For more than twenty months, most states of the federation had been battling with financial challenges owing to the fall in oil prices at the international market for most part of 2014, 2015 and 2016.
The challenges created serious burden on government at all levels especially in meeting their obligations on payment of salaries and pension to their active workers and retired people.
The situation was at its peak in later part of 2014 when the impact of the economic hardship in the country began to biter harder; forcing Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola in September 2014 to invite labour leaders to crucial meeting to decide on two available options whether to reduce workers or continue paying salaries according to available resources.
The development however necessitated the constitution of the State’s Revenue Apportionment Committee headed by labour veteran; Comrade Hassan Sunmonu where the labour leaders agreed to second option that government should pay them according to the available resources. Since then government had introduced modulated salaries payment approach with workers on grade level 01 to 07 collecting their 100% full salaries while those of grade level 08 and above were paid 50%, half of their salaries. The same modulated structure was also adopted for pensioners in the state.
The administration of Muhammadu Buhari on assumption of office then provided succour through the Central Bank in July 2015 and gave bail out to affected states that are virtually unable to pay salaries and pensions of its workers and retired ones.
The State of Osun was not left out of the arrangements and indeed, had the biggest assistance of N34.9billion. The money was feasibly inadequate to cater for the needs of the state then regarding workers’ salaries and pension, a development that resulted in series of allegations and counter allegations against the state government.
Then the opposition accused the state government of diverting the fund to other use aside from the payment of salaries and pension that was originally meant. The intervention of the state lawmakers probing how the money was spent saved the situation from degenerating further.
The State House of Assembly gave the government a clean bill of health declaring that the money was judiciously spent and that it was used for purposes for which it was meant.
Towards the end of last year, assistance came to most states from the refund on loan sought from Paris Club which serves as big relief to them on salaries and pension palaver. This time around, the modulated structure for payment of salaries was reviewed upward by government with workers on grade levels 01 to 07 still collecting their full salaries; workers on grade levels 08 to 12 now collecting 75% and workers on level 12 and above still collecting 50% of their normal salaries.
The same approach was adopted for pensioners with those collecting N20,000 as pension were paid their full pension; those collecting between N20,000 and N80,000 as pension having 75% and those collecting N80,000 and above still collecting 50%. This was approach used for the payment of salaries and pensions for workers and pensioners for the last four months in the 2016.
From the fresh funds, Osun State acknowledged receipt of sum of N11.7billion of which a sum of N2.5billion was added to it internally to make N14.2billion used for payment of modulated salaries and pension for workers and pensioners for months of September; October; November and December 2016.
Speaking on the development, the State Chapter Chairman of The Nigeria Labour Congress, (NLC), and Comrade Jacob Adekomi lauded Governor Aregbesola for the gesture but appealed to him to endeavour and pay the balance of their salaries and pensions since July 2014.
Adekomi in a statement he signed said the state government owed workers on Grade Level 08 and above as well as pensioners for 18 months.
He commended Aregbesola for paying the salaries of workers and urged him to fulfil his promise to pay the balance of the half salaries for the 18 months.
According to Adekomi, “we do not doubt that Mr. Governor is a man of his words and he will attend to the balance of the outstanding amount of the salaries of officers on GL.08 as well as the pensioners”.
But some section of the pensioners took to the street protesting the modulated pensions received and demanded the immediate payment of the balance of the half of their pensions.
Not satisfied by the response and promise from the government on their plights, the pensioners put up canopies at the popular Nelson Mandela Freedom Park claiming that they had been displaced from their different homes into ‘pensioners’ camp’.
The spokesman of the group, Comrade Yemi Lawal said that they put up the idea of the camp in order to put the record straight on their grouse against the insensitivity of the Aregbesola’s government to their plights.
The Internally Displaced Pensioners (IDP) further claimed that between 2008 and 2012, the state government owes them a sum of N22billion as gratuity till today while pension arrears are N4.7billion making N26.7billion.
Lawal sounded warning that half pension is unacceptable to his group adding that the whole world must be aware that its members were dying while waiting for their statutory emoluments.
The invitation extended to the recently sacked Justice of Osun State High Court, Justice Folahanmi Oloyede who was accused of misconduct in the course of performing her official duties by the Nigeria Judicial Commission (NJC) to address them added political colouration to their claims. Oloyede has not hiding the fact that she is against the administration of Aregbesola in preference of PDP and opposition.
But the Chairman of Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP), Prince Rotimi Adelugba faulted the claims of IDP pensioners saying they were being sponsored by the opposition. He explained that pensioners in the state were under the same umbrella until when IDP pensioners introduced political sentiments into the agitations and activities of the pensioners.
Adelugba maintained that the political sentiments introduced into the activities and agitations of pensioners polarized the union into four groups including Civil Society Coalition for Emancipation of Osun; Good Governance Initiatives and Triangular Group of Pensioners.
According to Adelugba, “we were surprise when they brought emblem and membership card of Senator Omisore Support group to the meeting of pensioners and they changed our agenda to political.
Adelugba who expressed gratitude to Governor Rauf Aregbesola for his magnanimity in the payment of their pension up till month of December 2016 said the pensioners were immensely grateful to him.
He however cautioned other retired civil servants in the state not to play politics with the issue of the payment of the pension.
He said “The state government set up a committee headed by a veteran labour leader and former President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade Hassan Sunmonu to fine-tune the issue of salary and pension payment in the state and the committee suggested the best approach to the salary and pension issues in the state”.
“The committee comprised leaders of labour unions in the state and after a comprehensive analysis of the financial situation of the state, the committee proffered a way forward and we all saw reasons to accept the recommendations of the committee in the best interest of the generality of the workers, pensioners and the good people of our dear state”.
“We all agree that the state government should not downsize because we didn’t want any worker in the state to be sacked. Therefore, the only option we had was to agree with the modulated salary scheme in which the junior officers from level 01 to level 07 would get their full salary but the senior staff from level 08 and above would be earning half of their salary and the same thing applicable to the pensioners”.