Burdened by a vicious social lockdown and a potential economic meltdown exacerbated by falling oil prices and a Covid 19 pandemic battery of the world, retired civil servants in Kebbi state who have been owed their gratuities are smiling to the banks as the Kebbi state Governor Senator Atiku Bagudu gave matching orders for the immediate payment of a total of N2.4 billion to them. This gesture is arguably the timeliest piece of news for the thousands of the retirees – all of whom have meticulously served the state before retiring into the challenges of coping with the uncertainties of post-service life.
There are two important takeaways from the gesture by the Governor. One is that it came at the most difficult moment in the life of the people. The Corona Virus Pandemic has forced all governments in the world to take very stern measures, including social distancing and in some states, a complete lockdown in others, an action that has strained many families and imposed new challenges of dealing with keeping their families intact and out of harm’s way. Secondly, with a meltdown menacingly steering the world occasioned by falling oil prices, the gesture by Atiku Bagudu has enabled a large segment of the people of Kebbi to develop the capacity to keep into line of the measures that have been imposed by the state and the federal governments aimed at keeping the spread of the Virus in check. No time, therefore, will have been more fitting to rise to the challenge of empowering a people in order to equip them with the wherewithal to help fight the disease and help curtail its spread.
I am not unmindful that from just two positive cases, Kebbi has plunged to a total of twelve as at the time of writing this piece. This sudden rise in affliction, at a time many were hopeful that Kebbi has seen the worse becomes more instructive in the effort to stop the spread from reaching the level of community transmission. The measures taken by the Kebbi state government to pay the gratuities to all retirees irrespective of their levels, is, to me a masterstroke that will play an important part in mobilizing the citizenry to key into the common front that is necessary to successfully wage war against the virus.
This is so because the beneficiaries of the largesse are heads of big families and the total sum of it will hit hundreds of thousands, a number that represents a big chunk of the populace. That chunk is, again, an enlightened one and their capacity to be useful in keying others into the fight cannot be overemphasized. And for this Atiku Bagudu humane gesture to come at this juncture when all hands are needed on deck, illustrates the vision of the Governor and the foresight to intervene at the nick of time to change narratives and change a tide.
What made the classification of those to benefit more defining is that it is all-encompassing. Every retiree at all level will benefit. This includes all retired civil servants, local government and local government education authorities (LGEA).
All retirees with cumulative gratuities of N500,000 and below are to be paid at once and in full. Those with amalgamated huge gratuity bill will also receive very reasonable amount using the percentage formula. It is important to note that this graciousness by Governor Atiku Bagudu came with a personal commitment from him, to continue to be prompt in the payment of all that entitlements due to civil servants. His pledge, from day one of his administration, to pay salaries to civil servants at the end of every month, without let and his keeping to his vow since then, should give us reasons to take him for his words. He had promised prompt payment of salaries and he has fully delivered on that. We therefore have all the reasons in the world to trust him.
Payment of gratuity to retired civil servants has been a knotty issue that tended to have defied all attempts at resolving it. This had lingered on from previous administrations. Issues surrounding verification exercises in order to ensure that the right people get their right due had bogged the process down. We are all aware of the sharp practices inherent in the system and unless greater care is taken to verify both the number and the sum, the payment is liable to be abused and the wrong people would end up cornering millions to the detriment of the very people who have toiled all these years. It took the long period it did because the Atiku Bagudu administration was conscious of the need to ensure transparency in the exercise. Of course, tempers rose very high within the ranks of the retirees. The endless seeming foot-dragging and the excruciating financial challenges facing them made them to boil over to a point some of them became too edgy.
In fairness to them, you cannot begrudge a retired civil servant the right to his entitlements. At the same time, you cannot also question the decision and the right of the Atiku Bagudu administration to take all measures to ensure that whatever amount is channeled towards payment of the gratuities reaches the people it was meant for. I think the payment as ordered by the Governor was a result of a painstaking verification exercise which has plugged all possible loopholes of sharp practices. If you ask me, we will rather have a foolproof exercise that ensures justice for all, than a rushed process which, in the long run, exorcises a greater number of retirees. I think Atiku Bagudu deserves a clap for this masterstroke of payment.
Musa, a civil servant wrote in from Birnin Kebbi, Kebbi state.