Borno state is not only battling with insurgency, but also with pension and gratuity issues because of a complexity of the endless data capturing exercise. Writes SADIQ ABUBAKAR
Controversies and confusions seem to continue or appear to prevail in the payments of pension and salaries of retired and serving civil servants in Borno state despite the executive order by Governor Babagana Umara Zulum recently to the secretary to state government (SSG) and head of service(e HOS) to immediately replace all the staff of the two establishments with a view to bringing sanity and transparency in the entire financial system of the pension board and salaries section of the Ministry of Finance.
This followed a recent investigation into the whole issue where a few days ago, pension and salary payments for both the retired workers and serving civil servants from grade level 1 to 6 and from 7 to 13 became a mirage. Despite the executive directive for prompt and immediate payments, investigation shows that the centre can still not hold. This is because the state government cannot ascertain the actual amount of salary and pension being owned and paid to the retired and serving civil servants.
Findings revealed that the biometric data capturing exercise of the government which was initiated and started about three years ago has failed to make any positive impact on the payment of salaries and pensions of hundreds, if not thousands of civil servants of which the NLC Borno State Council is aware of and became incapacitated to do anything about it despite the pressures from the retired and serving workers in the state.
Investigation shows that some pensioners and serving civil servants up to date have not received their pensions and salaries due to the verification exercise while even those that were screened and filled their verification forms are yet to be cleared for payment of their pensions, gratuities and salaries by the director in charge of the biometric exercise.
While others who are entitled to their gratuities were given clearance for their payments, some are yet to get their pay among which include workers in grade level 4-6 (as junior workers) and the senior workers from grade level 7-13.
This is aside the number of civil servants that were alleged to be ghost workers but are later found to be on the list of genuine and working civil servants but still not getting their salaries but working. The rest are those screened and issued with clearance numbers but have not been receiving their salaries while still working awaiting the biometric committee head, Malam Bako to pay them for two to three years running now.
This no doubt has put the state government in bad light before the teeming working population of the state workers.
The situation has assumed an alarming proportion such that Governor Zulum recently ordered the replacement of all the staff in the pension and salaries board where only a few percentage of retirees and workers have so far benefitted fully from the gratuity payment despite the executive directive for full payment of the workers. As confusion trailed the entire exercise with swapping of payments of gratuity and monthly salaries, inconsistency became an order of the day where some workers would get irregular salaries while others will get theirs through omissions. There were also incidences of replacement of workers that were earlier declared by the state government as ghost workers while actually they are not. They are workers who have completed their screening forms but not invited for interview or those not issued with the screening forms to ascertain their ingenuity.
This has continued to cause series of complaints from the retired and serving workers while at the same time appealing for the state government intervention in the entire system as some key staff trusted by the government have turned some workers as scape goats in order to take cover in their illicit exercise.
It was also gathered that two to three years ago, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) intervened and made some arrests but the former governor of the state, now a serving senator rescued the victims twice on bail while the allegations are still pending without further actions.
Situation pitched workers against labour
This made most state workers to accuse their NLC leaders of conniving with the state government to frustrate their efforts and rights; unfortunately, all to no avail as efforts from the labour union seems to be in culde sac.
So far, workers and retirees who were interviewed lamented that the situation may not improve or change as government expected. This is even as the staff of the pension board and salaries section of the ministry are transferred or replaced; this is however not the first time that the state government would replace or transfer the workers without any possible change.
Head of biometrics culpable
The suggestion in many quarters however is that until the director in charge of biometric data capturing is replaced or has a senior staff above him, there would not be any expected positive change as he has continued to create confusion and compounded issues regarding the monthly payment of pension, gratuities and salaries. This development keeps the state government in the dark about the true position of what is on ground until recently when it becomes public knowledge.
While other workers interviewed were of the view that unless the state government takes proper and stiff action to overhaul the entire process to ensure absolute accountability and transparency in the entire system, nothing possible may change and many workers as well as pensioners may continue to face difficulties in getting their monthly pensions and salaries against the wish and good intention of the state government.
The worst of it all is that the executive order for the transfer in form of replacement of the whole staff of the state pension board and salaries section of the Ministry of Finance involves the senior staff down to the messengers and cleaners who is to be replaced immediately.
Therefore, the question remains whether the second time transfer or replacement of the workers would bring about any change or solve the problems created by the head of the biometric data capturing exercise if he remains on sit?