In 2010, I met an old man around Zango area of Lokoja, the Kogi State capital. Looking shabby, scruffy and unhealthy, the man seemed like one who preferred to procure death with the little coin of breath in him. He was walking and dying. Overwhelmed by empathy, coupled with curiosity to know what brutal force and malignant element was so cruel enough to forge his piteous fate, I approached him and we began to talk. His story, I will share with you right away. It may not sound good, but it would definitely be useful for the resetting of the hearts of men towards what is good, moral and defensible before God and man.
As we spoke, the old man narrated his experience: “I retired from the Ministry of Agriculture where I worked for 35 years. I served in Anyigba and Lokoja before retiring home to Isanlu. During my service, I was carrying the load of sponsoring four children through secondary school to the university. I was taking loans to ensure they were educated. I have no house in Isanlu.
“So after my retirement, I went to our family house with my children. I confronted the shame of my lack of a personal shelter with the academic successes of my four children. The last one graduated four years ago but they all have no jobs. They engage in menial jobs to feed. “My hope was to access my gratuity and use it to build a two-bedroom apartment in the village for my family. But I have not been able to access anything. I was not even placed on Pension. I am in a bottomless well of confusion at the moment”.
But with his situation, what was his business in Lokoja when he could stay at Isanlu and continue to feast on the cheap pounded yam and palm wine? And as this thought crossed my mind, he stared at me as if he was figuring out my “mind’s construction” in my face.
He continued, “A colleague of mine in Kabba called me yesterday that we were to be in Lokoja today for some verifications and payment. I was excited and approached a family friend for a loan of N1, 000 to transport myself to Lokoja. I told my wife to go and price foodstuffs with the hope of flooding my home with them when I get my pension.
“To my surprise, they only asked us to submit photocopies of our documents and leave. They promised to get back to us at a later date, as they had promised six months earlier. I am here to see someone from my village, a co pensioner whose situation is as pitiable as mine. Now I am stranded”.
At this point, I was moved to tears. Why can’t people in authority have the fear of God? What has happened to Pension funds? Why are Pension Administrators getting fatter and building filling stations with the blood of those who served their fatherland for over three decades? They drive exotic Jeeps on the graves of those who laboured for the wealth as if such fame fulfills all life ambition. What a world!
If I had no answers to my myriad of questions eight years ago, now I do. On assumption of Office, Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State was confronted with a torrent of complaints about pension management. Over 20 months pension arrears were left unpaid. Pensioners were living like beggars. He initiated a system of gradual defraying of the arrears and remained committed to that despite the sustained attacks on him and his administration by those who superintended over an era of pension frauds. They took to the media to launch ceaseless attacks on the government that is cleaning the administrative mess they left behind. Non-payment of salaries and pensions became their chorus against the New Direction Administration despite proof of sustained payment of pensions and salaries. They have forgotten that filling a hole is different from making a heap. Without filling a hole, no heap can spring up on the same spot.
They stole the monies. They stole the joy of our senior citizens. They stole our sense of morality at the time. They stole the happiness of children of pensioners who had to drop off schools due to inability to pay fees. They stole the right of the pensioners to live long. They stole the health benefits of the pensioners. They kept a kernel in their pockets and raised a halogen to search for it in the pit. What a world!
But they forgot to steal the files. They could not steal history. They failed to delete a thoughtful future, which is now. They failed to kill the dream of a young messiah, misunderstood by those he has come to serve; heckled at by those who knew he will expose their filthy past in government; frustrated by the relics of a dysfunctional past that was unrepentantly corrupt; shamelessly lightened by an ignominious immorality. Here we are; their anus is in the open. What they hid has come out. They buried the corpse but didn’t cover the legs.
A whooping N4.3 billion was shared by a cabal between 2010 and 2015 – these were monies meant to pay those who served our state for 35 years.
Those who couldn’t decipher the ferocity of purpose with which the present administration in the state was attacked by the group of mechanical fraudsters will now know that their agitations were not for the people they pretend to love while their actions in the past showed utter disregard for humanity.
How did they do it? Simple. They loaded the pension payrolls with fake names and directed pensions to phony accounts while the real pensioners were left to languish in poverty and penury with which they brought untimely death!
We can now see that the past was the problem while the present is the hope and the future is a battle between the past and the present. It has been 31 months of business unusual, a time when the past attempted to derail the hope of our state. Our people can now see the gap we are bridging. Our people can now see the real problems of Kogi State. Those who stole our gold were the same people who heralded it was missing. Nothing could be more deceptive and hypocritical. Today, pensioners are paid, not because it is an achievement; not because it is convenient; not because we have surplus; but because we know that the prosperity of a nation is determined by its moral dealings with the people. Now, we know what the problems are. Now, we can appreciate the staff and pensioners’ verification exercise. Now, we have a database for eliminating crude and even the sophistry of fraudsters. Now, we have Contributory Pension Scheme that protects both the pensioners and the government. The beauty of this all is the determination to prosecute the fraudsters. They cannot bring back the tears of the past, but they can restitute our state on the path of probity, justice and humanity. May we never see such governments again! Remember the words of Alhaji Yahaya Bello on his inauguration: “The resources of Kogi State will work for the people of Kogi State.” Never again shall our resources be used to build hotels worth billions of Naira for a “25-year-old” of a governor. From 2016, the children of the unknown commoners have taken charge of Kogi State to see to welfare of the commoners. May God bless Kogi State! Fanwo is director general of Media and Strategy to the governor of Kogi State.
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