INVESTIGATION: Gombe retirees languishing in poverty, as govt still struggles to clear over 10 years’ liability



Fatsuma Ahmadu, a widow with ten kids, had had to turn to the farms to shoulder the responsibility of her family. Her husband, Ahmed Jibrin, died (of cancer about four years), waiting for his retirement benefits.

He retired as a senior health assistant in 2012 from Kwami Local Government of Gombe, where his family now stays. His condition got worse, because he could not pay his medical bills, ultimately culminating in his death.

His wife, who now works as a laborer in farms located outskirts of Kwami, said each time he regained his consciousness, he would say ‘if the government pays my money I will do this or that.'

The situation of Mr. Jibrin’s family is true of many other families, including those whose supposed breadwinners are still alive. For instance, Ibrahim Bamusa, another local government retiree, told YERWA EXPRESS NEWS that taking care of his family has proven impossible, and that he survives only through God’s Grace.

'My pension is nothing to write home about. It does not sustain me for more than a week, only days. I have over ten children. It has not been easy for me,' Mr. Bamusa, who retired from the local education board, said, noting that he retired ten years ago.

The state of retirees’ benefits

Retirees in Gombe State have continued to anticipate the settlement of their benefits, many years after leaving service. Some have died waiting, even; leaving their families to languish in poverty. The state government has not been paying gratuity since 2014, up until 2019, the state’s 2020 auditor general’s report has shown. Similarly, local government retirees have not also been paid their gratuities since 2012.

This accumulated to over N14 billion by 2019.

‘The Accountant-General report for the years ended 31st December 2020 revealed that other outstanding liabilities totaling Twenty Five Billion, Seven Hundred and Ninety Seven Million, Six Thousand, Seven Hundred and Seventy Two Naira, Twelve Kobo (N25,797,006,772.12), which comprises of outstanding pension and gratuities of Nine Billion, Seven Hundred and Forty Five Million, Nine Hundred and Forty Four Thousand, Two Hundred and Fifty Two Naira Forty Eight Kobo (N 9,745,944,252.48), contractual obligation of Fifteen Billion, Seven Hundred and Thirty Two Million, Twenty Five Thousand, Three Hundred and Seventeen Naira, Forty Three Kobo (N 15,732,025,317.43) and salaries arrears of Three Hundred and Nineteen Million, Thirty Seven Thousand, Two Hundred and Two Naira, Twenty One Kobo (N 319,037,202.21),’ the report reads.

When Governor Muhammadu Inuwa Yahaya assumed office, the liabilities had hit over N14 billion, having accumulated since 2014.

Our findings revealed that no effort was made to pay the backlog since 2014, until Gov. Yahya, who could not still bring it below N9 billion after over three-and-half years of his administration. Not was paid to those who retired from the services of the LGAs, despite having substantive local government chairmen since December, 2020.

The auditor-general’s report indicated a payment of N9.7 million was spent for settlement of LGA gratuities, our findings so far indicated that none of the retirees received any payment between 2012 and now.

According to the government’s a pre-inauguration transition exercise, Gov. Yahaya had inherited a debt of nearly N110 billion, on top of an empty treasury, as his predecessor, People’s Democratic Party’s Ibrahim Dankwambo, who is also Nigeria’s former accountant general, had claimed in 2012.

‘There is a very huge interest bearing debts compared to the state government’s revenue profile.

‘It is estimated based on available information that as at Dec. 2018, the total debt which included domestic, contractors as well as pension was about N110 billion.

‘Our terms of reference include a review of finances of the state government with particular reference to the status of assets, liabilities, domestic and external debts and outstanding contractual obligations and the ability to honor its obligations,’ Alh. Mohammed Kabir, the chairman of the 31-member transition committee said when submitting a report in May, 2019.

However, a fact-check conducted by The Guardian showed that the actual debt is N74 billion and not N110 billion, as claimed by the committee.

Upon its inauguration, the Gov. Yahaya-led administration made a commitment to offset the pension / gratuity liabilities in tranches. The first tranche of N1.7 billion was paid in September, 2019 and another of N775 million in January 2021, as reported in the media.

Section 7 of the Pension Reform Act did not give a timeframe within which governments are supposed to settle retirees' entitlement. However, it did not also encourage delay in such payments. By way of admission, the state government in July set up an 11-man committee to address problems associated with payment of pensions, even though it is obviously a case of nonpayment from the part of the government.

The hopeless retirees

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An official of the Nigerian Union of Pensioners in Gombe, who spoke to YERWA EXPRESS NEWS in confidence said many of their members are dying in silence of the situation.

'The state government has paid those who retired in 2014 and 2015. But those who retired 2016 to date are still waiting to be paid.

'In the local governments, the situation is even much worse because they are not paid since 2012,' the source said.

Members of the union, YERWA EXPRESS NEWS learnt from speaking to many of them, receive paltry sums as their monthly pensions. It can be as low as N8, 000. There are some who receive even much less.

'This can hardly be enough for a family man to deal with the recent rise in cost of living experienced not only in Nigeria but across the world.

'Some of the retirees have died before collecting their entitlements. The situation in their families have remained pathetic,’ the source said.

He added that the union had to be supporting some of them monthly from its purse.

‘For those still alive and yet to be paid their benefit, we are even overwhelmed by how they come often to beg for food,’ the official said.

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YERWA EXPRESS NEWS can report that the poor culture of government towards the payment of retirees' benefits did not only frustrate some of them but also made them hopeless.

Despite the commitment of Gov. Yahaya, who blamed all the mess on the past government, some of the victims, especially those retired recently, feared they may not be alive to enjoy the fruit of their labor given the way in which the payments are made.

‘Some of our friends have died waiting. I retired December 31, 2016 but I have not collected my gratuity yet,’ a victim in the state who pleaded anonymity said.

‘We are hoping to get it soon because the present government has paid our colleagues who retired before us,’ he added.

However, those who retired recently said they are not even expecting it soon.

‘People like us who retired in 2019 are not even expecting to get it soon because there are many who retired before but are not paid yet. The government is still paying those who retired in 2014,’ another victim, who also begged not to be named said.

They are afraid to be named because they believe the government will take offense and refuse to pay them, which if true, amounts to curtailing their right to self-expression.

They spoke to our reporter after assurances of absolute confidentiality.

The governor speaks, blames past governments

Speaking to YERWA EXPRESS NEWS on the matter, Ismail Uba Misilli, the spokesman of the state governor confirmed also confirmed the over N9 billion gratuity liability on the government.

He, however, blamed the past administration.

‘Governor Mohammed Inuwa Yahaya was elected into office in 2019. The administration has been paying the backlog of gratuity of 2014 up to 2018. The administration is doing this quarterly,’ Mr. Misilli said.

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