By Etim Etim
Akwa Ibom State Government issued a statement recently indicating that the governor has approved N2.254 billion ‘’for payment of gratuity to retired government workers’’. Of this sum, N1.254 billion is for ‘’payment of gratuities of state government pensioners, while N1 billion is for retired primary school teachers and National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE)’’.
You will recall that at a campaign rally in Eket last week, the governor had told the crowd that no single person is owed pension or gratuity. He even stated that some people who have been pressing the government to meet its obligations to retired government workers don’t know the difference between gratuity and pension.
Why then has the governor, in just one week, made a volte face, eaten his words and promised to pay these outstanding liabilities? Is the government sincere? I doubt. I believe that it is all politics. And I will explain.
First, Senator John James Udoedehe, the NNPP governorship candidate, has made payment of arears of pensions and gratuities a major policy thrust of his campaign. Udoedehe has repeatedly stated that the total liabilities of arears of pensions and gratuities are up to N37 billion, and he has promised to clear them in the first six months of his administration. He should know because he has deep insights into the workings of the state government. I have to come to appreciate the quality of intelligence that is available to Senator Udoedehe.
Second, in the last six years, next-of-kins of retired primary school teachers who have not been paid their gratuities and pensions have been crying to high heavens, begging the governor for these payments. They have gone on hunger strike and protested near Government House, all to no avail. In at least one occasion, they were beaten and teargassed by the police, apparently on the orders of the government. But the governor remained unmoved and hardened.
Sometime last year or so, a Mrs. Iris Emmanuel, a popular radio personality, asked me on her radio show why, I thought, the government had refused to pay these people. I remember my curt answer. I told Iris: ‘’Our governor simply lacks compassion and empathy. These obligations cannot be too much for our government. It is sheer lack of compassion and mercy’’.
Now, with elections just six months away, and with his candidate facing serious electoral headwinds, the governor is believes that he could beguile the voters with this promise to pay long outstanding obligations. Nobody is deceived. We are better than this. Our people now understand this governor better.
I commend Senator Udoedehe for consistently championing the cause of the retired governemtn workers who have not been paid their pensions and gratuities. I thank him for the depth of his thoughts, commitments and compassion towards the sufferings of our people. He is the only candidate who has articulated well-designed policies that would rescue our people from misery and abject poverty.
And this is not the first time Mr. udom Emmanuel is making a similar politically motivated promise.
Some weeks ago, Senator Udoedehe has visited some wards in Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District as part of his statewide Ward Tour. He promised the people that he would open the Sheraton Hotel which Gov. Akpabio built, furnished but left abandoned in the city of Ikot Ekpene. As a governor whose priority is to create jobs and rebuild the state’s economy, Udoedehe told the people that opening the hotel will create at least 300 direct jobs and over 1,000 indirect jobs, in addition to stimulating multiplier effects in the community. The impact of Ibom ICON Hotel on the Nwaniba community in Uruan LGA is a case in point. Apart from CSR projects and programs which the hotel has directly implemented in the Nwaniba community, the people have benefitted from job opportunities and additional investments in housing, recreational facilities, water projects, new schools, shops, healthcare facilities, etc. Ikot Ekpene would have benefitted from similar multiplier opportunities if Gov. Emmanuel had opened the hotel.
As soon as Senator Udoedehe left Ikot Ekpene, Gov. Udom Emmanuel announced that he would open the hotel. Nothing has happened since then. This is a hotel that has remained locked down since Akpabio left office in 2015. The place was fully completed and furnished by the time the former governor left office. Even if it was not completed by Akpabio, there is no good reason for his successor to have shut down the place. So, why did Gov. Emmanuel not deemed it important to open the place for business? And why did he suddenly promise to open it now after Senator Udoedehe has made his promise?
Akwa Ibom people should judge for themselves if their governor is sincere or if he’s just being politically mesmeric.
Now, let me conclude by stating that in addition to pledging to offsetting pension and gratuity liabilities and opening the hotel for business, Udoedehe has made the following profound and thoughtful pledges to Akwa Ibom people:
- 1. To launch a N31 billion Stimulus Package in which 31,000 people across the state will receive N1,00,000 each to start or expand their businesses
- 2.To implement Ibaka Deep Sea Port project and return the port to its original site in Ibaka
- 3.To launch a massive urban renewal scheme in Oron (as was done in Uyo, Ikot Ekpene and Eket)
- 4. To establish Oil Community Development Commission to manage the derivation revenue accruing to our state, and use it to develop the coastal and oil communities
- 5.To offer amnesty program to cult members and take them out of crime; retrain them and offer them a path to self-actualization
- 6.To launch massive food and agricultural production scheme in which 3,100 youths would be employed and trained in modern agricultural practices
- 7.To help our fishermen to acquire fishing equipment so as to take them from hire-purchase slavery and peonage
- 8.To create Ministry of Uyo Capital City which would manage orderly development of the capital territory and facilitate creation of well-planned satellite towns around the city
- 9.To build international markets in Uyo, Ikot Ekpene and Eket and offer grants to some of our women to augment their trading activities
10.To create Ministry of Erosion Control, to be headed by an Oron citizen, to check erosion problems in the state and manage ecological funds due to the state from the Presidency
11.To work with security agencies to fight piracy in our waterways and rivers
You may not agree with Senator Udoedehe for some political reasons, but you can never dispute the profundity of his ideas and plans for Akwa Ibom.
Etim is a Journalist and Political Analyst, writes Abuja