By Abdulkareem Haruna
Borno State governor, Kashim Shettima, on Thursday evening, met with leaders of the retired pensioners who protested in the early hours of the day over unpaid wages.
At the meeting, which took place in the governor’s main office, Mr Shettima did not only explain the benefit of the workers verification exercise that was being blamed for the delay or stoppage of the retirees’ pension, but he also revealed how discharged workers have been involved in defrauding the state, even in retirement.
PREMIUM TIMES, yesterday, reported how unpaid pensioners stormed the state secretariat and locked up the gate in protest over unpaid wages of about two years.
It took the visit of the state deputy governor, Usman Durkwa, to the scene of the protest to make the demonstrators back out and agreed to nominate representatives that would meet with the governor at the government house.
At the meeting which was opened by the state labour leader, Titus Abana, the aggrieved pensioners explained how they had to resort to the protest after exhausting all channels of diplomacy.
Mr Shettima sympathized with the workers even as he took exception to pensioners staging a protest in a state where security is still very fragile, which he said could give Boko Haram the leverage to infiltrate crowd and carry out attacks.
The governor who immediately set up a committee to look into the remaining untreated cases of pensioners’ verification within two weeks, however made startling revelations on how even the pensioners had been deeply involved in ghost-worker fraud.
Reeling out data collated by the Workers’ Verification and Biometric Data Capturing Committee, Mr Shettima said several retired workers have been involved in what he described as double pay fraud.
According to him, he has a dossier of thieving retired civil servants that have been collecting salaries for up to 25 years even after such persons had collected their gratuities and are still collecting their monthly pensions.
“So far, the biometric data capturing committee have screened and captured 20, 514 as genuine workers on the payroll of government. Those yet to get their verification and biometrics done are only 1, 512,” Mr Shettima said.
“I have a list here of 120 retired workers who are collecting both pension and salary.
“Among them, we have a retired worker, Mr Mayami (who has) have been collecting both salary like those in service, to the tune of over N8.7 million (N8, 769,151) for the 23 years.
“We have one Mshelia from the ministry of agriculture who has been collecting salary and pension (to the tune of N4.6 million), the past eleven years.
“We have one Kurama who had been receiving both salary and pension for the past eight years; and one Ibrahim from the judiciary had had also been taking double payment to the tune of N3.7 million for the past six years.
“There is one Abu from Bama secondary school, who defrauded the state in his retirement to the tune of N3.6 million.
“We have on our list one Shettima from the Judiciary, who corruptly took N3.2 million as double salary
“Also, there is one Gadzama from the ministry of health who collected N3.3 million. Similarly, there is another Ibrahim who took N3.1 million.
“There is also a woman, Mrs Halima, who fraudulently took N2.3 million in salary even though she was retired from the hospital management board.
“We have a long list of these fraudulent retires about 120 of them (who) have engaged in double salary taking until they were exposed by the verification exercise.
“This was the reason we were slow in handling the issue of pensioners’ verification, but as a government that is responsible we have no option that to plead with you for patience because every labourer deserves his or her wages.
“But we want the pensioners to understand that the past government had not been paying pensions as at when due, they were only paying N10,000 to each retiree pending when their pensions are sorted out; but when we came on board we insisted that all that is due in monthly pension should be paid to our retired workers. But what do I get in return? Insults?
“We also deserve some level of fairness on your path; what you take in the past was just N10, 000 now we are paying full pensions to all retired workers!
“Whether we like it or not, the verification and workers biometric data capturing had saved us well over N600 million monthly in salary that used to go to ghost workers in the past.
“In the past we had 33,000 workers excluding pensioners on our payroll; but now, thanks to the biometric exercise, we now have about 20, 000 genuine workers. I was also made to understand that 2, 000 of them have gone into retirement, so we only have about 18, 000 workers on our payroll.
“It was a result of the bogus figure of workers that we could not make employment for many decades in the Borno State. The last time major employment was made in this state was 1985 and 1992.
“Now we have the space to make employment of 1, 000 teachers to fill into our various schools in the state. When we came on board we only had 38 medical doctors in Borno State, but now we have employed more and we have over 200 doctors in the state.
“All these employment opportunities would not have been there if ghost workers and ghost pensioners continue to choke up our wage bills.
“We are going to set up a committee to look into the cases of the remaining pensioners especially the deceased pensioners who had not collected their dues in pension before they passed on. Of the 500 remaining deceased pensioners, 170 of them have been cleared but could not come with the benefitting bank accounts. This category of pensioners is plagued with all kinds of sharp practice. But I want the 500 of them to be treated in two weeks so that we can all put this behind us.”
Mr Shettima said he would have conveniently ignored the protest because he has all the facts and figures about the payment status of all workers and pensioners; and that he has been fully briefed by the verification committee about the ongoing verification exercise.
“But I have decided to sit in this meeting with you here not because you have genuine cases to fight for, but because I respect the ages of the elderly ones amongst you,” he said.
“If not, as the chief security officer of Borno, I would not tolerate any form of demonstration especially when I have expressly made my door accessible to your leaders. We are in a serious state of insecurity and I would not tolerate any form of protest or demonstration that will breach peace in this state.”
Responding, the leader of the aggrieved pensioners thanked the governor, for listening to them, even as he said they had also acted in ignorance and lack of information about the efforts of government.
“We are leaving here with mixed feelings of happiness that our grievances have been addressed and also with the saddening information that some of our colleagues in retirement are also part of the criminality that have contributed to our plight,” he said.
“We thank you for the openness and we too will take the message to our colleagues out there so that all of us can rally round and support government in sanitizing our system and rid it of all kinds of corruption that will further plunge innocent persons into hardship and sufferings.”