By: Dan UGWU.
Successive administrations in Imo State from Achike Udenwa to Hope Uzodimma have all hired the services of Consultants to verify IMO State Pensioners and Staff strength. These mercenaries were paid in Millions of Naira of IMO scarce resources. At the end of all those exercises, we always hear that ghost workers and ghost Pensioners had been discovered.
The irony however is that rather than the IMO State wage bill to reduce, it keeps increasing and even become inaccurate and unascertainable by mathematical figures. Also, successive administrations in Imo, has done multiple Pension Verifications during which Pensioners were subjected to untold hardship trying to fulfill government insistence that they must be captured Biometrically in person.
The government had always refused 3rd Party payment and in many cases, we have seen families haul their old sickly parents in a bid to fulfill Government verification requirement and pay in person policy. Currently, the Imo government is carrying out an automated system of payment, all these in the bid to sanitize the system.
Heralding the Irony:
In July 9, 2015, trial Justice Ademola Adeniyi of the Federal High Court, Abuja granted Ikedi Ohakim bail to the tune of N270million over his alleged $2.3m fraud misappropriated from public and pension funds.
Rochas Okorocha later came to RESCUE Imo State from the wreckages of Ohakim. In July 2016, Okorocha alleged to have uncovered N700m pension fraud. The revelation was made by his Chief of Staff; Uche Nwosu who stated that the fund resulted from the accumulated pension of N1.3 billion in contrast to the authentic pension of N600 million, which is an increase of above 100 per cent.
Again, in August 2017, Governor Rochas Okorocha had ordered the arrest of no fewer than 30 indicted officials looting the PENSION board. This time, it was N640m meant for the payment of retirees. Unfortunately, at each of these periods, PENSIONERS WERE ON THE STREETS OF OWERRI IN PROTEST.
As if Okorocha was determined to reap off the pensioners, he printed a form and coaxed pensioners to sign that upon collecting 40% of their pension arears, the state was no longer obligated to pay the balance. Sadly, between 2011 to 2019, 60% of Imo pensioners died without receiving their pay.
In 2019, Emeka Ihedioha came to REBUILD the disfigured structures of Rochas described as the years of locust for pensioners. By October 2019, the Imo Verification Committee headed by Barrister Pascal Madu had uncovered the massive pension fraud under Rochas. In a broadcast precisely on pension issues dated Thursday October 17, 2019, Ihedioha revealed that a total of 8,549 or 25 percent, of ghost pensioners in all were filtered out.
This represented the amount of state resources that would have gone into the drains without the necessary due diligence. These involved cases of duplication and over payments engendered by wrong parameters, calculation errors or deliberate falsifications. There were also instances in which Level 6 officers were earning pensions for Level 16.
In 2020, Hope Uzodimma came with his three “R” mantra of RECONSTRUCTION, REHABILITATION AND RECOVERY. He alleged to have migrated Imo state from analogue system of payment to an automated system. Within this period of migration, pensioners have been protesting their 3/4 months debt by Uzodimma’s government.
Just this July 2020, less than one-year Ihedioha uncovered ghost workers in pension board, Uzodimma said he has uncovered eight persons said to be fraudulently receiving N330 million annually as pension. As we write, PENSIONERS ARE ON THE STREETS OF OWERRI IN PROTEST FOR THEIR UNPAID MONEY.
The Imo state pension situation is becoming worrisome. Every administration comes with its news of uncovering fraud and then using it as a standpoint to owe retirees. I recall that at a time, Imo State government established a model where Pensioners were paid by Cheque after BVN varication at the various Community Government Council Headquarters.
There was a time also Transition Chairmen and other officers of the State Government went to the LGA Headquarters to pay Pensioners by hand to obviate fraud. How come by this time after the introduction of BVN and mandatory requirement of paying via Cheque, there is still mountain of padding and active ghost workers?
I think it has gotten to a point where we begin to take a second look at the veracity of these findings because the hunter can also become the hunted. The pension board has become a cash point for every administration maybe because the beneficiaries are old and worn-out citizens who cannot wage strife. It is time we ask who actually are the real fraudsters in the Imo state pension board. Your gaze is as good as my suspicion.
*Dan Ugwu is a media analyst, he writes from Abuja, Nigeria
Disclaimer: “The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Dan Ugwu and do not necessarily reflect those of The World Satellite. The World Satellite will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article.”