By: Edem Darlington, Calabar
Some affected staff of former Metro Calabar has again accused some officials of Akwa Ibom government and executive member of the National Union of Hotels and Personal Services Workers, Akwa Ibom Council of continuous attempt and connivance with the head of service of the state to defraud them of their gratuity and allowances running into millions of naira.
Documents at the disposal of this paper also revealed how the government of the state deliberately ignored several pleas by the suffering disengaged staff to get their pay-off using several delay tactics.
In a letter signed by representatives of the affected 85 member staff and seen by this paper. The group alleged the head of civil service in the state, Mrs. Ekereobong Akpan collaborated with the illegal union to deny them of their monies, maintaining that the continuous denial of their gratuity have left them in horrifying financial difficulty and psychological trauma.
Akwa Ibom State currently takes the largest share of the federal allocation in the country but many retirees and disengaged staff of the state government have continued to cry out for lack of payment of their pension and gratuity. Recently teachers in the state staged a protest march to the government house in the state over their unpaid pension.
One of the leaders of the group who did not want his name in print confided in this reporter, that some of their leaders have severally been offered bribes to stop pressing for the gratuity.
“Severally, some agents of government of Akwa Ibom State have offered us bribes so we can stop pressing for our money but we have continued to resist their antics because we cannot sale the right of others”
Also a letter obtained by this paper revealed that on 19th September, 2013 in response to a letter addressed to the head of civil service in the state, dated 10/08/2013, with the caption Rescue And Pay Us Our Entitlement: Distressed Cross River Hotel And Tourism Staff, Akwa Ibom Indigenes. The head of service in a letter with a reference number, HCS/AKS/S/199/T1./24 and addressed to one of the leaders of the group, Mr. Michale Akpan had confirmed receipt of the group’s request and acknowledge that government was looking into their case
The letter signed by one Samuel E. Asuquo for the head of service said “the matter was receiving attention in relevant government quarters”
But in a surprise twist, three years later, after persistent follow up and pressure for their money, the group said they were shocked to receive another letter from the head of service that their case “had since been concluded”
How can you conclude the case of old men and women who were disengaged from service without paying them their money? One of the affected staff asked in surprise.
This reporter made efforts to reach out the head of service Mrs. Ekereobong Akpan, who confirmed that the government owed the affected staff but denied that she is collaborating with any group to defraud those affected.
“My own is that I don’t want government to cheat anyone and I will not allow anyone to cheat government. All I can tell you is that we will try and pay them their money as soon we get approval from the governor” she said
Although Mrs. Ekereobong promised to look into the matter and get back to this reporter in two days, over four months after, she has failed to keep to her words or respond to several letters, calls and SMS sent to her.
When called to get his own side of the story, Mr. Uduak James, chairman of the National Union of Hotels and Personal Services Workers, Akwa Ibom Council, also refused to respond to calls or SMS after this reporter identified himself as a journalist.
He simply denied conniving with government officials to deny the affected staff of their gratuity and hanged up the phone. Responses from both the head of services, Mrs. Ekereobong Akpan and Mr. Uduak James both very key actors in the matter, suggests they are not comfortable speaking on the matter, thereby leaving serious suspicion.
Plight of the people
While the government has maintained sordid silent on the entire episode, the plight of the suffering staff have continued to worsen.
This reporter visited one of the affected staff in a government hospital outside the state where he was under-going a prostate cancer treatment.
The elderly man who said he used to worked as a waiter in the government owned hotel said
“look at me how the government of my state has allowed me wallow in pains and agony even after serving the state meritoriously for so many years. Even if they do not want to reabsorb some of us why not pay us off? The money would have gone a long way in taking care of my bills or even tackling this sickness at the very early stage.
“Now I am worried this sickness has entered advance stage which the chances of my survival is below average
I used to serve the current deputy governor of the state, Mr. Moses Ekpo, anytime he comes in as guest in the hotel. Suddenly they have forgotten about us. Is this how they have decided to treat us? He asked painfully.
The affected staffs of former metro hotels and tourism board were disengaged from the services of Akwa Ibom State government in 1994, after the creation of the state from old Cross River. They were asked to move over to Akwa Ibom State. Although their counterparts in Cross River were reabsorbed into the service, those of Akwa Ibom origin were neither reabsorbed nor paid-off.
They have continued to press home for the payment of their gratuity over 25 years after.
In 2012, former governor Godswill Akapbio ordered a screening exercise for the 85 affected staff. But 6 years after, they are yet to receive their money.
They affected staff said, several calls and letters to governor Emmanuel Udom have continued to meet bricks wall. As they governor and some elements around him seem unwilling to alleviate their sufferings.