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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Anambra Pensioners Laud Soludo, Seek More Intervention, As Member Receives N35 As Monthly Pension

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By Izunna Okafor, Awka

Pensioners in Anambra State have commended Governor Chukwuma Soludo for his prompt payment of pensions and check-off dues of pensioners in the State, as well as his prompt and regular payment of workers’ salaries, among other packages his administration doles out for the benefit of pensioners and workers in the State.

The State Chairman of the Nigerian Union of Pensioners (NUP) Anambra State Council, Comrade Dr. A.C. Ugozor gave the commendation in his address at the 2024 State Council Meeting of the Union, which held on Thursday in Awka, the state capital.

The NUP Anambra State Chairman said they were recently given a national Award of Excellence and also recently got recognized as the No.1 state in remittance of Union check off dues in Nigeria at the NEC meeting of the Union held in Akure, Ondo State on November 29, 2023. These, he said, the Union owes to Governor Soludo who pays salaries, pensions and union check off dues as and when due, even as he also commended the State Accountant General and the Head of Service for prioritizing the concerns of the pensioners, together with the Governor.

He recounted some of the progresses the group has made as a Union, including ensuring the “I Am Alive” verification of concerned members by the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD); replacement of the Union’s deceased State Secretary (Deacon Ebo Emmanuel) with a new person (Comrade ABC Ubani); engagement of eternal auditor for the Union’s accounts, which have been successfully audited without any audit query; as well as the inauguration of the Gender Committee, with Amaka Osoemanam as the Chairperson; among other progresses so far made.

The NUP State Chairman further reiterated the Union’s appreciation to Governor Soludo over what he described as the transformative journey of his administration and the feats so far attained, which he highlighted to include the massive recruitment in the health and education sectors, training and empowerment of five thousand youths with two million naira (N2m) each under the One Youth Two Skills initiative, among others.

He further lauded the infrastructural developmental efforts of the Soludo Administration, both in the urban, semi-urban, and rural areas of the State, among other achievements of his administration in various sectors, including his ongoing construction of the State Government House, a project hitherto abandoned for over 20 years by past administrations.

Amid these accolades and assurance of continuous support to the Soludo Administration, the NUP Chairman, however, reiterated the Union’s plea for government’s intervention over what he tagged some of the lingering requests and problems of pensioners in the state.

These, he said, include the withheld eleven months arrears of Federal share of pension (owed some primary school pensioners of 2002 and 2003 during late Governor Mbadinuju’s administration); the remaining arrears of gratuities of 2017-2021 (inherited from former Governor Willie Obiano’s administration); and the review of pension, which should be done at five years intervals, as stipulated in section 210 (3) of the 1999 Constitution.

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While clarifying that the 11 months pension arrears had long been paid by the Federal Government, but got withheld by the then State Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Matters; Dr. Ugozor also commended Governor Soludo for having cleared more than half of the five-year gratuity arrears inherited from his predecessor. He, however, appealed for more concern of the Governor on all the lingering arrears.

The NUP Chairman also expressed the Union’s concerns on some other issues that though were given attention during the recent meeting between the Governor and the leaders of Organized Labour in the State. He lamented that some retirees in the State receive less than five thousand naira as monthly pension, citing an instance of one Mrs. Uchefuna from Njikoka Local Government Area who receives a monthly pension of thirty-five naira, fifty kobo (N35.60k).

“There is great need for government to decide on what will be the new minimum wage and minimum pension in Anambra State,” he appealed.

Responding, the Chief Guest of Honour at the event and State Head of Service, Barr. Mrs. Theodora Igwegbe, described pensioners as foundation upon whose years of hard work and dedication the state and the nation were built. This, she said, is also the reason the state government, under Governor Soludo, prioritizes the welfare and concerns of Anambra pensioners, as senior citizens.

Mrs. Igwegbe also lauded Soludo as a responsive and caring leader, attesting that, aside ensuring the prompt and reliable payment of the pensions and gratuities of the pensioners since he assumed office, the Governor has also agreed to defray the unpaid gratuities that have accumulated between 2017 and 2022.

“It will interest you to note that the gratuities owed from 2019 (in the case of some people) to 2019 and in other cases to 2020 have all been defrayed,” she said.

The Head of Service further assured of prompt intervention of her office and that of the Accountant General of the State on the said 11 months pensions withheld since 2002, while also revealing that Governor Soludo has already paid more than halfway into the five years gratuities accumulated under the immediate-past administration in the State. She also revealed to have personally written a memo to the Governor to the effect of the review of pensions and the pension law, even before the pensioners brought the concerns up.

“So, I will just appeal to everyone here to exercise patience. And now that the new minimum wage is being discussed in the entire federation, let us just wait and see what the outcome is going to be. We are hopeful that whatever the outcome is, while that will be discussed, the issue of pensions and palliative will also be a part of it,” she assured.

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She further clarified that the recent suspension of the contributory pension by the Governor does not imply sweeping the matter under the carpet, but for investigations to be done, so that people and the government would know why all the monies deducted were not remitted to the Pension Fund Administrator (PFA); and at the end of which the right and deserving action would be taken by the concerned authorities.

“I trust our Governor, he knows what to do. So, let us just give him time to conduct this investigation,” the number-one civil servant appealed, while also emphasizing that Soludo’s government, since inception, has paid all that was supposed to be paid as part of its own contribution to the PFA, and is consequently not in any arrears at all.

On his own part, the Accountant General of the State, Dr. Sir Chukwudi Okoli, explained how he changed the old order of payment in the State, to ensure that the pensioners in the state, today, get their pays at the right time alongside the civil servants, and are no longer haphazardly delayed or get paid anytime so wished by the person in charge.

“We have never failed in giving you the number-one treatment as senior citizens; not even under the Soludo Administration,” he reminded the pensioners, also assuring them that his office and that of the Head of Service would look into the withheld eleven months arrears, even as the Committee recently set up by the Governor also look into other related concerns within their point of reference.

The one-day event, which was also graced by the State Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Humphrey Nwafor; and the State Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Dr. Odogwu Emeka Odogwu, also featured presentation of awards to some deserving individuals, including the Accountant General of the State, Dr. Sir Chukwudi Okoli; a philanthropist, Chief Thomas Ekwu, among others.

Themed “The Evolving Landscape of Pension Policies: Staying Informed and Engaged”, the well-attended event also featured lectures and paper presentations by some resource persons, including the Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Head of Service, Mr. Adebayo Ojeyinka; and Dr. Isaac Emeka Ufondu, who both shared some insights with the pensioners on how to navigate the evolving landscape of pension policies in the present-day economic realities in the country.

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