Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Information and Communications, Aniekan Umanah, in this interview with our reporter, Akanomoore Kufre, explains the issue of local government pensions and other matters. Excerpts:
After His Excellency was sworn in 2015, he decided to source for money and pay ten years arrears of pension and gratuities, yet this same people are going out to protest the state owing them?
Let me clarify this issue. We have three tiers of government, federal, state and local governments. Each tier is responsible for the payment of salaries, and pensions of its workers. The payment of pension for local government workers is the responsibility of local governments and not the state government. When Governor Udom Emmanuel, assumed office, he looked very critically at the issue of pension and gratuity of local government workers, and intervened by clearing 10 years backlog of the outstanding pension from 2002. This gesture attracted commendations from NULGE and other unions. Governor Emmanuel has been supporting and augmenting the local government salaries and pensions, but paucity of funds has thrown the local government into financial chaos, just as it has happened to the state. The governor does not want any worker to be owed a kobo. He believes every worker deserves his/her emolument or wage, therefore he does everything in his ability to ensure Akwa Ibom workers get their pay as at when due. The state government is not owing workers, please get this point straight.
Do you think, as some say, that the protest was politically motivated?
Whether it is politically motivated or not, what is not right will always be wrong. You don’t come out to insult a man who is struggling to see how he can pay you even when it is not his responsibility. We must not look for right things the wrong way. The economic situation right now demands that everybody comes to the understanding that we must change the way we do things — how we live and show appreciation, knowing that we must continue to pray for the survival of our country and state for things to get better. There are some councils that are in deficit and several of them are running on minus. That’s where the state government comes in to augment salaries of their workers. People must appreciate that times are hard. I am aware of the augmentation done by Governor Udom Emmanuel to ensure that workers get their salaries within the local government system. When you have a salary wage bill that is more than your allocation, what do you do? It means you don’t even have enough to pay workers. This education must continue, there is no rocket science about it. We know what the state’s wage bills are, and the local government’s wage bill. We can do the maths and know that there is a lot of engineering going on to ensure the survival of the state and the local government system.
Don’t you think the governor’s intervention in 2015 actually prompted them to now ask for a repeat?
I think sometimes when a man is good, people tend to exploit that heart of care. Although pensioners have a poor presentation of their complaints and rash comments, the governor will address this with some mercy and love that he has for the people. And as we speak, he is making arrangement to sort out the financial problems of the state, so we should be reassured and exercise patience for the local government system to work.
Some have wondered why local government pensioners did not hold the protest at the various local governments?
I thought so too, I think they were trying to draw the attention of the state government. But they can do that responsibly. If they had a delegation sent to meet the governor to say, “We have received our money, thank you sir. But please as a caring father, come to our aid for the other months.” That will be demanding responsibly and not the placards, and making rash comments. Let’s be clear here, the state is not responsible for the payment of local government pensions.
Don’t you think an average Akwa Ibom person needs some level of moral re-orientation because of the way he talks to leaders and disrespects institutions these days?
Leading a state like Akwa Ibom, where some people try to run down their leaders is worrisome. It did not start today. This is where the moral reorientation campaign Dakkada comes in. Go and read the creed, which encapsulates all the moral issues such as ‘we must rise above biases, ethnicity, gender, we must rise to togetherness’. The creed contains all we need to learn. When you read what is published in some of the local newspapers, you’ll wonder what they want to achieve by clear falsehood against leaders. It is a terrible thing. Families and churches have a lot of work to do in helping people and putting them on the moral path. We must respect our leaders and particularly the institutions they represent.
There is also this complaint of unpaid gratuities to retired state workers. What exactly is the problem?
Paucity of funds accounts for delays when they occur. But clearly, the state government is not owing salaries and pension of workers. But concerning payment of outstanding gratuities, those that are through with the processes will get paid, soon as government is done with procedures and documentation. But like I said, funding is key.