If Leaders Before Us Had Done What We’re Doing, We’ll Not Be in this Crisis – NULGE President

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NATIONAL Record (NR): When we spoke yesterday, Comrade President, you said you were in a banking hall, and later you said were on the road from Ilesha to Abeokuta. As a result, I decided to text you the questions on our inquiry. We know how tight it is at this period of the year but we have been on this story for quite some time and we will be glad if you are able to respond to the issues.

Comrade Ambali: By nature, the questions you sent to me are personnel matters; they are not within my purview. The General Secretary and the Deputy General Secretary are in charge of personnel, so, I immediately forwarded the questions to them. However, at least on a personal ground, I can still give some information; that is why I had to get clearance from them, because they are personnel issues; you know, we politicians don’t handle personnel matters.

Comrade Ambali Akeem Olatunji, NULGE National President

Well, Comrade President, when we got wind of the gratuity and personnel challenges, we spoke to many of the retirees as well as a former National President who said his leadership saved about thirty-something million on the union’s pension account at the bank before he left office. We felt it will be unfair not to get the side of the union before we go to press.

Comrade Ambali: Well, I wasn’t there then when Comrade Kingsley was National President. As you may know, I came in newly. Some of these things I don’t know. What I realised was that when I was coming on board as the National Treasurer; I realised that there were lots of mishandling of that case. One, they didn’t start when they were supposed to start; they started around 2014. Ordinarily, they were supposed to have started as far back as 2004, 2006.

Even when they started, it was the state councils of the union that were paying salaries, not the national body; and when he state councils were paying the money, and because they were at liberty to pay, we discovered very late that some of them did not deduct the percentage that was supposed to have been contributed by their employees; some deducted and did not remit. It was in 2016 that we centralised salary payment to employees of the union and we took over the payment of salaries for National Secretariat to guarantee internal control.

It was at this point that we realised a lot of anomalies. People were just placing themselves on various grade levels without following extant rules. So we decided, and for us to also have an internal control so that they also do not recruit without the approval of NEC, and at NEC level, we got that approval and we centralised salaries payment. Having centralised salaries payment, the burden now becomes that of National Secretariat, whether they had remitted or not. One thing that should be noted is that it is not that they were remitting to National Secretariat and National Secretariat was not paying the money; from our investigation, that was not the case.

What we now did, during the later era of the late Comrade Khaleel, I was the National Treasurer; I discussed the issue with him, that if we allow this problem to continue, it will affect the retirement plan of our employees. So what did we do? We decided to contact NLC and NLC gave us the actuary, a specialist, to work out the modalities of payment to determine the actual entitlement of each employee; whether serving or retired. This was computed and it was published; it was sent to all the state councils and all the employees; those who have complaints and those not happy.

Generally, as employees, no worker wants to be under the contributory pension law; so all of them started complaining that we should return them back to the old pension scheme and we said no, once there is a law that says mandatorily all employees should go under the contributory pension act, we can’t breach the law.

Having done that, you know we had assumed the responsibility of those who did not remit and those who remitted and were diverted at the state level, the leadership at the National Secretariat will have to take over the responsibility. When we took over the responsibility, we started by calculating the entitlements for everybody especially those that had retired and we realised that even the gratuity I inherited was about N200 million. Even if I used the check-off dues of the union to pay for one year, we couldn’t have finished paying, which means we couldn’t have paid salaries to the present employees and we will also not do anything.

So at the leadership level, we also must be smart about what we were doing. We now said, let us prioritise by doing programmed payment since some of them who refused to even join the scheme in the beginning, they are burden, and we have to pay them. The first problem we ran into, you know, by that law, whoever died on employment, his own payment is times four because we were supposed to have done life assurance scheme for them and which had not been done, like so many state governments and many employers; so we inherited.

There was one that was so pathetic, which is Comrade Umbugado. Comrade Umbugado was the General Secretary before the appointment of Comrade Irapakob. I met it on ground that his entitlement was not paid so I now said since this man who served as General Secretary has died, let us pay his family, his next-of-kin; so we paid.

You know, some of these very senior officers, they know how to arm-twist us to pay them and we have started paying. For example, Comrade Irapakob that is complaining; his total entitlement was about N14 million, or thereabout, and we have started paying. We now owe Irapakob, after all the payments since two years ago; about five point something million naira. And what did we do again? Irapakob started running around, after some of them joined to bring the union into litigation and crisis for over two years, a litigation that consumed the money that we are supposed to be using to pay people.

Now, we said okay, Irapakob served as a former General Secretary, he applied, some of them applied that they don’t want us to be paying into their RSA direct, that because of the programmed payment at that level, it would be difficult for them to have a lump sum of money. They entered into an MoU with us saying that we should pay them direct and we started paying them. So when we have fund, we pay some of them one million each; there are some we pay N500 thousand each, and we have been paying that regularly. The pressure they are mounting now is that we should jettison the MoU, abandon all other union responsibilities, used our whole money and pay them once and for all.

We said no to this demand. Some of them contributed to this problem, to the crisis; some of them worked at the state level. When they were the state secretaries, some of them did not do what they were was supposed to have done; they did not remit the money to the RSAs and now we are helping to resolve the problem, we are paying.

As at today, we have put Irapakob on programmed payment every month and he is earning close to N500 thousand every month and we paid Irapakob more than one year. So what is there for Irapakob cannot be more than one point five million naira or thereabout.

