The former governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi, and the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige have engaged in a war of words over N35 billion arrears of pension and gratuity in Anambra State.
The Vice Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the 2019 elections, Obi was reported to have said in a media interview that he inherited N35 billion arrears of pension and gratuity.
Senator Ngige took over as the governor of Anambra State in April 2003 and after a long legal battle, he was removed by the Supreme Court in March 2006 and Mr. Obi was enthroned.
The claim has drawn the ire of Ngige who described it as false and mischievous.
Senator Ngige in a statement from his media office signed by Nwachukwu Obidiwe accused Obi of being in the habit of falsifying the history of the state and assault the memories of the people, all in an attempt to discredit his predecessor.
According to the statement, “He (Obi) creates a mischievous silhouette of every contribution that preceded his administration as if Anambra came into being with his ascension to office . It is certain. Mr. Obi’s problem with statistics and history is orchestrated and deliberate.
“It aligns well with his sustained efforts to distort, defile and destroy all previous efforts, which stood Anambra firmly on solid human and infrastructural integrity before his assumption of office in March 2006. Unfortunately, violating the memory of the people is quite a herculean task especially where concrete facts refuse to make selves available for vitiation .
“We wish therefore to place on record that the payment of salaries as and when due in Anmabra State commenced in June 2003 under the Chris Ngige administration who also authorized the payment of two months salary arrears.
“The administration went a step further to invite the Nigeria Union of Pensioners and an agreement in November 2003 for a new 143% rise in pension package, payable retroactively June 2003. The payment was affected in December that year with seven-month new package arrears.”
The statement noted that when Governor Obi assumed office in 2006 and started his payment of old pensions arrears in 2008, the quantum of arrears was only about N7 billion.
It said, “We do not therefore understand why he is claiming to have paid N35b except he is smartly annexing all the payments made under Ngige who also cleared N42B state salary and gratuity arrears as well as N15B salary and gratuities arrears at the local governments.
“It is high time this effortless falsification of Anambra history was checked . Ngige left no debt for Obi except the tiny arrears of old rates pension, that were not up to N4b. The reason was that most of the affected workers returned from Enugu, and reconciliation ongoing with the Enugu State Government by the time Ngige exited office.
“This also brings to mind, the issue of return of schools to the mission which Obi ceaselessly claim in exclusivity. The fact is that the exercise had to wait for over two decades for Ngige since Jim Nwobodo last returned St. Monica, Ogbunike and St. Charles College, Onitsha during the second republic.
“Ngige had to resurrect the vision and pulled the needed political will with series of meetings, involving the missions and workers unions, culminating in the return of the first batch of schools during the first term of the 2004/2005 academic session, with 25 percent of secondary schools in the Catholic /Anglican dioceses and 11.78 percent of affected primary schools in mission compounds -all totaling 13 secondary schools and 51 primary schools .
“The second stage was billed for the first term of 2005/2006 academic session while the final stage, where all the remaining schools would be handed over was slated for 2006/2007 session. To cement the process, he further left the sum of N2.4b UBE fund in a Zenith bank account for the rehabilitation of primary and secondary schools.
“How then will Obi be claiming at every forum that he returned schools to the missions, without a deserving tribute to the man who laid the solid foundation, indeed returned the first batch of schools?
“It is the same organized distortion of facts and willful destruction of legacy left by his predecessor, that made Obi in conjunction with his then APGA National Chairman, Victor Umeh deny the sum of N13.87B which Ngige left behind and rather, set up the Justice Ononiba Panel to probe him.
“The Panel did not only confirm the humongous amount, it also heaped encomiums on Ngige for selfless stewardship to the State.
“Why then should Mr. Obi not acknowledge the contributions of others and give honour to whom it is due? Statesmanship dies where a leader prefers to bury the achievements of predecessors in the promotion of self.”