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Ekiti Pensioners: When Sweet Turns Sour- Anthony Ayeni

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The other day, I saw on my WhatsApp handle some pensioners exiting the Nigeria Union of Pensioners House at Oke-Ori omi, Ado Ekiti, the state capital.

They had just risen from the meeting where, perhaps, their fate with regard to the payment of their gratuities was discussed. Really, what I thought I would hear was the usual “we no go gree”, but it was different; the shouting of Oolee! Oolee!! Oolee!!! – thief! thief!! thief!!! rented the air-a word any sinner could ever hear. As I listened more attentively, I discovered that the pensioners in penssive mood, were referring to Dr. Kayode Fayemi, the governor of the state. I quipped that Fayemi was being verbally ‘stoned’. Though not particularly surprising as booing, sachet water baptism, petty annoyances and irritatations, raving, nigging, name calling and the advanced fashion of it-cursing are not unusual on the political tarpauline in Nigeria.

You will recollect that Babangida, the expiring former Nigerian maximum ruler, on the eve of his 70th birthday had made a veiled but unmistakeable acidic remarks on Chief Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo’s competence as a president. A day after Babangida’s unsparing comment was made, Obasanjo replied with a relish calling Babangida a fool at 70. This was red tag to a bull; well-meaning Nigerians had to call for a truce, at least, for the sake of the country’s image.

But in the case of Fayemi versus the traumatized pensioners, it appears nobody is asking the pensioners to bottle their rage. Reason. There is the long standing vexed issue of non-payment of their gratuities. The pensioners were said to be shocked to the marrow when they got to the Pension Transitional Arrangement Department (PTAD) and were given forms to fill showing that the proposed 15% deduction on their gratuities has been increased to 25%. And to meet its obligation to the retirees, the government would have to go a borrowing to the tune of #160billion from a Lagos based stock broking firm on a-15 year repayment terms. Pensioners would have to access the unsolicited facility albeit at great price and so gruesome a detail thus:
*Pensioners who are in dire need of a lifeline would receive their gratuities in February 2021 at 25% discount rate.
*June, 2021 batch – 15%
*October, 2021 batch – 10%
*December, 2021 batch -5%
*Those who could have afford to wait till the maturity date in 2022 would be paid in full.

In effect, if Mr Ayodele Kayode worked for 35 years with Ekiti state government and retired in 2012; assuming his gratuity was supposed to be #3.6million and the government is callously owing to him until 2020, making provisions for inflation and the exchange rate that money is currently worth #1,620,000.00. And if this amount is discounted at the rate of 15% which translates to #540,000.00 using any formula, you would literally be paying Mr Ayodele Kayode the sum of #1,080,000.00. That is the present value of that amount in 2020. In addition, there are preliminary charges to pay. And as soon as this amount is credited into his account in “God Dey Bank”, PLC and at the point of draw-down in a technology driven transactions with the bank, he would have to contend with sundry bank charges.

Ordinarily, the loan arrangement is a deal between the stock broking firm and the state government; Mr Ayodele Kayode being a third party. How and where the government gets the fund to pay him should not be his business. But in this case, the incidence of the 15% discount rate has been shifted wholesale to Mr Ayodele Kayode. The logical question is; who and who are the beneficiaries of the windfall of the sum of this #540,000.00? Maybe, that was the main reason why the pensioners were calling Dr Kayode Fayemi a “shaprapra” thief-a sharp, crafty and charming thief. The pensioners said so. Perhaps, they have a reason to be angry. Hunger is a recipe for anger. They have become hungry to be that angry; their unpaid gratuities being the fulcrum on which their living depended. Fayemi has robbed them of their dignity and pride.

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A pensioner who preferred anonymity grudgingly asked: Who knows what Fayemi is pleased to call a ‘loan’ is actually the state’s fund kept in a coded account for personal use? He cannot prove it; his thinking might have been based on the fact that some of the governors have been accused of keeping secret accounts for the purpose of prosecuting future elections. Under this circumstance, nobody can be trusted. But there’s more to it than meets the eye. There is nothing Nigerian governors can’t rig to stay in power or make money. The ‘loan’ might be a fraudulent hoax afterall.

One of the Roman historians, speaking of Quintilius Varus, governor of Syria during the infancy of Jesus “a poor man he entered the rich country, a rich man he left leaving the country poorer” That was the grasping avarice of the oppressive imperial officers who ruled Palestine. In fact, Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher, propounded the maxim which reads: Act in such a way that you will wish your actions to be the universal law of nature. If Dr. Kayode Fayemi had ever read the Metaphysics of Morals and The Categorical by Imperative, like homing pigeons, always return home. It’s a natural law of sowing and reaping. But Dr. Kayode Fayemi betrays no sign of criminal tendencies. Meek, soft-spoken with his near guttural voice; his donnish eyeglasses hanging on his nose to tush, Fayemi could easily pass for a saintly christian whose longing is only to make heavens. Some of the pensioners were saying that, behind the fine look and innocent mien there’s a vice. Others could not but agree claiming the governor is only trying to play saint. They are saying the saint stinks. His decision to place the payment of gratuity in other hands appears to be one of the great bulwarks of slavery.

