By Dr. Dons Eze
Oyo State, otherwise known as the “Pacesetter State”, is certainly living by its name. By religiously releasing N180 million every month since the past twelve months for the payment of outstanding gratuities and pension arrears to retirees from the state civil service, Oyo State is truly setting the pace.
This is a very good example, which other state governments in the country, and even the federal government, should emulate. It is one way of showing appreciation to those who dutifully rendered services to that particular state, and by extension, the nation at large; those who gave out the best of their active life in the service of the country, who toiled and laboured for the progress and development of Nigeria.
While releasing a symbolic cheque of N180 million to settle arrears of gratuities to the first batch of 82 civil servants who retired in 2013, last Monday, Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde, disclosed that his administration had inherited backlog of unpaid gratuities totaling N26 billion, involving 6,274 pensioners.
As such, the state government had decided to be releasing N180 million every month to ensure that these huge arrears of money owed as gratuities, were liquidated. By our calculation, the state government might have since June last year, when this scheme was started, released a total of N1,908 billion, which is still a far cry from the N26 billion owed the retirees.
All the same, even though Oyo State has set the pace by trying to clear arrears of gratuities owed retired civil servants in the state, our thinking is that since the first batch of 2013 retirees are just being paid their entitlements in 2020, there is the likelihood that majority of these beneficiaries would have long died, having waited patiently in vain for seven long years before the government remembered to pay them their gratuities.
Nevertheless, while we still commend Oyo State government for its trail-blazing efforts in caring for the welfare of its retirees, since a journey of 1,000 miles starts with one mile, we hope and pray that other state governments owing backlog arrears of pensions and gratuities to their retired civil servants, would take a cue from the Oyo State example.
There is no doubt that a good number of other state governments are even far much longer in arrears of pensions and gratuities owed their retirees than in the case of Oyo, but many of these state governments do not seem to be concerned about the welfare of these senior citizens, which is unfortunate and demoralizing.
It is very sad that while politicians who served only four or eight years, and who have been collecting huge salaries and allowances, together with their attendant kickbacks and “kick-fronts” while in office, would on retirement, be promptly settled with humongous amount of money as retirement or severance benefits, while the poor civil servants who had rendered dedicated service to the nation for thirty or more years, and who had been on very poor salaries, would be left empty-handed, when they retired from service.
As a matter of fact, the Nigerian governments, both federal and state, have not been fair to their civil servants, the engine of development, those who labour, who put their lives on the line so that the country could grow. It is either that these civil servants are placed on very poor remuneration, or that the salaries are not even paid, owed for months. When they retire, they retire in penury, empty-handed, and their entitlements not be paid. In the process, many of them die prematurely, have cardiac arrest, or as we call it, stroke, soon on leaving office.
That is why the country could not grow, or why there is stunted development in the country, and why there is corruption in the system, because some people would be thinking of what would become of them when they leave office, that is to say, the uncertainty of tomorrow. In the process, they would be forced to soil their hands, one way or the other, while in office.