Hope Uzodinma’s mission to Edo kicks up fresh dust over cries by Imo workers for unpaid salaries


* Observers wonder how Kogi and Imo governors that owe salaries back home would go campaign against Obaseki that has provided even for August salaries

By Saby Elemba

As Gov Hope Uzodinma of Imo State prepares to join his Kogi counterpart to rush own to Edo State on behalf of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to campaign against Gov Godwin Obaseki, workers in Imo State have raised fresh cries to be paid arrears of salaries. The governor’s aides however insist their boss did not owe salaries.

While whether workers were being paid monthly salaries has become a subject of media debate in Imo and Kogi states, Gov Obaseki is hailed for not only paying salaries promptly but for also pumping over N25Bn to clear pensions between 2016 and 2020. He is also said to have provided for workers salaries up to August 2020.

More, Obasaeki seems to have touched hearts in Edo for setting aside over N81m to families of 34 deceased employees of the state’s public service since the commencement of the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS)  on 1st January 2017 till date. His administration is said to have spent N80.7m as premium for over 9,800 Edo State employees in the CPS.

On the other hand, pensioners in Imo State have continued to cry for payment while different workers in the state seem to have different payment records. It was gathered in Owerri last week that the Uzodinma administration now applies what is termed ‘Random Salary System’ whereby workers are picked at random and paid.

By this, it was gathered, some workers have four months salary arrears while about 25 per cent of the workers may have been paid up to date, being June 2020. A female civil servant who cried out over three months over salaries got the boot right from her maternity leave. This seems to have driven the agitation underground.

Also, the statement issued by the state’s Commissioner of Information and Strategy, Declan Emelumba, that online verification and payment system was the cause of the delay seems to have lost steam. The commissioner had on May 14, 2020, excused the delay on e-system and had heaped the blame on heads of parastatals and gave deadline after which the heads would suffer severe penalty.

He had said: “There is a government directive that all workers in the state payroll should submit their BVN for payment but some agencies and parastatals are yet to comply. Heads of agencies and parastatals who fail to comply by Monday next week will risk losing their jobs”. Months later, governor still claims to be paying, workers still claim to be unpaid, but no side has published documented evidence.

Now, Gov Uzodimma’s claim to have cleared the four months arrears of salaries has continued to elicite various reactions from sections of the civil servants and those outside the government circle, some even within the ruling APC in the State.

Everywhere two or three are gathered in the state secretariat, the subject surely would be unpaid salary saga. Workers now move from office to office asking; “Have they paid you? Which month?” In the past, it was; “Have they molded you?”

The governor’s spokesman, Oguwike Nwachukwu, seems to have gone weary of answering calls and reacting to media inquiries which have refused to abate. Various calls put to him for comments failed to yield positive result as he never picked the four telephone calls.

But when a call was put to the Commissioner of Information on  the issue of the payment of salaries of workers, he said that the governor has paid salaries up to June.

He said: “All civil servant salaries have been paid and all pensioners who have been verified have been paid, and all teachers have been paid”, Emelumba told our Correspondent in answer to a telephone interview, today, July 6,2020.

Most of those close to the government and who didn’t want their names in print said that the government has paid one month out of the four months arrears owed to civil servants.

Some others told our correspondent that the government has been using a system of “random payment” for the payment of salaries.

Others have also said that the method used now for payment of salaries is “confusing”. They said, “Imagine people working together in the same ministry but one would be paid and another is unpaid. We are also in the same office”.

According to a lady, five persons may be paid while others would not be paid for three months”, she added.

A man at the secretariat who claimed to be a civil servant said he has written his name in a particular register provided for salaries at three different times. He lamented: “But up till today, I have never received any alert”. He said news would come for people to come and write names on a sheet of paper. After some weeks, about one quarter of the names would get alert while the rest would now.

Meanwhile, one of the teachers in one of the secondary schools in Owerri told our Correspondent that out of the four months arrears of salaries, only one month has been paid to her. “I got my alert last Thursday”.

But her colleague who was sitting with her who is also a teacher in the same secondary school claimed that she has not received any alert from her bank up till Monday, July 6, 2020.

When asked why, she said, “I don’t know, I don’t know the system they are using. May be it could be from the bank I use but am not sure”.

The governor has repeatedly talked about ghost workers syndrome in Imo State and how it is important to track them. This may have caused delays but experts said any system meant to catch offenders must not fist of all crush the innocent. The system must be mild on the innocent and harsh on the guilty.