Prince Kashim Afegbua is the Edo State Commissioner for Information and Orientation. In this interview, he speaks of the alleged rot left behind by the previous governors of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) and the issues raised by the governorship candidate of the PDP in a recent interview. Group Politics Editor, Taiwo Adisa, presents the excerpts:
Governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Pastor Osagie Ize- Iyamu, alleged that pensioners are distraught with the state government because of several months of unpaid pensions and that during a recent protest to the Government House though the governors was in the office, he refused to see them. How true is that?
Nigerians are aware of the decline in revenue all over the country occasioned by the misrule of PDP’s 16 years in office and predominantly so, under a Jonathan administration that took financial wellness of Nigerians to financial impropriety, profligacy and recklessness. But for the revelations we are seeing or hearing now, we would have thought that Nigeria is well enough to manage her economic affairs without inhibitions. Going by what we are seeing now, it is better imagined than real; but unfortunately, it is real. On the issue of pensioners in Edo, it must be established that for the 10 years that PDP presided over the collective patrimony of Edo State, they didn’t pay pensioners; neither did they pay gratuities. This government inherited pensions even from the military era. We have paid up till 2011; about 14 years’ pension and gratuity arrears. The PDP in Edo, in what they called a reform, carried out a whole ‘sale’ sack of civil servants in 2002 without paying them their entitlements. Now, we have done due diligence up till 2011 because we don’t want to start paying our own from 2009 till date leaving a backlog. That will still result in protests. So, we have cleared the entire backlog till 2011, we have finished that of 2012 and we are expecting that we will pay once our resources improve. Take note of this; if we are getting our statutory allocations in full prior to the exit of PDP-led Federal Government, we will not be owing anybody today because for 17 months, they were paying us statutory allocations short of N1.1 billion. That would have easily amounted to N20 billion or a little less to that if paid. On the reason for the deduction, they said 400,000 of crude oil is being sold on the high sea, meanwhile they gave the contract for the protection of our waterways to Mr Tompolo at very outrageous rate and financial commitment. Now, the Excess Crude Account was mismanaged and in the final analysis, the states were paying for all these shortfalls. In no time, states became beggarly which is the reason they went to seek for bail out. Before the Muhammadu Buhari administration came on board, the Federal Government, through the then Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo- Iweala was going to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to borrow money to pay federal civil servants on a monthly basis. Yet, the former President (Goodluck Jonathan) did not see anything wrong with that. So, it is very easy for people to say that pensioners are being owed their entitlements. We have categorised them into batches and once we get resources, we will pay. Early this year, we paid over N500 million for pensions and gratuities for which even the PDP was surprised at how we were able to do that. We are assuring the pensioners that they will get their entitlements. It is a painful thing to the Comrade Governor that they are being owed. If we can’t finish paying them, the incoming government will continue from where we stopped. It is not something the PDP should celebrate because they are solely responsible for the financial recklessness we are battling with now.
The PDP also said Governor Oshiomhole is campaigning as if he is the one contesting the election for the third term while the APC governorship candidate, Godwin Obaseki is pushed to the background. What is your reaction on this?
That shouldn’t bother them. Do they expect Oshiomhole to campaign for the candidate of the PDP? They should do their campaign and confront the electorates with their plans if elected. The electorate are wise enough to make their informed choice between the 19 candidates that are contesting. I see nothing wrong in the governor campaigning vigorously for the candidate of his party because the expectation of any outgoing government is for a good successor to take over. So, the PDP shouldn’t quarrel with Oshiomhole for calling the shots at campaigns because the outgoing governor has invested his time and energy in the management of the scarce resources of the state. He needs to ensure that his chosen successor succeeds at the election for continuity sake. We have done so much and I am also happy to be part and parcel of the achievements recorded.