30.8 C
Abuja

In Delta, Okowa’s non-payment of primary school retirees is leading teachers to early graves (part 1)

Advertisement

Related

Advertisement
Advertisement

ON the evening of Wednesday, September 9, 2020, Ochade Ndude was returning from church around her Umusedeli home in Kwale, Ndokwa-West Local Government Area, Delta State, when one Okoli suddenly approached her and asked that she hurriedly mount his bike.

Frightened, her mind raced. She could not imagine what could have occurred until she summoned the courage.

What happened? she asked out of curiosity.

“Your husband just had an accident and broke his leg,” Okoli responded. The news shattered her mood. It was devastating, not realising there was more.

Ndude would later find out her 63-year-old husband, Francis Ochade, was knocked down by an oncoming vehicle on the highway to Asaba, the state capital.

By the time she got to the hospital, he was dead.

Ochade Ndude stands by her late husband’s motorcycle during the field visit to the deceased Primary School retiree’s home in Umusedeli, Kwale (Ndokwa-West Local Government Area (LGA), Delta. Photo Credit: Olugbenga Adanikin, The ICIR.

She has since resorted to farming and borrowing to feed her family. Before the incident, the Late Ochade, who retired as Primary School Headmaster in the state, had left home to ply his new trade – Okada business.


- Advertisement -

READ ALSO:


Having served the state government for 35 years, he left the public service in February 2017 and became a commercial motorcyclist “okada rider”.

At 63, the job became his new venture. This is due to the non-payment of his accrued pension rights and contributory pension benefits owed by the Delta State Government through the Bureau of Local Government Pensions, Asaba.

Photograph of the Late Francis Ochade. Source: Family.

The late Ochade could not access his rightful benefits five years after retirement.

There are several others across the 25 LGAs in Delta. The ICIR confirmed Delta’s indebtedness to the retirees in the 2021 annual report Pension Commission (PenCom), published on June 22.

Ndude quickly adds that the need to meet the family obligation compelled her late husband to become a commercial motorcyclist even at old age.

“Since that day, life has been difficult, suffering with four children,” says Ndude. “We lack money to feed. The senior one just finished secondary school, there is a little one, and the other child went for a menial job so we could get something to eat.”

- Advertisement -

91 deaths just from two LGAs

Until his death, Ochade was a member of the Concerned Delta State Local Government Primary School Teachers’ Contributory Retirees. The group is an umbrella body of yet-to-be-paid primary school retirees in Delta.

Besides him, 24 other deceased members of the association in Kwale had died at one point or the other while struggling to access their retirement benefits. Governor Ifeanyi Okowa did not start paying the retirees until 2017, two years into his administration.

Many aggrieved retirees are either crippled with medical conditions or suffering from starvation.

Cross Section of Unpaid Primary School Retirees during one of their regular meetings held in Warri-South LGA on August 2, 2022. Photo Credit: Olugbenga Adanikin, The ICIR.

On August 2, The ICIR met 30 other association members at Warri-South LGA where they were holding their monthly meetings.

Lori Patrick (63), leader of the retirees in the LGA, supervised the meeting. Towards the end of the session, Patrick presented a register of 66 members of the retirees who were announced dead.

- Advertisement -

Patrick had opened the register to document the deceased. The most recent was Philo Onoghere, whose fellow retirees say she died two weeks before this reporter’s visit.

LIST OF DECEASED PRIMARY SCHOOL RETIREES IN WARRI-SOUTH LGA, DELTA STATE.
S/NNamesSurnamesRemarks
1Mrs. IkwenuPatience
2Mrs. OkpaghoroV. O.
3Gabriel
4OborehJosephine
5Aishatu(Resides at Udu Road)
6OkunborMabel
7UkoJones
8OdhekoloCalistina
9EyoyoMaris
10OfoeyenoSamuel
11NieketienPamela
12OgoruBenson
13AburuAlero
14UgbametaJoy
15EjakitaVictoria
16YonerojaRoseline
17UjoboloAnne
18PatuniOkoro
19SaboteElizabeth
20OtomewoPatricia
21OjoedeS.O
22ThimePaulina
23EhiendedeGrace
24Mrs. Yobebe
25OshowodeOmatsore
26EjenaikeStella
27AnutaEunice
28TimiDozie
29AgbokheseBeatrice
30IdiseMabel
31MeneJohnson
32OdenuFlorence
33UmaruRose
34OjebahRoseline
35AgarryMargaret
36AbadiDoris
37EjikoElizabeth
38DorcasOdiase
39PerekekemePatience
40AkpogumaAgnes
41AbereWalter
42EgbunuJohn
43AkakabotaLondon
44EfenarhuaEse
45AmaefuleEucharia
46AkudikeFlorence
47UkuborMabel
48OmabeiyijeMabel
49KenekuieyiroStella
50FloraOraye
51Mrs. AgbedetseObasuyi Juliet
52Mrs. OkoyeEvelyn2015
53MercyOmasan
54AforJonny
55EuniceOkorogri
56Mrs. DorisOlone
57Mrs. HelenAkpene Amorighoye
58BeatriceAnyanwu
59ChristianaEgusogu
60OmigieRosemary
61ObaroDora
62OnuegbueRegina
63Mrs. UgbemetaJoy
64Mrs. ZuokumorElizabeth
65KaseVictoria
66PhiloOnohere

