It was black Saturday for Imo State and Nigeria. It was May 4, 2013, the day a brilliant and wise media icon from Obizi, Ezinihitte Mbaise Local Government Area of Imo State, Mr. Pini Onyegbaduo, popularly called Pini Jason, breathed last and said his good bye. He was a columnist with Vanguard newspaper. He was also a social activist.
Apart from being one of the longest standing columnists in Nigeria, since the 80s, with the gift of the gab, Pini had a strong sense of history and recollection of events. Pini did not start as a journalist or columnist. He started out as a Customs officer but later left it for journalism.
Pini Jason had worked with Lagos Weekend and was an Editor with the African Guardian, a weekly magazine under the stable of The Guardian Newspapers in the early ‘90s. He later founded The Examiner in the late ‘90s.
It is was this accomplished journalist and columnist that former Governor Ikedi Ohakim, a man whose eyes are always on the ball, picked as Special Adviser on Special Duties. Pini was one of the eggheads Ohakim worked with, that had the lofty dream of placing Imo on a high pedestal among the 36 states in the federation. Ohakim would later describe Pini Jason as his debating partner and a man who had sound opinion on nearly all issues. Jason served diligently under the Ohakim government and was considered by many to be among Ohakim’s kitchen cabinet and among those who had Ohakim’s ears. His death therefore, was a personal loss to Ohakim and a loss to Imo State.
Ohakim’s December visit is notwithstanding the fact that since Pini went to the great beyond he had not let the family suffer one bit. He has always been around, providing succour for the family. Ohakim’s friendship with Pini did not die with him, but like David who remembered Jonathan’s son, Ohkaaim has always been there for the Pinis.
To Chief Ikedi Ohakim, “friendship and loyalty is a two way street. If I am asking it from you, then you are getting it from me. Pini Onyegbaduo was not just an aide, he was a loyal friend, and the least I owe his dear wife and children is to show them that they are not forgotten. I will never turn my back on my people and will remain loyal to all my friends.”
If the society should have selfless men and women serve meritoriously without criminally enriching themselves at the detriment of the society, the society and those in authority should put workable mechanism in place to reward those that put in years of selfless service. It is not enough to chorus that the labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain, it is more important to take meaningful actions that would guarantee that such heroes as Pini Jason who passed away after serving the state are not forgotten. It is not enough to miserly erect monuments. It is best to ensure that the families left behind by the heroes past are not left to suffer by the government. This is one of the best ways to also fight corruption among government officials, because most public officials who are involved in corruption do so for the rainy days, to provide some sort of security for their children when they are no more. They do this because they believe they are serving a thankless society.
But in fulfillment of his pledge never to forget any of his friends, Ikedi Ohakim went with some friends, including his brother, Emma Ohakim, to see the family left behind by friend and aide, Pini Jason. This gesture is enough to spur people on to make the needed sacrifices for the growth of the society, knowing full well that their labour will not be in vain. This is what a good leader should do always: spurring people to achieve greater heights for themselves and the society, by ensuring adequate reward system.
Ohakim’s action is antithetical to what we know of the present Governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, who does not see the need to reward those who have worked meritoriously for the state. This is where the core difference exists between both men. Ohakim is concerned with the people. As first call, since Okorocha assumed power as the Governor of Imo State, he has refused to pay the former appointees that served under Governor Ikedi Ohakim, including the late Pini Jason, their severances packages. The severance packages, one must know, are not corruption packages. The appointees are entitled to them. And despite the court order on the matter mandating the state government to pay the former appointees their entitlements, the Governor has refused to obey.
The disobedience to the court order that the Governor pays the former appointees their entitlements is another sign that the state government under Okorocha has been personalized. The Governor is behaving as if he is being asked to use his personal fund to pay those people. Toney Uzoukwu, Dr Aguwa who returned from the US to serve his state, and Pini Jason, have died without their entitlements paid to them or their families. The fact that some of the appointees have died without their entitlements has not touched the Governor to pay those who are alive and have got court orders compelling him to pay them. He has not been touched by the tears on the cheeks of the widows and orphans left behind by the dead appointees. The only crime the appointees seem to have committed is that they worked for Imo State under Ohakim. The Governor is acting as if he is withholding the severance packages to fight Ohakim. This is similar to using poverty and starvation as weapon of political war. This is more than obvious act of inhumanity.
