–      IMSU; our colleagues dying of hunger, record more deaths

–      Imo Poly set for mother of all protests

The self acclaimed Hope Uzodinma led shared prosperity government in Imo State, that has been flaunting it’s rebuilding, reconstruction and restoration mantra is presently embattled and pummeled on all sides with protests, agitations, complaints and ill-will, arising from non-payment of salaries, pensions and other statutory emoluments of workers and retirees in all sectors in the state.

Imo pensioners numbering over 2,000, on Tuesday, 30th June, 2020, barricaded the government house to protest what they referred to as insensitivity and lack of sincerity on the part of the state government for reneging on it’s promise to commence payment of pensions on Friday 26th June, 2020.

According to them, the Secretary to the State Government, Cosmas Iwu, who addressed them when they staged an earlier protest in respect of the same issue, told them to exercise patience, promising that government will address their grievances and start paying pensions arrears as from 26th of last month.

They described government’s refusal to pay them their pensions as at when due to enable them feed and buy drugs as signing their death warrants, because the Covid-19 lockdown and attendant consequences drastically affected their children, who would have come to their aid. “Besides, most of them are equally owed several months arrears of salary by the state government”.

The senior citizens expressed sadness that about forty-nine (49) pensioners have died since January this year “and from the look of things, more will die if nothing is done urgently, because “we are being ravaged by old age induced illnesses. If we cannot feed and access medication, what else does the government wish us, if not death”.

Recall that Imo pensioners in the state are owed arrears from March 2020 till date, and outstanding of between 12-40 months.

In the same vein, staff of Imo State University (IMSU) Owerri, are also groaning and lamenting the non-payment of their salaries, which according to them has led to several hunger induced deaths in the university within the past few months. A reliable source in the university who pleaded anonymity said, “as I speak to you now, there are four corpses of some of our vibrant academic  and non Academic staff in the mortuary. The most painful is that of a 45 year old lecturer in the Department of Computer Science, who died of complications arising from high blood pressure. How do you expect a man who has five (5) children and other dependants to cope when he is owed several months salary?”, he queried.

Some staff of the university who do not want their names in print, wondered why they were paid three (3) months out of the five (5) months arrears they were owed and even at that, “about 700 staff have not received any payment, while some were short paid by upto 50 percent”. “This selective mode of payment is a deliberate ploy by the state government to create confusion and disaffection among the staff”.

In another development, staff of Imo State Polytechnic, Umuagwo, who converged at the Imo International Convention Centre (IICC) Owerri, on 18th June, 2020, to protest the non-payment of their salaries, also barricaded the office of the State Accountant General on Tuesday 30th June, 2020, to protest the continued delay of their salaries by the state government. They gave a 7 day ultimatum, after which they threatened to embark on what they called the mother of all protests, if their demand is not met.

Speaking to Nigeria Watchdog correspondent, Chairman of Non-Academic Staff Union of the Polytechnic, accused the state government of playing pranks to hoodwink the people, instead of being honest. He described the non-availability of BVN being used by government as excuse for withholding their salaries as a ruse, “because, virtually all of us here have submitted our BVN numbers and provided all required information. Hence, there is no justification whatsoever for delaying or withholding our salaries”. 

Staff of the 27 local government areas in the state under the aegis of Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) Imo State Chapter were also not left out of the protests galore, as thousands of them also converged at the Accountant General’s office to protest the non-payment of several months arrears of salary, which they said has subjected them, their families and dependants to untold hardship, deprivation and lack. They wondered why Governor Hope Uzodinma who claims to have come to rectify all anomalies and give them succur, is exhibiting such insensitivity and lack of human feeling.

Primary and secondary school teachers in the state, who had also concluded arrangement to massively protest the non-payment of their salaries were said to have backed out at the last minute and have presently embarked on 7 days fasting and prayer, after which they will troop to the streets in protest, if the state government does not do the needful and pay them their salaries “because, enough is enough”.

Information gathered from the various groups of protesters was that, the Commissioner for Finance said, he was not aware that the state government is owing staff of Imo Polytechnic salary and that he was not aware that the Secretary to the State Government promised to start paying pensioners on Friday 26th June, 2020.The state government blamed the protesters for not channeling their grievances through his office before trooping to the streets. 

The irony according to them, is that, “in earlier publications about our previous protest, the Accountant General was quoted as saying that, “delay in payment of salary is not peculiar to Imo Poly because other establishments also have the same challenge. Does it then mean that the Accountant General and the Commissioner for Finance are working at cross purposes”.

The protests by various groups have given rise to speculations that the state government does not have money to pay salaries which is one of it’s cardinal obligations, despite the millions of naira said to have been recovered or saved by blocking loopholes through which the immediate past government siphoned money.

When contacted, the Commissioner for Information, Hon Declan Emelumba, said, “some people are yet to be paid salary because the government has not concluded verification exercise, aimed at tidying up some issues and sanitizing the system”.