Seyi Makinde: Making Oyo State pensioners smile again
When the newly sworn-in Governor of Oyo State, His Excellency Seyi Makinde, announced in his inauguration address that he would be donating his monthly salary to the teacher pensioners’ fund, little did the people of Oyo State know that this token was just the beginning of what his administration would go on to do for pensioners in the state.
During the campaigns, Engr Makinde, the then-candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had been asked on more than one occasion by pensioners what his administration would do for them if he was elected governor. His response remained consistent that his administration would pay the debt owed to pensioners in unpaid gratuities and pensions gradually until it was paid off.
However, even this modest promise was met with scepticism considering the huge debt left behind by the previous administration. Unpaid pensions and gratuities accumulated between 2011 and 2019 amounted to a staggering N55.9 billion.
Undeterred by this huge debt it inherited, the new administration started paying the debts in May 2019. By December 2020, the Secretary of the Nigerian Union of Pensioners (Oyo State Chapter), Comrade Segun Abatan, stated that no administration since 1999 had paid as much in pensions and gratuities in 19 months as the Governor Seyi Makinde-led administration. As of that time, about N6 billion had been paid as a backlog of gratuities to state government retirees while another N6 billion had been paid to retired local government workers and primary school teachers.
In May 2021 during the two years in office celebrations of the administration, the Ministry of Establishments and Training revealed that over N13 billion had been paid by the government to offset the backlog of gratuities inherited by the government. Since then, the government has made monthly gratuity payments with the monthly amount increased to N250 million to cover more pensioners.
Just about a month ago on April 24, 2022, another N1 billion was released to pay gratuities to 378 local government retirees bringing the total paid by the Oyo State Government to over N16 billion in the last 35 months.
It is therefore not surprising that on the morning of May 17, 2022, thousands of pensioners were seen heading to the Oyo State Secretariat, Agodi, Ibadan. Such gatherings in the past indicated a protest against unpaid pensions and gratuities. As the pensioners congregated in front of the Governor’s Office at the Secretariat, it became evident that this was a different type of gathering. These thousands of pensioners were obviously jubilant. They were singing and dancing as they gathered. A reading of the placards and banners they carried showed that this was a solidarity visit to show their appreciation to His Excellency for prioritising their welfare with prompt payments of pensions in full (not in percentages as obtained in the past) and working to clear the backlog of gratuities.
The mood was infectious as these pensioners sang, danced and prayed for Governor Makinde. His Excellency came out to address them. He thanked them for their show of solidarity and support. He also informed them that his administration would continue to ensure that their welfare was prioritised. And that having served the state for several years, it was their right to be paid their dues promptly.
And indeed, it is the right of pensioners to be paid their benefits. Presently, retirees who retired in January 2014 are being paid the backlog of gratuities owed while those who retired after May 2019 have been paid up till June/July 2019. Payment of gratuities to retired primary school teachers have reached November 2013, and for retired local government employees, July 2017. There is still some way to go and the Governor Makinde-led administration continues to make these payments as promised.
Gone are the days when retirees only gather to protest unpaid pensions and gratuities. Gone are the days when they are addressed in derogatory terms and asked if they don’t have children to take care of them. These days, pensioners in Oyo State can smile again as an administration which treats them with the honour and dignity they deserve is at the helm of affairs.