Today, Friday, November 10, 2017, the leaders of the next of kins of late primary school teachers in Akwa Ibom state whose late parents’ pensions and gratuities have not been paid by the state government, paid an unscheduled advocacy visit to the management of Radar Newspaper.
They were received at the Newspaper’s corporate office in Uyo, by the Publisher/editor-in-chief, Otuekong Franklyn Isong.
Franklyn Isong used the occasion to add his voice to their struggle, calling on the state government to use the N24.5 billion Paris Club Refund given to the state in two trenches by the federal government to settle their demands.
He lamented the fate of the next of kins and expressed sadness that they are allowed to suffer by government over the rights of their late parents who had sacrificed so much for the state.
Isong stressed that it is the primary responsibility of every government to take good care of workers under her employ, saying that the Federal Government specifically advised state governments to use the Paris Club refund monies to settle workers salaries, pensions and gratuities.
He noted that Akwa Ibom government ought not to be owing her retired and serving workers if its judiciously used funds available in the state, because the state is among the highest receivers of the monthly federal allocation, as one of the crude oil producing states in the country.
Meanwhile, the group had listed their grievances to include:
“We have obtained our letters of administration from the court. We have been screened by SUBEB since 2010. SUBEB issued us with clearance slip to be paid.
“In 2014, 185 names were authorised to be paid by SUBEB. Only 42 were able to receive their entitlements. Out of the 42, only 4 people were identified as bonafide next of kin.
“Government never showed any commitment to the plight of the next of kin. The governor said he is not owing us when he spoke on radio/television on the 6th of April, 2016. He said we are being used by the opposition.
“A committee on pensions headed by the leader of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Honourable Udo Kierian invited us on the 29th of August and 9th of September, 2016.
“The committee established that the State Government is indebted to us as far as our entitlements is concerned and made the following resolutions:
1. That since government cannot pay all the backlog of entitlements at once that they should start paying in batches from September, 2016 allocation.
2. That we should not go on protest again since it was embarrassing government.
3. That the chairman of Nigeria Labour Congress, Comr. Etim Ukpong should monitor the payment and report back to the Committee
When Government did not pay, on 29th of November, 2016 we had a meeting with the State’s Head of Civil Service Mrs. Ekereobong Akpan in her office and she said that the governor has set aside some money to commence the first batch of payment but the governor needed our assurances that there will be no problem. We gave her our assurances and she asked for time to get to his Excellency and get back to us. But since then we haven’t heard from her.
On hearing that the Federal Government has released the 1st Tranche of the Paris Club debt refund (14.5 Million Naira) and advised state governments to use a percentage to offset backlog of pensions/gratuities, we went on a peaceful protest on January 23rd, 2017 to demand that government should use part of that money to settle our entitlements but we were arrested and prosecuted by the police.
“In February, 2017 we had a meeting with the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs who told us that the Federal Government did not direct any State to use the Paris Debt Club refund to settle entitlements of workers but however advised us to wait for the release of the 2nd tranche that only then will we be considered.
“The 2nd tranche was received since June and we have not been paid till date.
In a press briefing on the 25th of June, 2017 the Commissioner for Finance acknowledged the receipt of N10,000,000,000 as the State’s share of the 2nd tranche of Paris Club Debt Refund (making it the total of 24.5 Billion Naira) and promised to use part of the money to settle our entitlements. This has not been done till date.
“More of the teachers, retired/serving are dying, some are in coma. Another of the next of kin died last month. Some of us had to drop out of school as there is no money to sponsor our education or pursue our lifes’ dream.
“Some family cannot repay the debt they borrowed for the burial of their parents/husbands/wives. Life is difficult
Last month the State Government received over N12 billion as its monthly allocation, let the governor pay us to alleviate the hardship. It is our entitlements,” they stated.
Those who visited were: Mr David Bassey, leader; Mr Benjamin Benson, secretary; Mr Enobong Kenneth, treasurer and Mr Michael Akanaono a member of the group.
By Emmanuel UDOATTA