A group of aggrieved Local Government Health Pensioners in Anambra State are now poised for a legal battle with the State’s Joint Accounts Allocation Committee (JAAC) over its refusal to pay them the 60% Consolidated Health Salary Structure (CONHESS) entitlement approved by the State Governor, Chief Willie Obiano since January 2015, while they were in service.
The affected health pensioners said that after dialogue and other entreaties to JAAC failed, they had written to the State Governor informing him of the travesties at JAAC and requesting his intervention.
The Chairman of the Group, Ralph Okoye, Esq and Secretary, Dr. Emmanuel Obiano, who briefed journalists after their meeting at the Awka South Local Government Secretariat, Awka, on Thursday said that besides the petition to the Governor, their lawyer had served a pre-action notice on JAAC seeking to initiate a legal process to compel the full payment of their entitlements with 24% annual cumulative interest and 13% cumulative annual inflationary recompense from January 2015 till the case is determined.
Besides, a 21-day notice of peaceful protest referenced: MHWUN/ANSC/COR/VO16/18 dated August 18, 2021, they said, had been served on the State Governor on their behalf by the Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MWHUN), Anambra State Chapter.
Another 7-day Freedom of Information (FOI) request made on their behalf by their lawyers has been served on the State Commissioner for Local Government who serves as Chairman of JAAC and the Secretary of JAAC to furnish them with relevant information and records pertaining to the financial transactions of JAAC and the 21 Local Government Councils in the State. The information sought, they said, are incidental to matters relating to pensions and gratuity of local government pensioners.
They said that at the expiration of the 7-day ultimatum prescribed by FOI Act 2011, and with JAAC releasing the information and records demanded, the pensioners will commence filing of processes in court for other remedies, adding that where JAAC fails, an action for the breach of the FOI Act would be instituted against the Commissioner for Local Governments/JAAC Chairman and the Secretary of JAAC.
They added that the peaceful protest planned for the next three weeks, in the event that the matter was not resolved, was billed to take place in the State’s major towns of Awka, Onitsha, Nnewi and Ekwulobia. By the end of September, they will open their case against JAAC and its principal officers pursuant to their Pre-Action Notices.
The group reiterated that the entitlement of the health pensioners is not in doubt as it has followed all due processes and secured approval of relevant authorities including the Local Government Service Commission (LGSC) as well as the Auditor-General for Local Governments.
The entitlement, they said, was a fall-out of the negotiations between the State branch of Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MHWUN), and the State Governor Chief Willie Obiano for an upward review of their CONHESS from the 40% it used to be to 60% which the government approved and pegged the effective date of payment to January 2015.
The group said that in spite of this approval, health workers in the local government system were inadvertently omitted, prompting a June 22, 2015 letter by MHWUN vide MHWUN/ANSC/GHM111 notifying the state government of the omission and for the inclusion of their members in the local government system hitherto omitted.
Following this, they said, the then HOS of Anambra State, Mr. Chidi Ezeoke through a letter No. HOS/ED/RR/13/T.I/279 dated July 2, 2015, directed the Commissioner for Local Governments to effect the payment of the said 60% CONHESS to health workers in the Local Government system with effect from January 2015 and wondered why they should not be paid theirs as a consequential adjustment in their pensions and gratuity since they were still in service then.