Suleiman Anyalewechi, Aba
With the time line of December, 2023 set by the Governor Alex Otti led Abia State government for the settlement of the mountain of salary arrears inherited from past regimes drawing nearer, its verification team on Wednesday, October18, stormed Abia State Polytechnic and Abia State University Teaching Hospital, ABSUTH, all in Aba.
The state government has made it clear that a credible verification exercise remains a major precondition for the clearance of the several months of salary backlog which it inherited from past regimes in the state.
An earlier exercise carried out internally by the institutions concerned about two months ago, was considered not satisfactory, a development that has forced the present one.
NewsCritic online reports that Gov Otti, during his inauguration on May 29, 2023 had promised to prioritize settlement of all salaries and pensions arrears inherited from his predecessors.
The backlog of salaries and pensions at both Abia State Polytechnic and ABSUTH as at the time of reporting, October 18, 2023 stood at 40 and 27 months respectively.
As at the time newscritic.com.ng visited the two institutions on Wednesday October 18, staffers were seen clutching files containing their employment details and patiently queuing to be captured by the verification team.
Informed sources revealed that the verification exercise is primarily aimed at establishing the accurate state of the workforce and monthly wage bills of the institutions.
NewsCritic online gathered that before the infamous staff retrenchment of between 2019 and 2022 that resulted in no fewer than 300 staff being sent packing at Abia State Polytechnic, the staff strength hovered around 1000 and 1,200.
While the monthly wage bill was estimated to be between N180 million and N190 million.
But, at the ABSUTH, the exodus of staffers, mainly occasioned by the protracted industrial actions that rocked it almost throughout the tenure of the immediate past administration, has significantly affected its staff strength. Its monthly wage bill is believed to be about N144 million presently.
Most of the qualified personnel are believed to have exited its employment books, due to non-payment of salaries and unconducive working environment.
Efforts to speak with the team leader of the verification team Mr Stephen Okafor were not successful, as he was said to be busy shuttling between ABSUTH and Abia Polytechnic.
But a source close to the team said the exercise is in conformity with the ongoing general verification in Abia State, with a view to capturing accurate data on the state’s work force.
Similarly, attempts to have the management of ABSUTH led by the Acting Chief Medical Director, CMD, Prof John Augustine Chikezie to comment on the development proved abortive.
However, most of the staff who volunteered comments expressed support for the exercise, noting that in addition to providing accurate data for the government for effective policy formulation, it will serve to correct some of the misconceptions about the teaching hospital.
They are of the opinion that the feedback from the exercise will assist the government in addressing the challenges of the institution, as well as help in repositioning it.
The Abia state government has said that the process for the offsetting of the salary arrears will commence immediately the verification exercise is concluded.
Prince Okey Kanu, the state Commissioner for Information and Culture, had earlier in the week reiterated government’s commitment towards clearing the salary arrears, while briefing the press after the Executive Council meeting.