The list of deceased primary school retirees in Delta South. Source: The Concerned Delta State Local Government Primary School Teachers’ Contributory Retirees.

Philo retired in January 2022, but she was asked to continue working till March 2022 until a new teacher resumed, says many members of the group.

Just by count, about 91 deaths have been recorded from two LGAs yet the retired teachers spread across the 25 LGAs in Delta.

The retirees, however, believe their members might still be alive. And the funds would have come in handy to meet their health and socio-economic needs if not for the delayed payment of their retirement benefits.

The drama towards a new pension scheme

Between 2007 and 2008, the Delta state government joined the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) of the Federal Government, which was enacted by a 2004 federal pension and later reviewed through the Pension Reform Act, 2014.

The Act attempts to ensure a uniform contributory pension model for employees in Nigeria’s public and private sectors. The 36 states, just like Delta, are urged to adopt the law. Upon its enactment, it literarily knocked off the old pension scheme.

Section 15 (1) (a) (b) (c) of the Act makes a case for the accrued pension of the retired public servants who operated the previous pension models until the transition and how the accrued pension benefits (from the old pension) of the retirees should be settled through the Retirement Benefits Bonds.

“As from June 25 2004, being the commencement of the pension reform act, 2004, the accrued pension right to retirement benefits of any employee who is already under any pension scheme existing before the advent of that Act, and has over three years to retire shall:

  • In the case of employees of the public service of the federation where the scheme is unfunded, be recognised in the form of an amount acknowledged through the issuance of the Federal Government Retirement Benefits Bonds by the Debt Management Office (DMO) in favour of the employees and the bond issued under this subsection shall be redeemed upon the retirement of the employee by section 39 of this Act, and the amount so saved shall be added to the balance of the retirement savings account of the employee and applied in accordance with the provisions of Section 7 of this Act….” Part of the section reads.

“In the case of the employees of the public service of the federation, FCT or in the private sector, where the scheme is funded, credit the retirement savings accounts of the employees with any fund to which each employee is entitled and in the event of an insufficiency of funds to meet this liability, the shortfall shall immediately become a debt of the relevant employer and shall have priority over any other claim,” Subsection (c) of the same Act reads further.

From the above, these provisions place on the Delta state government the responsibility to mop-up funds through bonds at the DMO to settle the accrued pension rights.

Findings would later reveal that the state government had set up the Retirement Benefits Bond Redemption Fund Accounts with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), as enshrined in the Pension Act, from which it could sort the aggrieved retirees.

According to PenCom, Delta State ranks fifth among eight states nationwide that have taken similar action on behalf of their retirees to offset the payment.

It implies the state has commenced the process of addressing the accrued pension rights of the retirees.

Meanwhile, around April 25, Okowa agreed the state was owing the retirees over N100 billion, and efforts are ongoing to settle the debts from the old pension.

“It is something we are committed to,” he says, pledging at the Bishop Agori-Iwe Memorial Church in Ugbehlli. “…I will continue to do the best that we can, and by the time we are able to pay the accruals, it will no longer be a burden to subsequent governments.”

But, in a twist, the Commissioner for Information, Charles Aniagwu, distanced the state from the responsibility despite the commitments. The retirees are labelled as local government staff. This made the retirees query the Governor’s sincerity in offsetting the accrual while hoping to be paid their pensions, even as he leaves office in 2023.

It also raises the question of whether or not the LGs run in isolation. The answer is no, based on field findings and here is why:

Why the state government can be held accountable for LG teachers’ accrued pensions

Before teachers get recruited and promoted, the LGs get approval from the state. The state government also gives retirement clearance to LG retirees before accessing their pension benefits. Part of the process is visiting the Office of the Accountant-General of the state.

Promotions of primary school teachers from a certain level to become a headmaster come from the state. These are granted through the Delta State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), whose leadership is appointed by the Governor.

More importantly, findings reveal the aggrieved retirees were engaged when Delta was under the old Bendel State through the Teaching Service Board, Benin City (1980 – 1990).

