Amah Baldwin in Enugu captures the mood of serving and retired civil servants in Enugu state who celebrated the last worker’s Day on May 1 2015 without the usual fanfare, and also highlights the challenges facing Governor-elect Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi.
Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi popularly known and addressed as “Gburugburu” was elected Governor of the state with an overwhelming mandate, securing 482,277 votes to keep his closest opponent, Barrister Okey Ezea of the APC at bay. Ezea was compensated with some consolation votes of 43,837. Ugwuanyi had in the course of his campaigns looked beyond April 11 election date, what with the stream and hordes of people from far and near, struggling to align with the governorship hopeful. When it became apparent that his election was a fait accompli, considering his popularity and the enormous goodwill his candidature attracted, Ugwuanyi thought less about the then coming election, but reflected more on actions that could assure him a place in history.
“ I intend to pursue my vision for Enugu state by implementing a governance agenda that is focused on four key outcomes, namely: (a). Employment generation (b). Enhanced social services and good governance (c). Rural Development (d). Security and Justice. Ugwuanyi stated that the agenda as outlined would enable him define his focus and then, “target and allocate public expenditure and other government resources in a manner that is easily measurable by reference to observable impacts on each and all the four key outcomes.”
Of course, in line with the expectations of many, the PDP candidate coasted home to a resounding victory, and three days later he addressed the people of Enugu state to reaffirm his unalloyed commitment to the campaign promises made by the party. Ugwuanyi who believes in the principles of seamless continuity and consolidation, adopted the 4-point agenda of the outgoing Sullivan Chime administration with some inputs. Perhaps, the pitiable and despicable conditions of the Enugu workforce with particular reference to the retirees, otherwise, the Senior Citizens and the hordes of the unemployed ignited Ugwuanyi’s interest, hence his emphasis on, “Employment generation and Social Welfare.”
To reassure the teeming populace that his campaign promises were no fluke, but a vow, a contract, the Man of the Moment in his acceptance speech expressed lucidly that his vision was to see Enugu state where government services and resources were deployed solely to create opportunity for every citizen in Enugu to make a living and create wealth, and provide education to the children. This new encouragement has opened the way for even the retirees to be part of that wealth creation. Chief George Eze, a retiree in one of the government owned parastatals in representative voice for his colleagues in appreciating the presentation of the governor-elect urged him to immediately on assumption of office direct his energy on programmes that would significantly and directly impact on the lives of the people.
“Now is the time for government to focus attention on worker’s welfare,” he said. According to George Eze, three key areas that require emergency treatment include, employment, housing for the poor, workers welfare and education. “Let me start with the workers welfare. It is very well known that the outgoing administration has done so well in the area of infrastructure; we now have good roads in most places, the government provided transformers, electric poles and cables and indeed energised so many communities. “There are other areas, like security where the administration showed class.” Eze however asked: “But what about the hewers of wood?”
He believes that the Chime administration started off very well with the workers but along the line turned its back. Referring to the plight of workers and retirees of the Enugu State Broadcasting Service, ESBS Radio/ Television, the Star Printing and Publishing Company (Daily Star) and other government owned companies and parastatals, George Eze said: “It is instructive to state quite categorically that today the main features of the folks are starvation, frustration and depression.
“The label on their faces is sweats, wrinkles, unkempt beard, and emergency grey hair. “Anytime you encounter this class of people, it is a picture of despair, a picture of fading life. Another retiree Elder Chinwoke Ugwu who said he needed his pension and gratuity to “manage life until my creator beckons,” urged the incoming Governor to restore hope to the hopeless. “Please in the name of God, Your Excellency, let us have a sense of belonging for once before our funerals,” Ugwu pleaded. At ESBS, a former staff who gave his name as Augustine said in a voice laden with the mixture of anxiety and anger that his children had a father who could not cater for them.
“I cannot remember the last time I received my pension. As for my retirement benefits I cannot access them; government is withholding them for reasons not explained. I retired way back in 2001; there are others who retired before then, and yet no effort to pay us.” Augustine described the development as, “outrageous and man’s inhumanity to man.” He fumed: “What kind of people do we have in government? Men without passion, but only after their own welfare.” Referring to the crisis at the Enugu State House of Assembly, the old man quipped: “The battle has to do with the refusal of the Governor to lavish them with unearned money.
“At the 11th hour, the legislators issued orders for selfish purposes, but for eight years could not order the Accountant General or the Governor to pay arrears of pension and gratuity to the workers, even when we made representations to them.” Augustine concluded by remarking: “Ugwuanyi embodies the hope and expectations of our class of workers who donated and devoted their youth in government service.”
Emma Chukwuemeka, Associate Professor Public Administration at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka remarked: “In all the country’s Of the world, it has been the duty of every government to make some provision for the old age of their employees when they retire, either by the grant of some kind of life annuity (Pension or by payment of lump sum in the shape of provident fund, gratuity etc.) According to Professor Chukwuemeka, “If the employers are not provided with the retirement benefits, that would mean either the employees would have to be retained in service for life in which case there would be congestion in the service… “This would make government work unpopular and reduce the attractions of public service and the dignity of the state as an employer. It would also affect adversely the morale of those still in service.”
Professor Chukwuemeka referred to a case of one Mr. John Ano, a retired staff of the Enugu state Ministry of Agriculture. “He (John Ano) went to the headquarters of the of the ministry in Enugu to ask for Six months pension arrears owed him; when the pension was not paid he decided to take refuge in one of the abandoned vehicles in the premises of the ministry. On July 19, 1999, nine days from the day he arrived Enugu, his wife who accompanied him went to the Commissioner in charge of the ministry in tears and reported that her husband had died in the abandoned vehicle where they had resided for more than one week waiting for his pension which never came until his death.”
In his campaign speeches, Ugwuanyi appeared to have those categories of people in mind. The in-coming Governor, as if stamping his feat on commitment to workers had promised: “To provide improved conditions of service and working environment for public servants; to recruit young graduates into the public service, especially to fill the vacancies created by retirement and technological advancement; to implement a health insurance scheme and new pension scheme for public servants.”
Ugwuanyi in addition gave the assurance that his administration would not only continue with free basic education, but would introduce novel ideas to make public schools attractive to parents and students. Also in response to outcries by residents who are in constant running battle with landlords over exorbitant rents, Ugwuanyi promised what he called: “Social Housing Delivery” for the benefit of low and middle income earners. Josiah Nnam has confidence in the Governor- elect to deliver. Nnam however advised that the low income Housing should not be hijacked by politicians and the wealthy. “We will support him as we supported his predecessor.
He enjoys our goodwill, so as a pay back he has to give priority to programmes that will change our lives for the better,” he said. The Governor-elect is known for having a listening ear and would most likely keep his doors open to stakeholders that include the workers, the people. In so many ways, the man of the moment has demonstrated commitment to responsible governance in the belief that the essence of government, even politics is service to the people. And how fast he handles the challenges before him will definitely define his place in the next four years.