By: Chidi Onyemaizu (SSA)
To Gov. Ben Ayade, on Print Media
It has become compelling to draw the attention of the editorial directorate of the British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC to a recent shameful manipulated news documentary of the station’s Africa Eye sub desk with the above title which focused on only 4 pensioners out of the thousands upon thousands in Cross River State and clearly vented falsehood and manifested unprofessionalism to the personal advantage of one of its Staff.
The report pathetically fell short of acceptable journalism credo and ethics, leaving one to wonder how such a jaundiced and puerile report passed editorial scrutiny at the BBC headquarters in London.
It is either that the BBC deliberately engaged in shoddy investigative reporting or it lent itself, wittingly or unwittingly, as a tool to achieve a predetermined end- a hatchet job of sorts.
For example, it is ghoulish beyond belief that the title of the report suggested a holistic searchlight on issues bordering on pension in Nigeria yet the content was purely about Cross River pensioners.
And out of the population of pensioners in Nigeria which runs in millions, the BBC Reporter only settled for four pensioners in Cross River as case studies.
Tellingly, this is a State with thousands of pensioners, with local government pensioners alone standing at 7,000 whose pensions gulp almost half a billion Naira monthly and are paid without fail, yet, it took the BBC five months to reach just four local government pensioners for interview, among whom is one Margaret Abung Akpet, mother of Obaji Akpet, who introduced himself to State government officials as a BBC reporter, to represent the so called “hell” that pensioners go through in the State.
Now, why would the BBC be a judge in its own case? A conflict of interest it was for Obaji Akpet to have taken part in the investigation, which was a charade. Perhaps that explains why he was not introduced in the documentary as a BBC Reporter.
As an interested party, it was dishonest that the BBC masked Obaji’s identity as its employee and allowed him to be at the centre of wild and unsubstantiated allegations that sought to discredit the noble efforts of the Senator Prof. Ben Ayade led Cross River State government to dismantle an entrenched corrupt system which has over the years impeded corruption-free pension administration in Cross River and enabled the likes of Mrs Margaret ABUNG Akpet to circumvent the rules; clearly seen by the Governor’s Dissolution of the Pension Board shortly after the 2019 Verification Exercise (https://www.pmnewsnigeria.
com/2020/01/21/cross-river- govt-dissolves-pension-board/) an online report the BBC in its ‘thorough’ investigation neglected to report.
Contrary to the BBC report, there was never a time the Office of Auditor-General for CRS Local Governments declared the unverified names in its list as dead or ghost pensioners; rather they were merely tagged “SUSPECTED GHOST PENSIONERS”, having failed to come forward for verification to justify the payment of their pensions.
The list containing the names of those whose pensions were withheld for the above stated reasons which the BBC Reporter used to cross-check the names of the four persons they interviewed had as its title, List of suspected ‘ghost’ pensioners yet she repeatedly claimed that the said persons were declared dead by government just to fit her twisted narrative. What a dishonest act.
It is instructive to state that all verified pensioners in the state are paid their pensions without fail. In essence, the government is not owing any verified pensioner a dime. This is on record.
If the BBC had opted for an unbiased and professional investigative report without compromise and sentiment, its report would have noted that all pensioners, whose pensions were stopped for a while due to wrong names or computer numbers, wrong BVNs and Account Numbers, on presentation of evidence to correct same, have all been cleared and their pensions paid till date.
Now, it beats one’s imagination that a news medium of such standing as the BBC would fail to interrogate or investigate deeper to get to the root of the reasons the four pensioners it interviewed had issues with their pensions.
Perhaps, if this elementary requirement of investigative journalism was adhered to, the BBC would have saved whatever is left of its tainted reputation.
It may interest the BBC to note that in June 2019, the Government of Cross River State commissioned a verification exercise across the 18 local government areas of the state to verify the existence of almost 6600 pensioners receiving close to half a billion Naira monthly as pension.
