By Akakan Umoh
Mr. Udo Ituen retired from Akwa Ibom State Civil Service in January 2016. In his line of work, he was a confidential secretary for the state government for 35 years.
After retirement, he received an alert that same month showing that he had been paid his monthly salary.
“This is not right. I am not supposed to be paid since I had retired from service. This is too sudden now.” With this, he made a decision and reported to the then accountant in Government House, Uyo.
When he got there, he was told to write a letter and address it to the permanent secretary, laying out his complaint for stoppage of the salary. He did so, and submitted the letter.
Surprisingly, the next month which was a February, he received another alert from the same Zenith Bank consultant, same March that followed.
He went to his former office in Uyo, and laid out his complaint, stating that he had written a letter to the permanent secretary, complaining about the issue, but he got no reply from there, and had received an alert again.
He was told to refund them, that it must have been an error from the rookie consultant.
Mr. Udo Ituen (not his real name) returned, with the hope that the money will be deducted from his monthly pension or gratuity, so he worried less about the matter.
He applied for his blue and white papers, and got them in May of that same year.
As a single parent with five children, he had huge responsibilities to take care of- ranging from school fees to feeding to car maintenance to electricity bill, among others.
So, he had to withdraw and use that money that was mistakenly paid into his account by a Zenith bank consultant.
By this time, he was expecting that government would commence monthly payment of his pension, but nothing came.
He went to the Abak sub-treasury to collect his retirement ID card. In the process, the then sub-treasurer- male- told him to pay N1,000. After that, he showed Udo a circular duly signed by the then Accountant–General that he would not be paid his monthly pension, until he refunded the other money government paid to him. So, literally he owed the government now.
“God, how can this happen? I thought that the government will deduct the owed amount from my pension or gratuity. Now I have nothing to rely on, and feed these children.” He contemplates for a while.
On November 15, 2016, he sold his small parcel of land in Uyo which he wanted to put a residential building after retirement. But now, he had sold and refunded N427,235.06 owed the state government. The money was paid through Zenith Bank branch, Abak Road, Uyo into government treasury and receipt was issued. However, government had reversed the draconian circular and government deducts whatever they owe in piecemeal from their monthly pensions.
Udo wrote a letter to the state Accountant-General and copied the Abak Sub-treasurer, informing them that he had refunded the money. He attached a photocopy of the receipt on the letter.
By December 2016, the government through the consultant commenced payment of the monthly pension to him. But he was not paid the arrears which he had returned to the government treasury.
So, those three months, were left hanging.
Udo grew upset at this development, wondering what was holding the treasury from paying back to him what was lawfully his, even when he had refunded the money to them. However, by December 2018, the state government through the consultant started refunding his pension arrears. After four months of refunds, the government stopped while two months’ pension arrears still remain unpaid till date.
He had to go to the Accountant-General’s office to report the issue to the man.
On reaching there, he was directed to a consultant in the office. On the first day, the consultant was not there. But he met three women. One ebony in complexion and the other milky. The milky looking one told the man that his application might have been kept by the Abak sub-treasurer. The lady never knew that the treasurer using a decoy collected N2,000 from each pensioner to process the refund of pension arrears.
Starting from when Udo was paid salary the same month he retired, which was not right, to when he was told to refund the money, so that government could pay the pension later to him at the right time, to when he had to use the money for pressing family needs, to when he was not paid his pensions till he refunded the other salary arrears to government treasury, how he refunded the money, and how after four years, the government has not paid him the money.
“Mr. Sanho (not his real name) from Edo State, I was told by a well informed source, that the Accountant-General was paying up to December 2015 while the consultant was handling from January 2016 till date. I was paid four months’ arrears by the government from 2018 to part of 2018. What I don’t understand is why I haven’t received the remaining two months till date which is more than N400,000?”
“Mr. Udo, I am well aware of such a situation, and I assure you that we are handling the matter. You are not the only one on this issue. There are thousands of pensioner still complaining about this very same issue. So, be patient while we sort things out.
“So, you are well aware of the plight of hundreds of pensioners in the state, while some have not even been paid their pension arrears, years after their retirement, and it doesn’t bother you to take an action?” Mr. Udo asks in annoyance.
“I know you are angry and disappointed at the moment, but you should watch what you say around here. The job we do here is not an easy one. The money was refunded to the government, yes, but I believe the error comes from the computer data base. The information has not been compiled yet, to know who and who to pay. Once the information has been compiled, I promise you, you will be paid your arrears. Bear with us a little more.” Mr. Sanho says in a pleading manner.
“For how long? In 2018, my sub-treasurer and I came to this office to see you. You were not around but we met your staffers who told us that the consultant was compiling the pension arrears and once he is through he would send it to Computer Directorate for authentication and verification and capturing. After, he will direct payment.” Udo howls.
“Maybe, your sub-treasurer then did make it explicitly clear that you refunded the salary arrears to the government. That was the missing link.” Sanho expatiates.
“Okay, no problem. I will keep waiting till it is convenient enough for you to pay the arrears, and even those of the hundreds of pensioners out there, that your consultancy is owing. Good day!” Mr. Udo says and leaves the office immediately, without hearing anymore lies from the consultant.
The next evening, Mr. Udo had a meeting with one of his friends working in the Computer Directorate, Mr. Etim (not his real name). He was furious at the delay. He blamed Sanho for not timely refunding the arrears even when the management staffers in a meeting with the Accountant-General had decided that the arrears amounting to multi-millions of Naira be paid to all pension beneficiaries. “Anyway, I will find out from him why he has effected the directive.” He assures.
In another milieu, Udo and his USA-based friend, Etenyin, dialogued, “What is wrong my comrade? You are not your usual bubbling self.” His friend remarks at his countenance that evening.
Mr. Udo shakes his head sadly, and takes a sip from his glass of Fanta.
“It is a long story. I am not sure where to start from ufan” Mr. Udo says
“I have all evening to hear the whole story. Tell it the way you can.” His friend encourages.
Udo recounts everything to him, while his friend listens with enthralled attention.
After the end of the story, his friend takes in a long breath in, shaking his head sadly.
“That is a very sad thing my friend. Imagine hundreds of people who are going through what you are. All these because a consultant somewhere is using several gimmicks just to avoid paying them what are their legitimate claims, and to keep everything to himself. That’s very bad.”
“It is a very sad thing. After they will be shouting corruption everywhere, when they themselves are the corrupt ones. These are the ones spoiling Governor Udom Emmanuel administration. Corruption starts from individuals. They don’t know. I may blame the consultant; after all, the governor contracted the job to him, which could have been undertaken by civil servants in the office.” Mr. Udo barks.
“In my own opinion, I think government should step into this matter, at least for the sake of those pensioners who are suffering in silence, and have no one to speak up for them. This is getting out of hand, and if not curtailed in the next five years, will make civil servants to be unserious about the work they do, and this could cause a fall in the nation’s economy.” Udo’s friend observes.
“I agree with you. My case is one of hundreds of pensioners whom the consultant is dawdling in refunding the arrears to the owners on the excuse that the Computer Directorate is computing. I join many hushed voices in yelling loudly.” Mr. Udo laments.
“I believe with time, everything will be sorted out.” Mr. Umoren.
Mr. Udo picks up his glass of Fanta and raises it for a toast.
“To a better Nigeria, and to the payment of pensions on time, and pension arrears.”
His friend raises his glass too, and they click in agreement.
Umoh, a sociologist, writes from Uyo