Had Ohakim personalized government as Okorocha is doing, Ohakim’s government wouldn’t have spent billions of Naira in paying the entitlements of local government elected officials who served under his predecessor. Ohakim spent more than N6bn settling that bill, and the effect manifested immediately on the state economy. If Ohakim was personalizing government, perhaps Okorocha’s mother wouldn’t have been buried when and how she was buried. As the Governor of Imo State, Ohakim made sure a new road was built, terminating at Okorocha’s house in Ogboko. He provided vehicles for the burial. In fact, Okorocha’s mother received a state burial when it was obvious she was not a state government official. But she got the state burial because Ohakim made the government about the welfare of the people and not warfare with the people. Can Okorocha do same?
Apart from those who served under Ohakim, All the commissioners and aides who worked under Okorocha and left have not been paid their entitlements. Even those who worked as lawmakers or aides to the lawmakers but are no longer in government, have no hope that their entitlements will be paid.
No people should be happy that the labours of their heroes are daily thrown away into the refuse cans. It is an ill-wind that breeds corruption and dislocations in the society. This is why Governor Okorocha should look beyond his political wars and for once think at the state and the people, and do the right things. A labourer deserves his wages.
It is the same attitude of not paying the former appointees and elected officials of the state government their entitlements that we see in the ill-treatment meted to both the civil servants and pensioners in Imo State.
Gerald Ibegbulem on Saturday, January 07, 2017, raised the alarm that his aged pensioner-mother was been forced to sign a forfeiture document with the state government on her pension. He said that recently some agents of the state government came to his house with a document for his mother to sign, and upon careful reading of the document it was discovered that, by signing the document his mother would forfeit 60% of her pension arrears to the government. His mother did not sign the document. So the agents went home with document.
Undeterred, few days later, the LGA leader in his local government area asked him to come to his house to pick his mother’s pension cheque. After sometime, he went to see the APC leader in his LGA.
“He (the APC leader) then presented me a document to sign, and on reading the document, it stated that I received the cheque as full and final payment” for his mother’s pension, he said. And of course, Gerald refused to sign the document and collect the cheque. Gerald’s experience is what Imo pensioners are passing through in the hands of their own government.
Embarrassed with the shocking stories of non-payment of pension arrears and the incessant protests by the pensioners (with some of the aged pensioners collapsing), the Okorocha government came out with a bizarre solution, to cut the pensions to 40% while the pensioners forfeit the remaining 60%. The state government is going about this forcing the pensioners to accept the death sentence. But this has not worked magic as many pensioners have refused to accept the death sentence. Those who felt that this is unbecoming and ungovernmental have staged a protest in the state, letting the world know that the government’s action in relation to the pension quagmire was the biggest calamity from a government.
This is even more provoking, considering that while the government makes the excuse that it took it’s unintelligent action on the pensioners due to the nose-diving (did you say mismanagement?) of the state’s resources, went on the biggest profligacy I have ever seen from a government. It is on record that as part of its thanksgiving programme in December 2016, the state government did not only put the programme live on television stations, it also brought the former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, to Owerri, the state capital. The government also went on to fetch from Ghana the recently sworn-in President of Ghana, then President-Elect. It cost millions of Naira to bring those Very Important Personalities and their aides to come and dance and do Christmas in Owerri, while the government that could not pay pensioners picked the bills. This is not mentioning the charade called December carnival, where hundreds of millions of Naira went down the drain. It is annoying that the state government could happily embark on this profligacy and smile at its heroes going home hungry.
On the other hand, when Ohakim became Governor in 2007, he met about N4bm pension arrears. But realising that government is a continuum and about the people, Ohakim paid off the arrears of the pensions without making a noise about it or trying to discredit his predecessor. He went on and tackled the challenges as they came. Apart from not making a noise about the pension matter, Ohakim did not try to tell lies and distort the facts just to be liked and applauded. He did what a leader was supposed to do. He serves. He paid. And the pensioners were happy. He did not robbed them of their dignity. He never set up any verifications exercise. He lived up to his responsibility.
This is opposite what obtains now. The pensioners are lied to and about. They are cheated and abused and deceived. They are insulted and humiliated and many of them die without their pension. And while this goes on, the Governor and his wife go on chartered planes, cruising in comfort on our own expense, yet the pensioners cannot be paid. Not even the plea by the pensioners to collect 40% pension arrears from the government and leave the balance of 60% to the next government, provided the Okorocha government pays pensions as and at when due, henceforth, makes sense.
If the government must inspire faith and perseverance in the people, it must make a paradigm shift from what it is doing and focus on the people. A government that is often in the battlefield with its workers and senior citizens cannot inspire the needed faith in the people. The starting point is that the government looks back and ensures that those who had worked meritoriously for the state get paid. This is the best way to forge unity of purpose and growth. It is annoying that while we celebrate the likes of Pini Jason for their contributions to the government and society his entitlement is being owed even in death.