The exercise held simultaneously in all the local government areas over a period of three months. Verification officers were sent to all the nooks and crannies of the state, including the homes of the pensioners who were not strong enough to visit the verification centers.
For the first time in the history of the State, pensioners were verified through WhatsApp Video from the comfort of their homes. Verifications were also conducted for pensioners outside the state and even those abroad in Canada, USA and the UK.
At the end of the exercise, pensioners were given another one year to present themselves for verification. In June 2020, one year after the initial exercise, 5000 out of the 6600 pensioners had been verified in the field and via video verification. This prompted the Office of Auditor General for Local Governments to release a preliminary report of ‘SUSPECTED ‘GHOST’ PENSIONERS and not DEAD PENSIONERS as the BBC falsely claimed, made up of over 1600 pensioners who had not turned up for verification.
The names of these 1600 pensioners who did not turn up for the verification exercise for varying reasons were published and circulated to allow the affected pensioners come forward to be cleared and verified.
The exercise commenced in June 2020 and has run till May 2021 and has seen 800 of the pensioners cleared, verified and paid their arrears of pension.
Consequently, this is the true case of the four pensioners the BBC captured in its “five months” of investigative report”, as well as few others with pension issues:
EWA MBA EKPENYONG
She was in the Auditor-General’s office for verification, but without waiting to be attended to, Mrs. Ekpenyong flared up and manhandled government officials and destroyed government properties.
When asked why she exhibited such erratic behaviour, she blamed it on pressure and then tendered a recorded apology.
Mrs. Ewa Mba Ekpenyong was later verified and her six months pension arrears paid.
GABRIEL EKUNKE OGAH
He was a dismissed Local Government staff on grounds of falsifying his age and documents. Curiously, Mr. Ogah would later wangle his name back into the pension payroll. His wife, Mrs Ekunke Ogah tried to use her position as Head of Local Government Administration, HOLGA to influence her husband’s reinstatement and caused rancor in a public office. It was on this basis that he apologized for his wife’s errant behavior. He has however, been verified and his six months pension arrears paid before the so-called BBC exposé.
He never presented himself for physical verification or video verification in Yala and has no Verification Slip. National ID is not a means of identifying a genuine Pensioner. He refused to present himself for verification when over 6000 of his colleagues were verified in Yala LGA and across the State.
She is not a Cross River state local government pensioner because her name cannot be found in the payroll.
MRS MARGARET ABUNG AKPET
She is a pensioner whose pension is regularly paid. Mrs Akpet tried to bribe a staff of the Pension Board to review her pension upward – an illegal and fraudulent act that the Cross River State government does not condone and has currently placed Angela Etta on disciplinary investigation.
It is interesting to note that nowhere did the BBC in its report show pensioners sitting on the floor, sleeping outside or standing in line for hours to receive their pensions in ‘hell’. This is because pensioners in Cross River State are not paid by hand but through bank transfers to their individual bank accounts.
For the avoidance of doubt, the vital documents that identify a genuine pensioner in the State are:
I. A Letter of Retirement
ii. A Pension Computation Sheet and
iii. Pensioners ID Card.
However, fraudulent elements who are either impersonating a dead pensioner or trying to clone a living pensioner’s documents lack the above documents and when they meet a brick wall at the Office of Auditor-General for Local Governments in their bid to cut corners, then go to town with frivolous allegations.
Essentially, in the course of the verification exercise, the Office of Auditor General uncovered the following:
*A list of over 700 pensioners who still have not appeared for verification for the past two years and now presumed ‘late’.
*A syndicate of pensioners who bribe pension officials to increase their pensions, alter their retirement details, pay them double pensions, exchange names of dead pensioners with that of their relatives and impersonate dead pensioners with other old people.
*An Association of fellow pensioners who deduct varying sums from fellow pensioner’s pensions amounting to 50m to 60m annually without the knowledge and consent of many of the pensioners thus leaving many unsuspecting innocent pensioners with the the impression that the government is not paying complete pensions.
