We are spending over N1.2bn monthly on pensions — Gov Okowa

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Continued from Wednes-day edition

The Executive  Governor of Delta State, Senator (Dr) Ifeanyi Okowa hosted members of the Nigerian Guild of Editors during the 14th All Editors Conference in Asaba, Delta state last week. During the executive session of the conference, Editors used the period to ask him few questions about corporate governance, his style of leadership, 2019 general elections and roles of the Independent  National  Electoral Commission in local government elections. The Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of Nigerian NewsDirect Dr Samuel Ibiyemi participated in the executive session whereby Dr Okowa explained reasons of being confident to win re-election in 2019. Okowa  also explained  in the executive interview session with Editors what he has done to improve revenue generation, upgrade Asaba Airport downgraded by the federal government before his resumption in 2015 and roles of the media. Excerpts.

Can we say this is the right time for your re-election cam- paign?

There is time for campaign, the campaign has not started.  We have a lot to talk about what we have done, about the process and what we have for the future. If as it is in many countries, we are just to talk about what we have achieved and what we have been able to plan to put place,  possibly I would not have anybody to compete with me. Well,that is not the politics in Nigeria. We will go to the field to campaign and we will go to the field to defend our votes. I am sure that if the election is credible, I will be re-elected into office.

Can you tell us more about Delta beyond Oil?

I do not have to mention Delta beyond oil before you know that we have stick into that, when we are beginning to talk about job creation. Our youth, agriculture, entrepreneurship programs, when we talk about skills training entrepreneurship programs and growing entrepreneurs, growing persons into agricultural enterprises, begin to develop people in many other facets of life, that  is Delta beyond oil. All these ones are these entrepreneurs that are coming out to begin to train more entrepreneurs as we increase the number of people going from one micro business gradually with funding, they grow to become smaller businesses and probably medium scale in the future, that truly is Delta beyond oil. In the past, we just stand back, it is either you are working with government or you are working with the oil company. You are relaxed because the oil money is coming. It is no longer so. We are already over-populated enough, public space well over 50,000 workers at the moment; it was about 60,000 when we came in. in the public service,  that is not right but we are beginning to make people rely on themselves and they are beginning to grow their own business for themselves. That truly is Delta beyond oil.

There has been an allegation of being owed pensions by your government, what is your Stand on this?

The issues of past pensions in this country we need to understand it. As at today, we have what we call a contributing pension scheme. Initially about over 20 states subscribed to that scheme but as at today, only eight states are remaining.

Many of those who entered into the contributory pension scheme have exited from it .It is a program for the future and a program that should be ordinarily embraced by all states but unfortunately, it comes with a lot of difficulty

Once you enter into the scheme, what you see is that you begin to pay the pensions of those who are “not” because you need to qualify at a particular stage, so if you have only about 5years to exit, you cannot enter into the scheme and those persons are in the old pension schemes.

That is one level of pension scheme. Then, for those who are in the contributory pension’s scheme, you are going to pay about 7.5per cent which in some states have been reduced to five per cent, and then the State pays 8.5 per cent of your salary into the scheme as her own contribution.

Then, you are expected to begin to pay what they call past services and that is what is driving many states out of the scheme. Paying for past services implies that if a worker has spent 10 years or 15 years before joining the scheme, everything we are supposed to have paid for the past 10 years and 15 years, the State compulsorily will begin to pay. The money in quantum overtime until we are able to pay all that past services and it is a difficult thing to do.

We came in at a time when we are already engaged in the scheme in 2007 but unfortunately we are not paying for the past services, we are paying the contributions as a state. So, we have a huge volume of billions of naira which comes in considering also the number of workers that we have. The billions of naira were being  owed because we have  not pay the past services.

That is what we have been doing since we came in 2015. We have been paying our regular contribution. For those who are in the old pension scheme which most states are practicing we pay them in full, we are not owing a kobo. However, payment from our past services  is a lot  and it is now something that we can as a State sort out in a little while.

As at today, we have up scaled our contribution from N300 million to N500 million for the past service monthly. So, as at today, I pay about N500million for past services, N330million for contribution on monthly basis, and N380million for old pension scheme.

So, we are spending over N1.210billion  for pensions on a monthly basis alone.   It is huge, I know that many States cannot afford it; Can we go back to the old pension scheme? I will not because I know that we can take the pains of today to stabilize tomorrow. But many states that entered into the contributory scheme have pulled away to keep on paying monthly pension scheme.  However, at a point in time, it is going to become very difficult for them.

So, I am ready as a Governor within the years that I am doing by the Grace of God to take up that pain to continue to pay for the past services because I know that the person that will come after me will not be in that trouble anymore. He will be on an auto run once I have been able to pay for the past services.

So, we are doing a lot to try to improve on that, we are also hoping that by God’s grace anytime we have sufficient money, that comes at a point in time will help to put in some bulk  of money to support the pension scheme. We had at a point in time to give about N2billion in some months that we have some good save to support that scheme.

As at today, what we are doing is N500million after negotiation with the Pension platform. To pay salary, we spend about N7.7billion on salaries, over N1.2billion on pensions monthly. That takes us to about over N8billion a month on pensions and salaries. Many States of the federation do not spend up to N2bn per month on salaries. It is a difficult thing but we are doing our best.

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