Rebecca Ejifoma writes that Governor Emeka Ihedioha has rewritten the pension history of Imo State with the recent digitisation process that has captured all 24,000 retirees, and weeded out thousands of ghost pensioners, thus saving N3.5 billion annually
Though numerous infrastructural projects like roads, stadia, LGA secretariats are on-going across Imo State, the reform of the pension scheme by Governor Emeka Ihedioha has provoked so much ethos
For retirees and senior citizens who were hitherto only paid three times in eight years, their fortunes have changed for good. Now, in just five months, they have received pension payout for two months in block.
“Before, we were only paid three times in eight years. It is like we are in a trance, or in Europe; here we are sitting at homes and getting our pensions payment alert on our phones. It is unbelievable, it’s un-Nigerian,” said an elated pensioner.
For them, October 17 was a day to remember. Capturing their feelings succinctly, one of the pensioners said: “Governor Emeka Ihedioha had told us we shall begin to get our pension payment on this day but we didn’t believe him. We were shocked when it happened like he said it would”.
Their scepticism was founded on years of failed promises and extreme deprivation. Numerous verification exercises had been conducted in the past by various governments in the state; “but the more they verified us, the more chaotic the system became and the less we were paid”, another added.
This must explain why pensioners were embittered when the governor started another round of verifications. The heart of most pensioners were broken. All they sought was to be paid. Even if it was for half a month, they would be glad because they had been without pay for at least four years.
Determination to Revamp Pension System
But there was neither basis for payment nor records. The previous administration left no pensions record; and even the various units quoted different conflicting numbers and figures. Not deterred by what was on ground, Ihedioha therefore determined that the problem would be solved once and for all.
In June, he set up a pension review committee chaired by Barr. Pascal Madu, a thoroughbred administrator who is designated as Chief Technical Adviser (CTA) to Governor Ihedioha.
Croesus Integrated Services, reknowned pension consultants, was also engaged to revamp the entire gamut of Imo State pension system. Thus begun the process of complete digitisation and reform of Imo State pension system.
With the goal to raise Imo Pensions to international best practice status, the committee and consultants dug in. They had to start right from the beginning. They went into the pensions archives of the state and ‘exhumed’ over 48,000 pensioners files dating back to 1976 when Imo State was created.
The files were in various stages of dereliction. They were loaded in numerous trucks and ferried down to Data Extraction Centre. Hardware and software were set up including about 400 laptops, web cams, extension boxes, LAN cables, power cables, biometric scanners among others.
Altogether, about 1000 youths drawn from all the LGAs of the state were trained and deployed for the exercise. Twenty-seven biometric capture and verification centres were created, one in each LGA.
It turned out to be a most orderly verification exercise as the pensioners attested. Pensioners were seated; lunch was provided daily and medics were on hand to attend to the ailing.
Particularly unique was the fact that home and hospital capture were introduced. Pensioners in hospitals were captured right on their sick beds while those at home, too weak to come out to the verification centres were not left out.
After the verification and biometric capture, extensive computations were carried out and 24, 431 Imo pensioners were paid through an e-payment portal. That was how joyful alerts played on the phones of more than 24000 Imo seniors on October 17, 2019.
The result of this elaborate process is that today, Imo state has joined the ranks of entities that have digitised pension data that is inviolate and almost impossible to breach. With this database, a proper, well-structure pension system would be built and operated.
Impending retirees would be captured ahead of time, while transited ones would be deleted. Never again would Imo pensioners be subjected to any verification exercise again; never again would they queue up to collect their pay as alert would ring in their phones every month without fail.
According to the Special Adviser to the Governor on Media, Mr. Steve Osuji, going forward, proper pension board will grow from this process and “we shall migrate the state pension scheme to a contributory system in due time. Hundreds of ghost pensioners have been weeded out and about N3.5 billion is saved annually after this exercise.
“What Governor Emeka Ihedioha has done in such a short while is akin to a revolution. Imo is now a pension scheme model for other states to emulate”.