Comrade F. I. Agba, a retired Permanent Secretary in Imo State, a Unionist, a former Secretary of the Association of Senior Public Servants etc, has been in the limelight, advocating for the welfare of civil servants and pensioners. In this interview with Nigeria Watchdog Reporter, Dorcas Samson Achi, this vocal activist and social crusader x-rayed the problems of pensions in Imo State, the challenges of Imo state civil service, the present Imo state administration, the dangers of community policing and lots more. Excerpts:
THE ISSUE OF PENSION IN IMO STATE SEEMS TO BE UNRESOLVABLE, WHAT IS THE ACTUAL PROBLEM WITH PENSIONS AND PENSIONERS IN IMO STATE?
The problems with pension in Imo State are deliberately created by the government. There is an office created for payment of pensions. The office of the Accountant General should have been allowed to do the job or does the government not recognize that Accountancy is a profession. The Accountant General of Imo state is just issuing cheques. He is not doing his job. Payment of money in government is not done by top officers. It is done by junior officers but the approval for payment is done by top officers. When top officers are boasting that they are paying salaries then what are the junior officers doing and who is then is doing the job of the top officers? A group of young men inaugurated pension intervention committee, this group has been asking the government to return payment of money to the appropriate quarters. Failure to return it to the appropriate quarters is disobedience to the Federal Government but the Federal Government appears not bothered. There is a Federal Law, the Pension Reform Act of 2004 and 2014.The duty of payment is that of the Accountant General of the Federation and that of the Treasury department of the F. C. T, but they are being disloyal to the country called Nigeria. If the Federal Government means business, they will discipline them. The excuse the state government is giving for not paying pensions is that they want to sanitize the place but a place has to be dirty before one starts cleaning it. Since the inception of this government they have been telling us of thieves but we have not heard of anyone being charged to Court. The thieves are only in their minds. When a person is criminally minded, he will think others are criminally minded. Many people have bought the idea that civil servants are fraudulent.Pension are charges on consolidated fund. No government tempers with charges because charges are regarded as national debt. You don’t spend money out of the consolidated fund without finishing the charges. In preparing a budget, when you have calculated your expenditure for the year, you calculate what is due to pay pensions and you add it, so there is always money to pay pensions. It is a part of a country’s indebtedness and a government that does not talk seriously about its indebtedness is not a matured government.
IS SAID THAT GOVERNMENT IS STILL VERIFYING WORKERS AND PENSIONERS,HENCE THE DELAY IN PAYMENT, DO YOU AGREE?
Imagine a whole government is saying that it doesn’t have the list of all the pensioners.A government retired the pensioners and is saying it doesn’t have the list of those it retired and then call people out to produce documents purported to have been issued by them. This shows that something is wrong with the government. When civil service was civil service, the governor cannot make such a statement. He will be stopped because the statement is embarrassing. If the government has no list of those they retired why should they use public funds to pay anyone? When somebody is to be retired, he first applies through his department to the civil service commission. The civil service commission approves the retirement and sends it back to his department. The person’s particulars are assembled and he is given a form to fill. In that form he will be asked if he wants to take his pensions through the Sub Treasury or through the bank. This form will be collected with his personal file after they have gone to the Accounts Department to find out the officer’s indebtedness and then sends it to the Office of the Head of Service. The man is computed based on laws. After the computation, it is submitted to the state Auditor who audits it and satisfies that what they have done is right so that even if there will be fraud, there will be collision. When this is done, the office of the Head of Service will then issue an identity card to the person and what they call Authority to be paid pensions and gratuity. That authorization is supposed to be sent directly from the office of the Head of Service to the Accountant General’s office. The man is given a copy to know his entitlement, if he wants to challenge it, he can. The Accountant General has list of all the pensioners from that authorization paper. When you are going to receive your payment, you produce your identity card to show that you are the person whose name appears there. If you are going to be paid through the bank, the bank has all your particulars. For the government to gather people for verifications and capturing, they are marketing ignorance. The idea of non documentation is a disgrace to the state. What we are advertising to the world is that we are all irresponsible and the government is irresponsible. I haven’t seen any comprehensive list of pensioners in the state,that is outside the officials because the Accountant General has and the Head of Service has but I have not seen any public comprehensive list of pensioners.
To verify something is to find out the truthfulness of that thing but the public has been deceived. When you talk about verification, the man who is looking at my first appointment letter does not know the signature that signed it, so how does he verify it? When you gather all these documents they become too big to verify, you will just dump it somewhere. The government is creating difficulties. The government claimed to have paid everyone. We know it is not true. There is no way you can say you have paid everyone because some people don’t come for their pensions for months. All you do is to keep such money and wait for them whenever they come, they take it. Appointments are gazetted and through that the people who are employed can be easily traced. Formally, staff lists are published. These also helps. Ghost Workers were not there in Eastern Nigeria or East Central State. They were not even in Imo state until these new fashioned governance came. Quarterly, the government published staff disposition, once it’s published, every staff will know where he or she is deployed. There were checks and balances in governance then. These days the civil service system is been destroyed. Where there is no staff list, staff disposition, no checks and balances anyone can smuggle himself in.