In this scenario, PenCom, in response to The ICIR’s inquiry, says the “current state (Delta) or local government should be held responsible for the accrued rights.” It was signed by Abdulqadir Dahiru, the Head of Corporate Communications Department, on September 2.

At some point (1992 – 1994), the primary school teachers were managed by the Local Government Education Authority.

The ICIR gathered that the National Primary School Education Commission (FG), Delta State Primary Education Board, and the LG were jointly responsible for paying the primary school teachers from 1994 to 2005.

From 2006 to date, Delta SUBEB, and the LG, has been coordinating the primary schools in the state. Some concerned retirees shared copies of their employment letters with the letterhead conveying Bendel State to validate their arguments. Also shared were the promotion and clearance letters from Delta SUBEB, as the case may be.

Regardless, the controversy has led to seven repeated demonstrations against the Governor, who is hoping to emerge as Nigeria’s Vice President in 2023.

The protests led Okowa to increase the remittance from N150 million monthly. This sum was the usual payment by the past administration to the pensions board. But for the first two years after the assumption of office, findings show he remitted no funds to the board for the retirees.

However, after repeated protests, the remittance was increased to N300 million monthly. On March 10, it was further increased to N500 million monthly with a plan to increase the sum to N10 billion. As of date, the N10 billion has not been paid.

But the retirees argue that until Okowa clears the outstanding pension in the Pension Act, the aged retirees would not gain access to both accrued pension and the contributory pension. The monthly released sum, they argued, is not commensurate with the population of retirees across the 25 LGAs.

The ICIR can independently state that the current approach could only pay for the retirement of very few persons, and should the method continue; the majority of retirees would have died before the payment gets to their turn; thus, the protests for Okowa to offset the debt.

“The problem is in the old scheme, where retirees have a lump sum; unfortunately, the government did not provide physical money for it,” says a source in the government. “It is a debt government is owing, and it has not been able to clear it. It is the reason retirees are suffering and dying.”

However, field findings reveal that should Okowa pay between N30 billion and N50 billion pension debt to the pensions board, the predicaments of all the aggrieved aged retirees would cease immediately.

Died in her sleep

Late Odenu Florence and Helen Akpene Amorighoye  are among the deceased persons shown to The ICIR via the death register of the Warri-South retirees.

Patrick, the leader, had ticked from the list the two names numbered (32) Odenu Florence and (57) Helen Akpene Amorighoye, respectively.

Okemena Ogolor and Ojeme Nwabuike, the daughters of the two deceased retirees, were in attendance for the August meeting following information of The ICIR’s planned visit.

Okemena says her late mother – Odenu Florence joined the public service in 1986 and retired in 2016 at the Ojojo Primary School, Warri South LGA. She later died two years after retirement. She died in her sleep after battling high blood sugar and hypertension without accessing a dime from her pension benefits.

“I watched her go to school and return every day. She even told us that she doesn’t need to work in her old age because when she receives her pension benefit, she can live on it, but the story is different.”

“We are still opening office doors to plead for her pension benefits.”

Died from depression

Late Mrs Helen Amorighoye, one of the deceased primary school teachers. Photo Credit: Family.

Helen Amorighoye died on March 4, 2021. She retired in 2016.

The late Helen had single-handedly nurtured three children without any hope of relying on them in near future. But the non-payment of her pension benefits caused a twist.

Her health condition started deteriorating when she lost her only son. She fell into depression, Ojeme told The ICIR.

She later had surgery at the University of Benin Teaching (UBTH) after developing a mouth growth.

“Her health condition was worsening, and there was no money to treat her further. The pension was not forthcoming, which led to her early demise,” Ojeme adds. “It is unfortunate for someone to work for 35 whole years, even before I was born, yet not a dime was given to her….”

Woke-up to stroke

From Left: Onyia Sunday suffers a partial stroke and speech disability while others watch during the interview. Photo Credit: Olugbenga Adanikin, The ICIR.

Sixty four-year-old Onyia Sunday has suffered from partial stroke since 2020, four years after his retirement.

He retired on July 31, 2016, after his compulsory 35 years in service and till the time of filing this report, he is yet to get his accrued pension rights and the contributory pension, just like several others.

He slept on July 15, 2020, only to wake up in the hospital and realise he had developed a stroke.

The ICIR can confirm deformity in his speech. He struggled to narrate his sordid experience. He says one of his drugs, displayed to this reporter, costs about N9,000. Yet, he lacks the money to get it.

This reporter had to suspend the interview following complaints from the group. “Please, it’s enough. We do not have money to rush him to the hospital,” they murmured, noticing the victim’s growing tension.

Acute gastritis

From Right: Maria Ojuwenum is challenged with Glaucoma and acute ulcer. Photo Credit: Olugbenga Adanikin, The ICIR.

