“Today we kneel down with our heads bowed in shame and hunger with our feeble hands raised up (heaven wards) in lamentation, supplication and prayers to the Almighty God, the all knowing God, the God of justice, God of the oppressed and God of vengeance, to hearken to the voices of the oppressed and systematically and tactically mass eliminated or murdered gerunds, retired elder statesmen and women of this country mainly in Imo state. May he avenge their sufferings and gradual deaths and may their oppressors and persecutors never know peace or live to witness ripe old age and may their descendants never live to enjoy the fruits of their hard labour and may their offsprings depart untimely if they attempt to join public service”. The above statement is credited to one Mr. Ethel Duru, who retired as a director in Imo civil service.
This column is perplexed, vexed, worried, concerned and committed to these harmless, feeble elder statesmen and women – (pensioners) who gave their energy talents, treasures and time so that our society may thrive and progress in peace. It is about one year since December 2016 that their plight was aggravated and they were sent into limbo in Imo state. Since then, their fate still hangs in the balance with many victims bowing to cold hands of sickness, sufferings and death.
With the coming on board of the Rescue Mission in Imo state in 2011 and the so called Change Agenda Government in Nigeria in 2015, one issue that has remained constant, recurring decimal, controversial, and defied all known solutions, is pension matters. It has taken its tolls and yet the solution is not in sight. There have been calculated intrigues, scams and other devices to rip off these old pensioners of their hard won savings, and outstanding statutory entitlements.
The instant, lingering and sustained case in Imo state seems to invite the angels from heaven to proffer solutions and if the angels come they are likely to be corrupted by sons of men. Before the present administration came on board in 2011, it was alleged that pensioners were being owed three months to ten months arrears of monthly pensions gratuities. Today after over fifteen official verification exercises and data capturing schemes and percentage cuts, the people are now being owed between 15 to 36 months. There is no single pensioner in Imo state today that is not being owed by the state government. Some who retired since 2013/14 have not been captured and those who earned their last promotion before leaving the civil service have not had their pension documents regularized simply because their files are locked up in the government house in the office of the SGI while the pensions board has been scrapped and its job taken over by a make shift un-professional committee while pensions board staff are rendered redundant.
The Imo state government last year decided arbitrarily to appropriate to its 60% of these retired peoples wages for which the victims went to court and got favourable judgment declaring that nobody should tamper with their statutory entitlements. Since then, the sixty percentage which was illegal confiscated by government has not been reimbursed nor any payment made to them since January 2017. The President was alarmed when he came back on medical leave to learn about the plight of these categories of Nigerians so much that he ordered for the release of another bailout of the paris club fund for the states for payment of workers salaries and pensions. It was even stipulated that the refund must be channeled towards clearing backlogs.
Again, here in Imo state, government began another round of verification of pensioners in August this year. In September, rescue government told the world press that she was going to pay six months arrears in two installments. But since September 2017, these unfortunate men and women have been convening at the IICC Owerri, spending borrowed fare to be issued dud cheques and a few were paid only one month pension out of the six months arrears.
Official source has since revealed that the Imo government authorities were able to pay only one month pension. Government mouth piece used the death of the husband of the State Accountant General as an excuse. An official alarm was even raised about the hoax discovery of N660 million scam for which no one of those arrested was tried, convicted or the money ever recovered.
Another December is now at hand and Imo pensioners are still going cap in hand to beg food, while passionately appealing to the “Almighty Rescue god of Imo state” to release them from this bondage. A labourer is entitled to his wages. Pension is neither loan or gratis. It is the pensioners savings.
We appeal to the conscience of Imolites, great and small to rise to the plight of these aged and ailing fathers and mothers. Thousands of them have departed without enjoying their pensions while their gratuities are used to enrich the politicians and their surrogate. This is an aberration and criminal abomination crying to heaven for vengeance.
May the souls of all pensioners who died in this struggle and the soul of our Comrade and NUP President, Chief Ezeji rest in peace.