By James Sowole in Akure
Activities at the Ondo State Government secretariat, Alagbaka, Akure, were temporarily grounded on Tuesday as public servants and pensioners protested alleged government’s insensitivity to the plight of workers and pensioners in the state.
The two groups, who defied the early morning downpour, arrived at the Governor’s Office as early as 8:00am blocking the major road leading to the state secretariat chanting anti – government songs.
While the pensioners under the aegis of the Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP), frowned upon the non-payment of their gratuities and pensions, the workers accused the state government of withholding and planning to divert the Paris Club loan refund by the federal government to a fixed bank account.
The activities of the protesters prevented the workers in the office of the governor to gain access into their offices.
The pensioners were armed with placards of various inscriptions such as “Arakunrin Akeredolu must pay our entitlements”, “we are dying”, “pensioners deserve better treatment from Ondo government”, “Akeredolu fulfill your promise to pensioners”, and “Arakunrin must implement 33% pension increase approved by the federal government since 2014”, among others.
The protesters, who demanded the payment of the accumulated arrears of pension and gratuities, issued a 15-day ultimatum to the state governor, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu, to meet their demands or should be ready to host them at the Government House as long as the state government can pay them.
The Chairman of NUP in Ondo State, Chief Raphael Adetuwo, said the state government was owing the pensioners about N43 billion since 2012 till date, adding that the union has lost a number of pensioners to hunger.
Adetuwo urged the state government to use the last tranche of Paris Club refund paid to the state government to settle outstanding workers’ salaries, pensions and gratuities as directed by President Muhammadu Buhari.
“If President Buhari saw salaries and pensions as means of livelihood and if he rightly doled out Paris club loan refund to the state governors to enhance immediate payment of salaries and pensions, such money should be used for the purpose,” he said.
He said if Akeredolu refuses to attend to the retirees’ demands by the end of this month, they would be forced to relocate from their homes and occupy the governor’s office permanently.
“My members called me for a meeting in Akure South Local Government that they will embark on street protest to let our governor know their plight. We can’t continue to keep quiet, the outstanding gratuities are getting too high, government must do something to start paying deserving pensioners,” he said.
Similarly, the workers in the state lambasted the state government over an alleged withholding of Paris Club refund released to it by the federal government with the aim of diverting the fund.
The workers’ union, which consisted of the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the Joint Negotiating Council,m (JNC) blocked the main entrance of the governor’s office for several hours after a prayer session.
Addressing the workers, the NLC Chairman Tayo Ogunleye, TUC Chairman Soladoye Ekundayo and JNC Chairman Abel Oloniyo lamented the failure of the state government to pay outstanding salaries and pensions of workers and pensioners as directed by the federal government.
The workers threatened to resume at the entrance of the state secretariat office on daily basis until government settles the accumulated salaries and pensions’ arrears with the debt refund paid by the federal government.
“It is no more news that the federal government has released the last tranche of the Paris Club refund to all the states of the federation. The Paris Club refund was released by the federal government solely for the payment of arrears of salaries and pensions. No more, no less,” he said.
The TUC chairman Ekundayo also said: “It is only Ondo State government out of all the 36 states that has refused to address either the press or its citizenry on the refund despite repeated demands by the labour leaders.
“It is disheartening to note that while other states have disbursed their refund, according to the directive of the federal government, the Ondo State government pretends not to have received it.
“It is a bitter truth that the state government in connivance with the office of the accountant general has fixed the Paris Club refund in a private interest yielding account in one of the banks for the reasons best known to them.”
The unions therefore directed workers in the state to converge on the office of the Head of Service in the state from Wednesday if the state government fails to address the public on issues pertaining to the Paris Club refund or commence payment of salary arrears.
Addressing the protesters, the Head of Service, Mr Toyin Akinkuotu, said government had been demonstrating commitment to the welfare of its workers by prompt payment of salaries and regular promotion.
Akinkuotu said the Akeredolu-led administration has not owed salary since inception, stressing that workers were paid as and when due, noting that the letters of the 2018 promotion exercise has been issued to workers that were due for promotion.
He assured the workers that the government would not hide anything from the people, noting that the Paris Club refund cannot be hidden from the public and promised that all workers would soon smile.