What we now did with respect to Irapakob, as a former General Secretary, and having come back and abandoned those who took us to court and started this problem, we resolved to compensate him by placing him on consolidated salary till death so that we exempt him from that pay and we have been doing that. Apart from that, Irapakob came back sometime a go and said that his wife was kidnapped; we gave him money. He came back the second time, he said he had medical problem, we gave him money; even during this Christmas and New Year, we gave him money as Christmas bonus.

You know, because the problem has protracted over time; they wanted me to do miracle but one fact is that some of the states and local governments are not paying salaries. Check-off dues payment to unions is a function of salary payment. So if they don’t pay us, how do we pay them?

What I also inherited, which God has assisted me to resolve is that those who are in employment; there deductions were not remitted, but I promised God and man that if I was elected, I will cancel that, whatever it takes; once we pay staff salaries, their pension deductions will be remitted, and we have faithfully kept to that, even with all those who are in employment now; once we pay them salaries, we remit their Contributory Pension immediately; it is automated. But you should also know that this money we are remitting monthly is not about their contribution alone, employer’s contribution is part of it and it is from the meagre resources that we are using to pay.

In the past months since I assumed office, if they have been faithful, they will know that I have done something. Even recently, I sent for December, those who retired between 2015 and now, they had not been paid regularly before I assumed office, but I said no. We have been paying Maria [Lebeke], Irapakob, all of them regularly; at least, they should admit that we are paying them.

What of those who had died and had not been given one naira? I said to Irapakob and others, please, give some brake, let me pay those who had retired before you people, and we have started paying those ones. As at today, I paid over ten million naira…

[…cuts in] You mean you paid N10 million since you assumed office?

Comrade Ambali: No, not since I assumed office, I mean this December. I have been paying regularly, but it is not every month. What we have been doing is that, every quarter, we save money and we pay; that is what we are doing. Those who are on old pension, we are paying those ones continuously; but those who are on contributory pension, because we can’t muscle the money once, we pay quarterly and we are paying them. In fact, it came to a stage and we said, let us do verification of these pensioners; let us know those that are on old pension; how many of them are still alive, because we are just paying them. So we did verification, even the number of staff we have and we discovered that so many staff were illegally recruited, a situation which had swollen the salary burden of the union. So, all these were attended to so that we sanitise the system.

If not because of the many litigations we inherited, I inherited over 25 court cases when I came on board. Before Khaleel died, there were over 45 litigations from career officers alone, not politicians. So we said okay, most of these crises, we can resolve them through reconciliation; through ADR; alternative dispute resolution.

See Maria [Lebeke], for example; Maria came, we paid her about N500 thousand; the second week, she wrote a petition to the NLC complaining. Some of them who are complaining loudest, we are paying them, and you know, union fund, like I said earlier, is about check-off dues, and check- off dues collection is a function of salary payment. We sympathise with them. Had it been other leaders before us had done what we are doing now, we will not be in this crisis.

I told Irapakob, you are not fair to me. When I was the Treasurer, and you were there, I raised a memo to get N17.5 million from the President then to distribute to pension account. That was not my function but because I am also concerned as a career officer. We are the ones engaging state governments that they are not paying, but you can’t show that understanding but let us be paying.

I think we have been fair enough to them. We empathise with them because if somebody owes you money and you have not gotten the total amount of money paid to you, you will not be happy.

President, we gathered that part of the money deducted and saved from salaries of staff for pension was used to buy the national headquarters complex of the union?

Comrade Ambali: Well, I do not know about that, I was not in the national leadership at that time. The headquarters was built or gotten during Comrade [Kingsley] Ogba’s tenure. You know I came in this year. I came in March this year, and you can see the little we have done. That is why I am appealing to them, let them also show understanding. I am committed to continuously paying them as we get money. We thank God that some of these court cases are reduced. You know, when you have cases in court across the country, it is not easy; you have to pay your lawyers and you have to pay other bills, you have to pay staff salaries.

That is why it is said that career officers should leave politics to the politicians; they are employees. There is one of them who said the former President promised to make him General Secretary because of his role then. I said I was not there; if my predecessor promised you and he was unable to do that, is that what you should use to cause crisis this year? And he started fighting. He was the one that is causing all these litigations here and there and he brought Irapakob into it, and this is the Irapakob that the man was fighting Khaleel because of, and Irapakob is now joining him until recently when Irapakob now wrote to us and said he had a rethink and has withdrawn his support for them and we put Irapakob on consolidated salary, and this is Irapakob that is making trouble again.

He got a lawyer; the lawyer wrote to us; we called Irapakob, he denied; saying he never got any lawyer. I had to forward a copy of that letter to him. The same thing with Oguntimehin! They got a lawyer and were still denying that they got a lawyer. Irapakob took us to National Pension Commission; we were fined; we paid; so what do they want again? I am also a human being; all these things I am doing to make them happy; of course it is not good for a leader to allow his employees and pensioners to suffer. Whatever you sow today, you reap tomorrow, but they should also understand that the union is not buoyant.

The little resources we are getting, let us use it diligently. Did they think that we should continue to pay them who are the big ogas? What of the junior ones that retired, what of the dead ones; what happen to their families, their next-of-kin after them?

As at today, my conscience is clean; I am happy that this December, at least those who had lost their husbands who were employees of the union got money. Let them wait for us, in the next quarter, we will pay them too; we will be paying like that but if they push us too much, we will choose to work in line with the pension law; we will not pay them directly; we will be paying into their RSAs directly.

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