Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue state at the weekend disclosed that his administration in the last six months ensured the release of the sum of N700million monthly for the payment of the pension entitlements of retirees.
The Governor who spoke in Makurdi was reacting to the recent protest by a faction of pensioners in the state; he explained that N400million of the said amount went to state pensioners while the sum of N300million went to Local Government pensioners monthly.
He explained that though the release of the funds was taking its toll on overhead allocation to his office and other Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs of government, he insisted it should be sustained to help the senior citizens take care of their financial obligations.
According to the Governor his administration inherited over N70b arrears of pensions, gratuities and salaries which had been reduced to about N35billion.
He said “pension issues and gratuity matters are national problem. Even at the federal level they still have their challenge. Others state also have their challenges. But I have succeeded in domesticating the PENCOM law. Already we have invested more than N1.5billion in the PENCOM account.
“It is there and once we are able to reach the N3billion threshold, we will be able to borrow money and clear the arrears; and subsequently all those who are retiring will not face the challenge of waiting for government to pay, they will go to PENCOM and as soon as you are retiring you will have your gratuity and pension.
“So these are the efforts we have put in place as a government. The officials of pensioners in Benue state commended me and appreciated what we have done. But we know we had backlog which should be cleared.
“As I talk to you, every month N700million is provided for pensioners in the last six months based on the agreement that we reached with the pensioners’ union. N400million goes to the state level though it is not enough to cover the entire pensioners but at least it is said that half a loaf is better than non. And at the Local Government level we release N300million making N700million.
“So I am really taken aback when I heard what happened after we explained and we agreed that this is what we should be doing monthly. And mind you, at the local government level, the pensioners are part of the local government allocation account meeting.
“Though keeping the agreement is at the detriment of other matters but we prioritized their issue because other areas like development of infrastructure and even overhead of my office and other offices are suffering but we had to do it because truly these are our fathers and mothers.
“Some of them are on drugs, some are sick, some are in pains but we have put an arrangement in place to ensure that everybody is earning something contrary to what obtained in the past.
“So I’m really taken aback by their protest but that notwithstanding these are elder statesmen and I cannot join issues with them.”