Following the creation of Imo State from the defunct East Central State in 1976, the then Imo Broadcasting Service (I.B.S.) was established by the Imo State Edict No. 15 of 1976 to be a state owned radio broadcasting station. The administrative headquarters then was temporarily located at No. 13/15 Ajoku Street Owerri. It was later moved to Egbu Road in the same Owerri. Subsequently, the operational station was first established at Government Trade Center, Owerri elater moved to the Egbu Road Headquarters while the radio transmitter was installed at Orji also in Owerri. On the other hand, the then Imo Television Authority (I.T.V.) Channel 59 was also established by the Imo State Law No. 23 of 1981.
However, what we have today as the Imo Broadcasting Corporation (I.B.C.) started as a result of the said merger of I.B.S. and I.T.V. by the Imo State Edict No. 8 of 1984 with Elder Anyim Ude as the corporation’s first Director-General. Subsequently, the Ohakim Administration moved its headquarters to Chief Achike Avenue, New Owerri where it is presently located.
As said earlier, the corporation is owned by the Imo State Government and it has successfully and effectively served all administrations that have existed in the state.
Unfortunately, the staffers of the corporation have always complained of being subjected to unwholesome and pitiable conditions. The climax of it all is the current plight of some of those wonderful, dedicated professionals and golden voices that once peopled the corporation. Some of them include Ejikeme Ahamba, Lugard Igwe, Joe Ehioma, Iheanyi Ochor, Ahamefule Ibekwe, Donald Ekenta, Ajie Chinedu Nzeribe, Chris Abiaziem, Betty Onuoha, Chiadikobi Nwamgborogwu, Chike Egbuna, Dandy Nzeakor etc.
Regrettably, it is on record that from 1999 till the time of this write-up, no retired IBC staff has received his or her gratuity. Worse of it all is that from December 2010 till the time of this write-up, these retirees also have not received monthly pensions except for the payment for the month of January 2013 the corporation managed to pay from its meagre internally generated revenue.
Therefore, from statistics, it means that as at 29th May 2011 Governor Rochas Okorocha became the state governor, his administration inherited an un-paid pension arrears of five months including the above mentioned gratuities from 1999.
Interestingly, as at the time of this write-up, the Okorocha Administration is 28 months old. However, from the information in the public domain, retired I.B.C. staff are being owed a total arrears of pensions for 32 months.
Flowing from the above therefore, it means that the Okorocha Government alone owes the said retirees 26 months arrears of pensions including the 5 months arrears it inherited from the Ohakim regime making it 32 months.
From findings, one of the major sources of revenue of the corporation is the monthly =N=100,000 which each of the 27 local government councils in the state is mandated to pay for services rendered to the councils by the corporation. This money is usually deducted during the monthly State/Local Government Joint Allocation Committee (JAC) sharing of local government allocation from the Federation Account. Therefore, the total amount supposed to be remitted to IBC from these deductions on monthly basis is =N=2.7m for the 27 local government councils in the state. Interestingly, the Okorocha Administration ‘increased’ this amount to =N=500,000 per local government council (i.e. =N=13.5m monthly).
In October 2012, the Okorocha Government set up a Seven-Man Technical Committee to determine the reasons for the non-payment of monthly pensions and gratuities to retired IBC staff. This committee was headed by the then Commissioner for Information Mr. Chinedu Offor. It submitted its reports and recommendations before the end of the year 2012.
Interestingly, among other things, the report of the committee states that one of the major problems for the non-payment of retirement benefits to IBC pensioners are decline in the Internally Generated Revenue (I.G.R) of the corporation and poor funding from the Imo State Government. It was discovered that commercial and political adverts from other political parties and perceived opponents are rejected leading to poor IGR in the corporation. Consequently, these adverts are taken to other media houses thereby making the corporation lose a lot of revenue. It was also discovered state government ministries, departments and agencies do not pay for services rendered by the corporation. For example, the current state government has refused to pay for live coverage of its events unlike the past administrations used to do. However, many millions of naira was paid for the live coverage of the same event to other electronic media. The climax of the findings of the committee was that since the inception of the Okorocha Administration (i.e. from June 2011 to the time the committee submitted its report), the state Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development has been withholding all the monthly deductions from local government councils in the state meant for IBC.