This nefarious association claims the deductions are for pensioners’ welfare, yet nothing gets to those whose pensions are deducted.
The Cross River State government and the Office of Auditor General for CRS Local Governments have taken bold steps to end the systemic rot in pension management but rather than receive commendation, some people with vested interests, benefiting from the rot are engaged in mindless blackmail using the BBC which has fallen for their scam as a tool.
It is on record that since the Cross River State Government uncovered and stopped these corrupt acts it has in addition to paying its over 5000 legitimate pensioners promptly been able to save more funds to cause another 3000 new pensioners to be pay-rolled and they all have been faithfully receiving their pensions monthly via their bank accounts since 2019. A reality that a “5 month BBC investigation” could not discover.
The Genuine Pensioners in Cross River state have expressed their gratitude to the State Governor, His Excellency Senator. Prof. Ben Ayade for his love and compassion towards pensioners that has seen him faithfully release over N24 billion since 2015 to ensure their pensions are paid even through 3 recessions and with one of the lowest Federal Allocations, while other States with higher allocations were owing many months of salaries and pensions.
They are also happy with Mrs Franka Inok, FCA – the Auditor General for Local Governments, for her fortitude and boldness in tackling this systemic fraud in spite of the campaign of calumny against her person and Office, which incidentally is not involved in the payment of pensioners.
Since she came on board, pensioners have never had it so good. In the past, it used to take two years minimum for pensioners to get pay-rolled after retirement and with never ending illegal payments to get their files cleared. Mrs. Inok has put a stop to all that and had waged a constant battle with the Management of the Pensions Board to ensure pensioners retire and are pay-rolled promptly; upholding the oath to serve all people without fear or favor.
The CRSG wishes to thank all peaceful, law-abiding Genuine Pensioners and Senior Citizens for their patience during this ‘clean up’ verification exercise. With the recent introduction of WhatsApp Video Verification technology into our verification process; annual verifications will be simple and easy. Please continue to be law-abiding, shun bribery and fraudulent acts and continue to adhere to annual verification protocols.
In the light of all of the above, it is pertinent that the BBC behaves as a responsible media organisation by retracting its ill-motivated, one-sided documentary which was in essence a personal vendetta against the Cross River State Government by one of its staff; OBAJI ABUNG AKPET whose mother MARGARET ABUNG AKPET is a Cross River State pensioner, currently pay-rolled and receiving her pension.
Five months ago when the BBC claimed to have begun its investigation, all the pensioners as seen in their video had long been paid their pensions.
It is also imperative that the BBC institutes an investigation into the activities of OBAJI ABUNG AKPET and the circumstances that made him mislead the BBC and manipulate its platform to settle his mother’s personal pension issue.
The Cross River State Government frowns at the misuse of the BBC’s platform to twist the African narrative and spread propaganda that paints the African continent, particularly Nigeria, a country that hosts the most black people on earth, in a biased, racist fashion, magnifying our common human problems and keeping silent about our great achievements and advancements.
The BBC is reminded that not one country or continent is immune from the global pension crisis as highlighted in the Guardian UK 2019 Report titled; *UK ELDERLY SUFFER WORST POVERTY RATE IN WESTERN EUROPE* (https://www.google.com/
search?q=uk+elderly+suffer+ worst+poverty+rate+in+western+ europe&rlz=1CDGOYI_ enNG914NG914&oq=uk+&aqs= chrome.0. 69i59j69i57j69i61j69i65l3. 1647j0j4&hl=en-GB&sourceid= chrome-mobile&ie=UTF-8)
BBC’s failure to take steps to retract its patently flawed narrative on Cross River State Pensioners which verges on lies and blackmail would mean it is willing to sacrifice its credibility in Africa and further confirm reports and complaints in the last four decades of over 40 documented ethical breaches by BBC Reporters (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/