Nigeria: Wike, Unwilling to Pay Rivers Pensioners, Pledges N500 Million to Sokoto

Rivers State governor Nyesom Wike.
20 January 2021

Mr Wike recently received N78billion refund from federal government on behalf of Rivers state.

Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, Wednesday, pledged a N500 million donation for the rebuilding of a burnt market in Sokoto State.

Mr Wike's pledge, on behalf of the Rivers State government, is coming at a time his administration is yet to resolve a lingering dispute over the non-payment of pensions and gratuity to thousands of retired civil servants in the oil-rich state.

The money, according to a report by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), is for the rebuilding of the Sokoto Central Market destroyed by fire on Tuesday.

NAN reported that Muhammad Bello, a media aide to the Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal, disclosed in a statement that Mr Wike visited the scene of the fire incident barely 24 hours after.

Mr Wike was said to have expressed shock and dismay over the incident.

The Rivers governor said part of the N500 million was to support the victims of the fire incident.

He said whatever affected Sokoto State was of concern to Rivers State, adding that his administration would ensure the market was reconstructed and made functional again.

Mr Tambuwal, while conducting the Rivers governor around the fire scene, said 60 per cent of the 16,000 shops in the market have been destroyed by the fire.

Mr Tambuwal said firefighters were called in when the fire broke out.

Mr Wike and his entourage later visited the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa'ad Abubakar, in his palace where he condoled with the Sokoto State Government, the Sultanate Council and the people over the death of the state's commissioner for Home Affairs, Abdulkadir Abubakar, the Sultan's younger brother.

In his response, the Sultan noted the age-long relationship between Sokoto and Rivers, and thanked Governor Wike for his visit and support to the state.

Mr Wike , a few days ago, confirmed the receipt of N78 billion refund from the federal government, being money the Rivers government spent on repairing federal roads in the state.

"I have not touched a dime yet. I will use it for project execution," the governor said of the N78 billion.

Pensioners in Rivers State have repeatedly cried out that Mr Wike administration has not paid them their gratuities, pension arears since the inception of the administration in 2015.

The Chairperson of the Nigerian Union of Pensioners in the state, Collins Nwankwo, last December, threatened to lead his members into the street for a protest against the state government over the unpaid pensions, according to a report by Punch newspaper.

Mr Nwankwo said the pensioners had made several pleas to Mr Wike, and that the governor was just insensitive to their plight.

"It is very pathetic that the usual payment of gratuities, pension arrears and death benefits which hitherto was a thing of joy, has become a source of punishment to our living pensioners and the survivors of the deceased ones.

"Since the inception of the present administration in 2015, no dime has been paid in this direction and all efforts towards getting our government to consider the need to address them are never admitted. At a point, when all these efforts fail, we will embark on the protest. We will have to talk to those who will be able to walk," Mr Nwankwo said.

Mr Nwankwo told PREMIUM TIMES, Wednesday, that the pension union would issue a fresh statement next week on the issue.

'I need money for my eye drop, blood pressure and diabetes drugs'

Edward Abibo, a retired civil servant, is a former chairperson of the pension union in the state.

Mr Abibo, apparently angry with Mr Wike's attitude towards pensioners, told PREMIUM TIMES, Wednesday, "Rivers State government is even praying that the pensioners should die."

He condemned Mr Wike's pledge of money to Sokoto State and said the governor, regrettably, was behaving like his predecessors in office.

"He is throwing money about, trying to get Tambuwal to be a presidential candidate, so he can become his running mate.

"(Rotimi) Amaechi did a similar thing, (Peter) Odili did a similar thing, they did not succeed. Odili was giving cars to emirs. Amaechi sponsored Benue governor, sponsored Akwa Ibom governor. Amaechi didn't do anything in his second term. Now, this man is doing the same thing," Mr Abibo said.

"I have not been paid my pension increases since 2003 till date. I am collecting N20,000 whereas it should have increased to N30,000 or N35,000. And that is someone who retired on level 13 and served over 35 years. I am going to be 76 years old by July.

"My eye drop alone is N12,000 every month, my BP drugs and diabetes drugs are over N10,000 every month," he said.

This is not the first time Governor Wike has embarked on outrageous spending, while pensioners in the state are begging the government to pay them their entitlement.

The governor, in 2017, purchased SUVs worth hundreds of millions of naira for the 16 National Assembly members from the state, even when it appeared the lawmakers, with other cars in their possession, did not really need the governor's gifts.

The Commissioner for Information in Rivers, Paulinus Nsirim, did not respond to calls and a text message seeking his comment.

Wike's relationship with Tambuwal

Mr Wike, one of the most influential governors in Nigeria, has some grip over his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

He is said to have campaigned, albeit unsuccessfully, for his friend and political ally, Governor Tambuwal, to become the PDP presidential candidate for the 2019 election.

Mr Wike, in a 2018 interview with PREMIUM TIMES, however, said he did not support Mr Tambuwal.

He said Mr Tambuwal was his friend, just like other presidential candidates then like Bukola Saraki, Rabiu Kwankwaso and Ahmed Makarfi.

He nevertheless said he supported Mr Tambuwal to become the tenth speaker of the House of Representatives, against the stance of the PDP when Goodluck Jonathan was the president.

It is unclear, for now, if Mr Tambuwal would want to run for president again, in 2023, and if he would have Mr Wike's backing.

There is also an ongoing debate on the need to zone the presidency to the country's south, after President Muhammadu Buhari's tenure.

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