However, the committee among other things recommended that the state government should be paying for services the corporation renders to it and for an upward review of the monthly subvention the state gives the corporation. The climax of the recommendations of the committee is that the state ‘Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development should be directed to release the outstanding sums being the publicity packages/services rendered by the Corporation (IBC) to the Twenty-Seven Local Government Councils in the state since June 2011…’. These and other things the committee said would be the only way to resolve the problem of non-payment of retirement benefits to IBC staff.
It is interesting to note that it was major players, trusted aides and allies of Governor Okorocha that worked in the said committee. Generally, their findings and recommendations are worthwhile and are highly commendable.
But regrettably, almost one year the above report was submitted to the state Governor, nothing has been done to better the lots of the retirees in question. As at the time of this write-up, the said retirees are owed up to 32 months arrears of un-paid pensions. The issues of payment of gratuities are not only a mirage but have long been forgotten.
Consequently, the questions that now agitate the minds of many people are: 1. Why does the state government keep making these deductions from local government allocations without remitting them to the corporation? 2. Why is the state government withholding these huge amounts while the beneficiaries die on daily basis? Where are the monies at present? Has the state government appropriated or misappropriated them? E.t.c. The irony is that the more these questions are asked, the more the issue becomes confusing.
Recently, I confronted the immediate past Permanent Secretary of the state Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development who stayed for a substantial period in the above ministry during the period under review Mrs. Lilian Asuzu on the whereabouts of the deductions. She told me that she could not remember and referred me to her successor. When I later called on her successor Mrs. Stella Udogwu, Mrs. Udogwu told me that there were no such deductions. However, this Udogwu’s reply contradicts page 8 of the Committee’s report which states that the said deductions were ‘…kept in the coffers of the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development’ and should be released to the corporation.
On the other hand, the Okorocha administration has frequently paid many millions of naira to AIT, Channels Television, NTA, Radio Nigeria etc for live coverage of some private and state events. IBC has also been directed to cover all of the said events. During such events, the corporation suspends all paid adverts. But unfortunately, no kobo is given to the corporation for such live coverage. Some of the events include the traditional marriage and church wedding ceremonies of Governor Okorocha’s daughter, Governor Okorocha’s 50th Birthday and 10 Year Anniversary of Rochas Foundation. Others include programmes of the Wife of the Governor, Government meetings and many other government functions.
For me, as a government, there is nothing bad in using the services of the corporation. Others regimes in the past did it but relatively paid for it. I have been opportune to be in a publicity sub-committee for a state function before the advent of the Okorocha Administration. I remember that for the function we organized, IBC was given =N=6 million for live coverage of it. However, I am against using the services of a state owned medium without paying for it.
Nevertheless, if the Okorocha Government does not want the corporation to be patronized by the entire public, there is nothing wrong about that. But it should take the sole responsibility of taking proper care of the corporation.
The irony is the Okorocha Administration claims to have cleared all the retirements benefits of pensioners in Imo State. But it is not true because apart from retired IBC staff, the government owes gratuities and 9 months arrears of pensions to retired public primary school teachers in the state.
Already, majority of these pensioners face de-humanizing conditions because of non-payment of their retirement benefits. Many of them are old, weak and can hardly feed themselves and their families. They now look frail, frustrated, disgruntled and are unable to access medicare. I know a persons like Late Betty Onuoha would have lived on if these retirement benefits were paid before they died.
Therefore, the acclaimed ‘Rescue Governor’ should remember line 4 and 5 of the country’s first stanza of the National Anthem which says ‘…The labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain…’ and hear the excruciating cries of these senior citizens.
It is my humble advice that the state government should implement the recommendations of the said Chinedu Offor Committee because that is the only sure and genuine way of taking proper care of IBC which includes payment of retirement benefits to its retired staff.
Barr. Emperor Nnabuihe Iwuala (Ksc.)