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The pensioners have stories full of nostalgia for the golden era when Engr Segun Oni was holding the ace. They could remember the ONISEG MODEL 07/10 developed for payment of pension and gratuity in the state. To wit: against all odds this model put the pensioners welfare at the front burner. The model was largely unstructured as no board or commission was constituted to manage the pension fund. Hitherto, the fund was managed by career civil servants who were given the mandate to ensure that pensioners start collecting their pensions 3 months after retirement; and 3 months after, they start collecting their gratuities. The magnificence of the model is that it was free from all social and administrative bottlenecks and media hype; no lobbying was required. Segun Oni didn’t use the payment of pension and gratuity to play sadistic power game or taking his pound of flesh on imagined or perceived enemies in service. He didn’t aim at making filthy gains. He is a man of high moral standing and integrity-a worthy scion of Yorubas. God bless him mightily. Truth is solid and stable and it doesn’t change. Segun Oni’s promise is truth. Fayemi and Fayose became governors and everything changed.

Let’s check their report cards. During his first tenure as governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, when Ekiti State was receiving as much as #7billion as monthly statutory revenue from the Federation Account and over #46billion from the Excess Crude Account, Fayemi willfully neglected to pay the pensioners. He stopped allocating fund to the Pension Transitional Arrangement Department (PTAD) in July 2012. During Fayose’s regime, the sum of #10million was been released to the (PTAD) monthly-an amount that was grossly inadequate to pay the pensioners. When Fayemi returned as governor in 2018, he introduced favouritism to the payment of entitlement of retirees choosing to pay the retired Permanent Secretaries who retired in 2018 and 2019 with gratuities ranging between #12million and #15million, and monthly pension running to over #400,000 each; while the junior ones with gratuity of not more than #2million and monthly pension of less than #30,000.00 were paid.

As at today, all state workers have been denied leave and Christmas bonus’.
*Promotion increament for the primary and secondary school teachers; local government workers have not been effected since 2015 to date.
*During Fayose’s regime, secondary school teachers,workers in Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDA’s) were being owed 3 months arrears of salary.
*Primary and secondary school teachers, local government workers including health workers were being owed 6 months arrears of salary.
*The Fayemi-led government is owing the local government pensioners 7 months pension arrears; state pensioners 4 months arrears.
*Also pending are state pensioners gratuities (2012-2020)

According to the Debt Management Office’s report, Ekiti State’s huge debt loan was put at #150billion in March 2019 with IGR estimated at #6.6billion only in 2018. This means that its IGR can only offset 5% of its domestic debt of #118billion. Fayemi said, he is not alone in this cummulative debt hanging on the neck of the state like the Sword of Damocles. Fayemi has put the debt left behind by his predecessor, Ayo Fayose at #155,791,785,214. This was revealed by the Audit carried out by Pricewater Coopers (PCW) auditing firm. According to the external auditors, the sum was the total debt profile of Ekiti State as at 16th October 2018.

Fayemi also disclosed that the state under Ayo Fayose received the sum of #184.83billion as income between 2014 and 2018. He noted that Fayose had no reason to owe salaries given the huge revenue that accrued to the state during his regime. Since they know each other very well, innocent observers would merely be having fun as they accused each other of plunging the state into perpetual indebtedness. For all to see, Fayemi gave the breakdown of the #155bilion debt as follows:
*Loans and bonds – #57,694,460,298.79
*Salary arrears – #16,777,257,608.52
*Outstanding leave bonus – #4,402,585,167.53
*Corpers allowances – #28,883,959.00
*Outstanding subventions – #4,707,678,870.98
*Pension and gratuity arrears – #39,775,919,872.00
*Outstanding contract claims – #28,575,946,572.25
OTHERS
*Furniture allowance – #470,266,137.09
*Severance allowance – #586,144,167.51
*Monitized vehicle arrears – #101,243,387.24
*Outstanding warrant – #386,77,450.64
*Outstanding FIRS obligation – #184,215,623.43
*Traditional rulers arrears – #150,214,204.10
*Outstanding liabilities – #1,792,144,931.62

This is just the tip of the iceberg; you can imagine what the debt profile of the state would be at the end of the Fayemi’s regime in 2022. The dash board reveals that Fayemi did not pay gratuity to pensioners (2012 to 2014); Fayose neglected to pay the pensioners (2014 to 2018).

