The protest to the Edo State Government House by Pensioners last week helped to shape discussions as to the direction of the new government in the state. On hand to receive the pensioners was the Edo state Deputy Governor, Rt. Hon. Comrade Philip Shaibu who told them that the state Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki has put necessary machinery in place to ensure a self-sustaining state and 18 Local Governments instead of relying only on handouts and bailouts to meet its statutory obligations.
The pensioners, operating under the aegis of their union, the National Union of pensioners were in Government House to protest the nonpayment of their retirement entitlements and pension arrears of between five to forty-two months. But the protesters ought to exercise some more patience with the silent achiever, Godwin Obaseki who has done excellently well in addressing the problem of pensions he inherited from several past administrations in the state. I state this without any prejudice, knowing that Mr. Obaseki has commenced offsetting arrears of gratuities owed pensioners in the state. I know of many who received their gratuities without lobbying or bribing anybody. Obaseki simply looked at the records and paid them.
He also reviewed the State Pension Law within his first one hundred days in office and the House of Assembly graciously passed the amendment which now provides for all civil servants in the state with less than ten years to go from the date of commencement of the law, were to have Pensions administrators and that is a success story. Also, government is verifying the remaining pensioners and a schedule to defray all outstanding salaries and gratuity is being worked out for implementation. Pensioners in the state need to appreciate Governor Obaseki for making the issue of pensions his priority. If previous administrations had done half of what Obaseki has done in 100 days, no pensioner would have been owed a dime by the state government by now.
Rt. Hon. Comrade Philip Shaibu was at his best while receiving the protesting pensioners when he told them that “most of the issues they raised had been tabled before the Governor and that measures are being taken to address them once and for all. He added that government was aware of their sufferings and pains, coupled with the recession, but that government is not insensitive, but wants to address all the issues once anybody coming back to protest or appeal for bailout.”
That is why it is imperative for pensioners in the state who have not been reached or paid all entitlements not to unnecessarily lose patience which they have exercised all the while. They need to give the state government some time to sort them out.
But back to the issue of self-sustenance. The Deputy Governor noted that their assessment so far on the eighteen local governments of the state, showed that each of them is capable of fending for themselves if the leadership is right, and that is why the Governor put a committee in place to look into their problems so that they can bring them to a final end.
Obviously, Governor Obaseki coming with rich experience in the private sector wants to see a local government that can fend for itself and pay its workers salaries without state or federal government assistance and the one that pays its workers salaries between 24 to 30th of every month as it is at the state level without bailout. This is the drive of the new government in the state.
As a prelude to making this happen, the governor last week signed into law a bill passed by the State House of Assembly to harmonize revenue collection by the various local government areas in Edo state. This was against the backdrop that his government discovered that the levies and taxes collected especially in local government council was not uniformed and there is a compelling need to have an enabling law to back such collections. Harmony and uniformity in the collection of taxes and levies was a key reason for the new law.
Even before the passage and signing into law, the government had put in place a machinery which will include working with the judiciary and security agencies to ensure success of the law in place. Additionally, the government re-jigged the Edo State Internal Revenue Service by appointing a well experienced and result-oriented young man, Mr. Igbinidu Inneh as the new Executive Chairman. No doubt Igbinidu Inneh would build on the success recorded by his predecessor, Chief Oseni Elamah being a member of the Economic Team during the era of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, a team which Governor Obaseki headed meritoriously.
Besides, the Obaseki administration has put in place a technology which is not cash based which will make the collection of revenue, more efficient and transparent, blocking all loopholes. From the arrangements on ground, it means going forward, all taxes and revenue paid by Edo people would not only be captured and deposited in a single treasury account of the Edo State Government, but from all assurances of the governor all the while, the collected revenue will be judiciously used for the progress and development of the state. It also signals the enthronement of the most transparent and accountable administration the state ever had since its creation.
As a further demonstration of his commitment to a transparent implementation of the new revenue law in the state, Governor Obaseki has also instructed that a separate schedule be presented where each local government will announce the taxes collected in each month and how it will be spent for the good and benefit of citizens of the local government. This is a sharp departure from what obtained in the past and quite novel. The governor, his deputy and their entire team need the support of all Edo people for these lofty plans to pull through. That way, combining with all the business plans put afloat by the government, dependence on revenue from Abuja will drastically reduce as the government would be able to generate its resources to run the affairs of the state and local government. Most importantly is the hope that all the hues and cries heard on the streets of Edo State by workers and pensioners would be a thing of the past while massive infrastructural development would be a common sight all over the state happening pari pasu.
• Mr. Dan Owegie is a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Edo State.