Professors & unpaid gratuities

Varsity dons protest unpaid gratuities
By Dele Fanimon, Guardian, Nigeria, January 18, 2006


EXASPERATED by years of "waiting for Godot," the Association of Retired Professors, University of Ibadan chapter, has sent a passionate appeal to the Federal Government to pay their entitlements in their lifetime.

Chairman of the Association, Professor Ayo Bamgbose, who led other professors to the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) House, Ikeja, yesterday said as at December 2005, pensioners from the premier university were being owed "equivalent of 23 full months of pension arrears totalling N1.56 billion."

Besides, Bamgbose said his members were also owed four years, 2002 to 2005, gratuities, amounting to N513.5 million, bringing the total to about N2.07 billion.

According to the emeritus professor, who led about 15 other professors whose ages range between 65 and 90 years from Ibadan, any further delay in the payment of
their entitlements may further send some of them to their early graves.

He said it was pathetic that of about 5,650 pensioners, academic and non-academic, from the university, 1,750 had died over the years due to poverty and inability to take care of their medical expenses.

The professor cited the case of a colleague, Prof. Fatai Giwa, a professor of physics, saying the don died some months ago out of frustration.

According to him, Giwa was on pace-maker, a blood pumping machine fixed to regulate a failing heart and he was pilling up medical bills which became unbearable and unsustainable for him.

Bamgbose related that at a point, the late Giwa took up a job with the University of Maiduguri, against his wish, to sustain his family. But he died within two weeks of taking the job.

Said he: "Some of us are above 90 years. We need medical attention. In civilised countries, pensioners are regarded as senior citizens; they are given free healthcare, they are given free ride in municipal buses. But here, the pensioner is made to contend with unpaid pensions even as he is confronted with expensive medication and sundry expenses."

Bamgbose said initially the university authorities were taking loans from the bank to pay pensioners with the hope that government would reimburse it. This was stopped, in 2001 when the authorities felt it was no longer feasible, he said.

He debunked a recent report that all universities pension arrears have been paid, saying "the Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan has categorically stated that the university recently received only N112 million of this amount."

Also, the retired don described a suggestion by President Olusegun Obasanjo during a media chat that the pensions debt be converted into government bonds as "most uncharitable and callous."

He said apart from the uncertainty of the pensioners concerned being alive to cash the bond at maturity, it would have become much depreciated by inflation, adding that "it is highly unusual for emoluments to be paid compulsorily with bonds."

Bamgbose, therefore, said government should pay their outstanding gratuities in full, adding that such payment should be made through individuals' bank accounts and not in bonds.

According to the retired professor, the debt forgiveness granted Nigeria to the tune of $18 billion which would reduce the annual foreign debt servicing payments should make the payment of pensioners faster and easier.

"Assuming that the annual debt-serving payment was $2 billion, 60 per cent debt forgiveness will reduce the annual debt servicing payment by $1.2 billion which translates to N168 billion per annum," he said.

Besides, he added: "There is also the excess windfall income from crude oil sales, which brings into the coffers of government far more than is budgeted. The budgeted income from petroleum is $33 per barrel, but the current world price is bout $57 per barrel and Nigeria exports about three million barrels per day. The excess income is about $22 per barrel per day which translates to N10.08 billion per day.

"These are favourable and enabling circumstances that government should use to alleviate distress and poverty in the polity and in particular, pay in full the arrears of pensions and gratuities of the pensioners of University of Ibadan."

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