I feel for the hapless pensioners who have been conditioned into collective degradation and impoverishment through administrative oppression and suppression. Rest is sweet after labour so goes the Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP) slogan. But for the pensioners in Ekiti State sweet has gone sour as many are languishing in poverty due to non-payment of their gratuities; many of them live in poverty; some are dying because the state government has denied them the money to take care of themselves. It is an injustice and administrative terrorism. The decision of the government to secure a #160bilion bond security as a financial instrument for the purpose and intent of raising loans for payment of gratuity to pensioners is no doubt within its prerogative to implement any policy within its constitutional ambit of its operations. While we uphold the constitutional right of government to such an arrangement, it is equally important that the governor should respond to the sincere concern of the citizenry on whose behalf the decision is taken. This is in view of the pallous financial status of the state as constantly claimed and expressed at every given opportunity; and more so that quantum of amount #160billion; worrisome to many stakeholders is the fact that the government has not shown convincingly the ability and efficiency in financial resource management in fulfilling the biblical phrase that if you’re faithful in managing a little you will be able to oversee larger functions to douse the fears of the citizenry on managing the quantum of fund. Also, of serious concern to my mind and I should think the same would be for many people is the question of the duration of repayment-15 years count and the repayment strategies of the government within the remaining less than 24 months of the administration.

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When one considers the realities and the facts on the ground; without prejudice and bias, the government is better advised to subject the decision to further-in-depth evaluation and have a rethink. We give it to the government that it knows the financial status of the state in terms of financial allocations and the IGR, but going for a loan is not only the viable option the government should consider, when it is doubtful that the state’s accruable revenue cannot support any meaningful repayment plan of such large financial commitment.

The deficit balance of the state is unknown as it is shrouded in secrecy. I have searched all the searchable platforms with no avail. The government have something to hide.

Fayemi and his ally-a wide horse on the loose, are blamesworthy for crippling the state and should be prepared to pay the price. Fayemi should be courageous enough to set the machinery in motion for the purpose of reviewing the Payment of Pension Law in the state in respect of former governors and deputy governors as a way of cutting cost of governance to at least a minimum in the face of dwindling revenues and the appurtenant inflationary growth rate; and huge debts which they have incurred.

The reader may wonder, why I have gone to such great length to lay emphasis on the debt profile of the state. The answer is simple. I can foresee the Ogbonigwe (land mine) being planted for the in-coming administration to render it impotent. The signs are ominous. All Fayemi has been doing is creating avenues for making money to prosecute an illusory ambition; he will leave the state teetering on the brink of bankruptcy in 2022. Notoriously vain, monstrously insecure and selectively cruel, we should expect the worst from him. He will become a rebel of vanity in an attempt to give the in-coming dispensation a putch in continuation of Oni-Fayemi judicial cold war (May 12, 2018 – April 17, 2019), in another form to render the state ungovernable.

The purpose of this write-up is to call on the good people of Ekiti State at home and in the diaspora that our dear state is in trouble; that we should not keep quite over a serious matter of this nature. The huge debt burden on the state is a serious threat to the in-coming dispensation; we should not deign to acknowledge the problem’s existence. We cannot continue to sit on the fence of non-partisanship till 2022. It is either we respond to the critical condition of our time or the state becomes ungovernable through pilled-up debts after Fayemi exit. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the elite, the youth, and the students body, the trade unions, the market women and men, the civil society organisations and the Nigerian Union of Pensioners (NUP) should rise up to the occasion now. The PDP has a great role to play in this. The Chief Bisi Kolawole’s State Working Committee in active collaboration and synergy with the pensioners should turn a high voltage heat on the state government now. The governor should be forced to urgently declare a state of emergency on pension and gratuity payment liabilities in the state. Fayemi should immediately suspend all unprofitable ventures gopping the state’s fund and concentrate on the payment of the #39.7billion outstanding gratuities from 2012 to date. It is time to wake up! What you don’t confront, you cannot conquer. What you don’t address you cannot arrest.

The narration above if I have not oscillated beyond a simple conclusion is what has led me to say that from my point of view, the most strategic solution will be for everyone who has bones to pick with this government to ready their PVCs towards 2022; to put the right people in power in the state. When 2022 comes we can revisit the whole structure and super structure of our dear state. In a democracy everyone needs to be on board for the right changes to be made. The traumatized and debased pensioners are just a group. We should try to vote for people based on personal recognition rather than political affiliations which makes known enemies in denial, manipulations and bewitchment benefit vicariously. The scripture says, O Zion, Arise and deliver thyself. We can!✊
God bless Ekiti State.

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