GOVERNMENT SAYS THOSE WHO HAVE NOT BEEN PAID HAVE ISSUES, ISNT THAT CORRECT?
Whenever we complain that pensions are not paid, the government will say it is only the people that have problems with their payment details. How many people have that problem? Incidentally this government published names of those they said they paid even though many people that were paid were not published there but the question is ” What is the essence of the publication?” Every publication should have a purpose. If they want to prove that they have paid people, the banks should also publish names of customers who withdrew money from the bank weekly. All the government has done by that publication is to send thieves to those they have paid. They shouldn’t have thought about that type of thing and it is this issue of neglecting the bereaucracy. The man you have paid has no dispute with you, so why are you bothering about it. There was something called pay envelope, in those days when you receive your salary or pension, your money is counted and put in an envelope. Your neighbor is not supposed to know how much you are paid. The privacy of every individual is guaranteed by our constitution. These days the government is doing whatever they like as if there is no yardstick or standard again. The government should consider the cost analysis of every action. Government talks about welfare. The government is telling people not to believe whatever they say. How can the government say that they don’t want a gathering of more than 50 people because of covid 19 and they invite the whole pensioners to come for verification. How would the ordinary man believe that there is covid 19 virus. The local government areas are there where they can decentralize this things to. The government gave two days for the verification exercise as if pensions have a closing date. People that have problems with their pensions should go and rectify it anytime, so if someone is hospitalized the person will be carried to the place for verification.
WHAT IS YOUR ASSESSMENT OF THE CIVIL SERVICE SYSTEM IN IMO STATE?
The civil servants can no longer differentiate between the person of the governor and the office of the governor. If government is personalized, it means civil servants should leave their offices whenever a new governor comes in because if the governor is your opponent how can you trust him and transfer your loyalty to him. Your loyalty should be to the state because the state is constant, but the leaders change. The politicians have reduced us beyond primitive level of governance. Recently, people in office praise their bosses publicly. Those days you don’t praise your boss privately or publicly. In the first place it is insulting to tell your boss ” Oga you are very hardworking ”.Are you writing his confidential report? If workers are encouraged to assess their bosses they should as well be allowed to disobey them. The worker is not in a position to query his boss and so he is not in the position to ascertain if his boss is doing well or not. You will see a Transition Committee Chairman praising the governor. By his position he should take instructions from him not assess him but everything is turned upside down. Let’s be honest to the governor.If we are not then our loyalty is in doubt. In an administration there is what is called mischievous obedience. Obedience can be disobedience sometimes. If the governor tells you to do something that can put him into future problems you obey, that is mischievous obedience. It is the duty of the public servants to make sure the governor succeeds. If you always support the governor in everything that is mischievous obedience, then you hate the state.
WHAT THEN IS THE WAY OUT
Our leaders should stop doing things that are leading us to destruction and listening to people who are praising them. Recently, the governor’s brother was accused of beating up a journalist and Modestus Nwamkpa, a Special Adviser to the governor started defending him. Is he defending him on the instruction of the governor? How does he come in? The man who was accused should be able to defend himself. Did the man hire Modestus to defend him, if he did then it has its implications too. We have a commissioner for Finance and we are talking of payment of salaries and pensions and the Commissioner has not said a word. Is it the commissioner for Information that has the book of Accounts? Does he know about Finance more than the Commissioner for Finance? Why is he doing the job of another person? I remember in my younger days, late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe was the Premier in Enugu. The people schedule visit for their governor. They will prepare welcome address. This welcome address is sent to the headquarters and sent to civil servants, they make their input to enable the Premiere’s reply. When he goes to the function the welcome address will be read formally then Azikiwe will address certain issues raised in the address then those ones that they have not taken decision on he will promise to refer them to the appropriate quarters. Our governors do not say that type of thing today. Azikiwe was a very highly educated man yet he said he will refer it to the appropriate quarters because if it is a medical problem, the medical practitioners will know best. This carelessness is allowed because civil servants are no longer civil servants. It is the duty of the civil servants to make sure their bosses succeed. When the governor wants to do something that is wrong, you stop him, don’t be a party to his failure. During Tanko Zubeiro’s regime, he wanted to merge Imo State University, Imo state Polytechnic and Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education, we were in executive council that time. During a meeting we told him, ” Your Excellency that cannot be done’.’ He asked why and we told him that there are different philosophies establishing the schools and if he wants to merge them then he has to establish a common philosophy for all of them. We stopped him. But if it is today, his appointees and permanent secretaries will hail him and praise his ignorance. If you correct the governor today, he will say you are from opposition party. People around the governor are trying to get money from him and make him look like a god. An adage goes thus: ” a man who dances to the flute of a woman crosses the boundary between the living and the dead”.This sycophants flatter the leaders, the leaders swagger and become unreasonable. This is why people often say ” a friend in power is a friend lost”. A governor who wants to succeed should be anxious to hear what his opponents are saying.
GOOD TO HAVE YOU GIVE INSIGHT ON THESE ISSUES OF CONCERN.
AGBA:Feel free to always call on me.