Maria Ojuwenum had battled different ailments before her retirement on July 30, 2016. Her health condition started with Glaucoma. While managing it, she developed acute gastritis, an ailment that requires her to undergo an endoscopic observation. It is also known as a severe ulcer.

Still, there are no funds to meet the health needs. The latest in her predicament is Arthritis. “See, I don’t speak on these diseases anymore,” says Maria.

Yet, she volunteered to lead this reporter to the late Ochade’s home.

The story of Ojieh Nneka Beatrice, who retired during the same period as Maria, is perhaps more pathetic. Her inability to foot her rent forced the 66-year-old to return to her mother’s house, who she says is currently 99 years-old.

Ojieh Nneka Beatrice displays her pack of drugs to The ICIR as she narrates her ordeal during the visit. Photo Credit: Olugbenga Adanikin, Abuja.

“Can you imagine, at my age, living in my mother’s house,” she says rhetorically.

Ojieh’s only daughter (29), who she chose to keep her identity hidden, is said to be a graduate of History Education at Delta State University (DELSU) is unemployed as she is yet to find work. She also lives with her grandmother in Kwale.

High BP, Blood Sugar, Arthritis yet lacks money for treatment 

Agadaga Grace Nkiru, one of the retirees. Photo Credit: Olugbenga Adanikin, The ICIR.

Multiple ailments forced Agadaga Grace Nkiru, a primary school retiree, to shut down her food store. It was a business she started while in service but is no longer active due to her failing health and lack of funds to treat her ailments.

Moreover, two of her children, she says, are also unemployed.

Nkiru was visibly looking pale during The ICIR’s visit. She says she is expected to visit her clinic – Donak Hospital, in Kwale, every 10-days but for almost two months, she lacked the fund to see the doctor.

“Please, help us appeal to them (government) to come to our rescue. We are dying in numbers,” she pleads.

Ikumi Joseph, Obi Joel Palma (62), Okpor Patience (58), Ezechi Sebastian (63), are among several other primary school retirees across the state suffering the same fate.

The ICIR spoke to at least 49 retirees at six different LGAs – Warri South, Oshimili South, Oshimili North, Uwuye LGA and Ndokwa-West and North local government area. And the demands are the same.

Wilfred Ewhrudjakpo (63) resides in a small unplastered mission house at 24 Oguname Street, Agbahro, in Ugheli North Local Government Area of Delta. On August 1, 2016, he retired from the Ebrumede Primary School in Effurun, Uvwie LGA of the state.

Unlike Ochade, who died as a commercial motorcyclist, he got a job as a clergy, where he pastors at The Church of Christ, located on the same Oguname street.

“I’m surviving by the monthly token I get from here, but what about others,” Ewhrudjakpo says with a hard smile. Regardless, treating his long-sightedness, attributed to Glaucoma, has been his worst nightmare.

Wilfred Ewhrudjakpo, now a pastor, speaks during an interview at The Church of Christ, Agbarho, Ughelli, Delta State. Photo Credit: Olugbenga Adanikin, The ICIR.

“We can only pray the Delta state government pays this money.”

Read the conclusion of this investigation HERE 

Author profile

Olugbenga heads the Investigations Desk at The ICIR. Do you have a scoop? Shoot him an email at oadanikin@icirnigeria.org. Twitter Handle: @OluAdanikin

Support the ICIR

We invite you to support us to continue the work we do.

Your support will strengthen journalism in Nigeria and help sustain our democracy.

[molongui_author_box]

If you or someone you know has a lead, tip or personal experience about this report, our WhatsApp line is open and confidential for a conversation

Advertisement

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Support the ICIR

We need your support to produce excellent journalism at all times.

Advertisement

Recent

Student critic apologises to Aisha Buhari, deactivates social media accounts

A STUDENT Aminu Adamu has apologised to the wife of the President, Aisha Buhari,...

No elected federal official, appointee will earn more than civil servants – Peter Obi

LABOUR Party (LP) presidential candidate, Peter Obi, has said no federal public servant, including...

Naira redesign: Presidential endorsement not sufficient to legitimise process – Falana

HUMAN rights lawyer, Femi Falana, has faulted the recent endorsement of the naira redesign...

ECOWAS to get new complex in Abuja by 2025

NIGERIAN President Muhammadu Buhari has laid the foundation of the new ECOWAS Headquarters Complex...

2023: Peter Obi promises to increase power generation to 25,000mw by 2025

LABOUR Party (LP) presidential candidate, Peter Obi, has promised to increase the country's power...
Advertisement

Most Read

Advertisement

Subscribe to our newsletter

Advertisement