By Martin Opara
The unimaginable suffering, hardship, lack and humiliation which pensioners and civil servants in the state, have been subjected to as a result of non payment of accumulated arrears of salaries and pension by successive governments, has, aside generating tension, controversy and mudslinging, attracted, again the attention of civil rights groups and activities who have called on all men and women of conscience and goodwill, to rise up and be counted in the right against injustice, oppression, humiliation and deprivation.
The groups, in a release signed by Okechukwu Nwanguma, Executive Director, Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC), Ezenwa Nwagun, Convener say no campaign, Nigeria and honourable Ohams, Chinedu, a human rights activist, regretted that, “successive government in the state, have hidden under different porous excuses and subterfuges to perpetuate the neglect deprivation and impoverishment of aged, sick and famished retired civil servants, subjecting them to untold hardship and frustration”.
They noted that the pitiable plight of the frustrated pensioners assumed a tragic dimension during Rochas Okorchas tenure that was characterized by lies deceit, issuance of dud cheques and other sharp practices, to the extent that, he left almost three years outstanding pension debts”, aside slashing the cumulative pensions of retirees by sixty percent and paid them only forty percent”.
They also lamented that “it is the height of wickedness that, aside depriving the retirees of their hard earned pensions that were deducted from their entitlements, while in service they are also unconscionably, subjected to frequent fruitless and endless travels from their communities to their various local government council headquarters, for verification exercises where the sick, weak and mal-nourished old men and women queue for hours. Most times, they go home unattended to and without receiving a dime. There are instances where some of them slumped and died”.
The release further noted that the pensioners’ heaved a sigh of temporary relief when the short lived Emeka Ihedioha administration started paying them regularly after the initial well articulated verification and harmonization exercise. “But their reprieve was temporary as the Supreme Court sacked the administration.
It is regrettable that the current Hope Uzodinma government that ought to have continued from where Ihedioha stopped pay has not only worsened the situation taken it to a more disturbing dimension of harassing, intimidating and physically assaulting old men and women who embarked on a peaceful and legitimate protest of their entitlements.
The groups, condemned in it’s entirety, the treacherous attitude and conduct of labour leaders in the state, who seem to have sacrificed those whose interests and affairs of those they were elected to protect and fight for on the altar of pecuniary benefits and self aggrandizement.
“It is an aberration and the height of betrayal that none of the so-called labour leaders had the guts to condemn the flogging, brutalization and harassment of pensioners by thugs and hoodlums allegedly led by the Special Adviser to the Governor on Special Duties, Chinasa Nwaneri, who mobilized thugs from the state branch of National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW). They, have instead, become spokes persons for and defenders of government actions.
They recalled the statement issued by the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Declan Emeluba’s captioned, “government to take action against sponsored protests”, and wondered why a government that “should be responsive and show empathy to aggrieved protesting pensioners, resort to threats and despicable strong arm tactics, terror and blackmail to weaken their resolve and silence them”.
“Declan Emelumba’s claims that the protesters were hired mercenaries is a figment of his imagination, as our findings have revealed that, contrary to government’s claim, the chairman of pensioners intervention committee, whose real name is lyke Ohaneje and his secretary Maurice Amaechi, hail from Okigwe and Ngor Okpalla, respectively and not from Mbaise. Hence the plot to link them to Emeka Ihedioha is an attempt in futility. Besides, they are pensioners and not mercenaries, as over zealously stated by Emelumba”.
They also frowned at the involvement of the Directorate of State Security in the issue of pensioners’ protest, and condemned the grilling and interrogation of the protesting pensioners and their leaders by the DSS, “because under cover security agents have no business in such affairs”.
They noted with disgust that, pensioners are not the only group that have incurred the wrath of the government for exercising their legitimate rights to protest, as some protesting staff of Imo State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (ISOPADEC), were recently arrested, detained and arraigned no trumped up charges of being hoodlums and miscreants in unlawful possession of guns, matchets, cudgels and other dangerous weapons.
They were also accused of hauling stones on and vandalizing vehicles in Governor Hope Uzodinma’s convoy, along Concorde Hotel area. “It is on record that the protest of Monday 17th August 2020, was the third time, staff of ISOPADEC protested against non payment of arrears of their salaries. Instead of the government showing understanding and compassion, the already aggrieved workers were framed up, blackmailed and detained. This is the height of insensivity and is unacceptable. Why must a government that claims to be democratic lack human kindness and refuse to be moved by the plight, suffering and lamentation of the people whose mandate it claims to hold in trust? Many are sick and can’t afford drugs, neither can they be alive to family responsibilities. A good number of them have died of hunger, lack, frustration and deprivation”. A government that can’t address or find solution to such” problems is not worth it’s onion”.
Reports available to our news desk, indicate that, there are lots of anomalies and irregularities in the Imo State pension system, as most people are short paid or omitted.
For instance, Mr. Augustine Anyanwu who retired 1st November 2012, on grade level 15 step 9 and his wife, Mrs Margaret Anyanwu who retired on grade level 14, step 8 on 1st October 2017, in letters they addressed to the Accountant General dated 25th August 2020, said they have been omitted from pensions payment since March and May/June 2020 respectively, despite providing all required information, including Bank verification numbers BVNs and bank account details. They implored the Accountant General to come to their aid.