By: Victor Ofure Osehobo
In a surprising turn of events, Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, has announced his approval of the payment of a 28-year backlog of gratuity for pensioners in the state’s Local Government Staff Pension Board.
Head of Local Government Administration and Permanent Secretary, Local Government Staff Pension Board, Mrs. Osas-Ehigie Sandra, delivered the announcement on behalf of Governor Obaseki.
She revealed that pensioners would have to undergo a screening exercise to determine those eligible for payment, specifically those who served between 1979 and 2008. Notably, this time frame covers a period of about 44 years, which contradicts the governor’s claim of addressing a 28-year backlog.
This raises the first major question: Did the governor approve pensions for LG employees who served in the defunct Bendel State? If so, this could be seen as potentially fraudulent, as it wasn’t explicitly mentioned or clarified by the government.
Sandra did not disclose the approved sum for this gratuity, which prompts the second question: How can the government approve funds without knowing the exact number of beneficiaries involved in this long-overdue payment?
The procedure outlined by Sandra dictates that confirmed pensioners must physically present themselves at a specific venue, raising concerns about the practicality and fairness of this approach.
The exercise is scheduled between Monday, October 16th, and Friday, October 20th, 2023, from 8.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. daily. This requirement may pose a significant challenge for elderly pensioners, especially considering the current state of road infrastructure in Edo.
For example, an 104-year-old retired primary school teacher from a remote location will find it difficult to make the journey to Benin City since all the roads leading from across the State are federal roads.
The core issue in this situation is whether gratuity, a rightful entitlement, should be contingent on a physical presence and biometric verification in an age of a digital governor like Obaseki!
While it is reasonable to ensure the accuracy of pension payments and prevent fraud, there should be a more compassionate and practical approach for elderly pensioners who might not be able to travel. Why not at the local government areas or wards or places of retirement?
Payment to deceased pensioners could be addressed through probate courts and legal channels, ensuring that the funds reach the intended beneficiaries.
This 28year label for a 44year scam is an entire process designed to defraud Edo State. While screening for monthly pensions may be necessary to prevent payments to deceased individuals, gratuity is a different matter. It is a long-overdue obligation that should be fulfilled without unnecessary hurdle.
My take is that the Edo State Government’s plan to pay a 44-year backlog of gratuity to pensioners is a fluke