am not a propagandist, I am a professional. I talk with facts, I talk with figures.
“Today in the entire South-East, Abia State pays the highest, by way of wage and it has implication on our pension wage bill”.
Sources said a cabal long exists that awards salaries to workers and works it into the state’s payroll network with ease. Another cabal helps workers acquire fake certificates with which they win fat salaries and positions in the Abia civil service. Any person who blew the whistle rather got victimized and run out of the system for attempting to ‘shake the table’. Those who reported these matters to the former governor said nothing happened and soon, they found that the perpetrators would become campaign agents of the then governors.