Bishop Obinna regrets comment on Pension payment

By Martin Opara

Contrary to claims by government and it’s propaganda machinery that all pensioners in the state have been paid except few with documentation issues, it has been revealed that, over 60% of Imo pensioners, who are owed several months arrears of pensions and gratuity are yet to be paid, while out of the forty percent who received their pensions, only very few were paid consecutively, as the state government has despite complaints by victims and stakeholders, continued with staggered payments of pension and salary.

Our reporter who visited the office of the Head of Service (HoS), disclosed that, over 2,000 aged, sick and malnourished pensioners were scampering about, photocopying documents or scouting for elusive revalidation forms, that were obviously hoarded and being sold to them by some business centers in the secretariat  at the cost of N100 each.

It was also gathered that the pensioners had been subjected to the same stressful revalidation exercises five times in the past one weeks. According to a source who spoke on condition of anonymity, “pensioners were initially directed to submit their particulars to the leadership of their union. Thereafter, government appointed a Special Adviser (S.A) on Pension Matters and the pensioners were also directed to submit their particulars to and liase with him which they also did. But a statement credited to the Governor at the Independence Day anniversary celebration mass, at the Assumpta Cathedral, Owerri where he was  quoted as saying that majority of pensioners in the state have been paid and any of them, who for any reason had not been paid, should go to the Office of the Head of Service, prompting Archbishop AJ Obinna of Owerri Archdiocese to commend and eulogize the governor. However, the fact that over 70% of pensioners who said they were not paid converged at the Office of the Head of Service shortly after the governor’s assertion, undermines his claims”.

It was also gathered that the Head of Service who addressed the agitated pensioners that gathered in his office and pleaded with them to exercise patience, later disappeared from the scene and could not be located, when it dawned on him that the aggrieved pensioners, who felt disappointed at the way they were being subjected to untold hardship and frustration were ready for a show down, as they continuously shouted, “enough of this deceit”.

Another pensioner, who simply introduced himself as Sir Iwuagwu, a retired school Principal who later became partially blind, after service, said, he would have gone for surgery to restore his sight if he had, at least been paid few months out of his accumulated arrears of pensions.“I could not go, because of financial constraint and now, the problem has been compounded”. He wondered why the government takes delight in playing pranks with their health.

A reliable source at the Office of the Head of Service who pleaded anonymity absolved the HoS of blame stressing that, the latter, as a seasoned technocrat and administrator who has navigated through the civil service ladder, has done what he is supposed to and submitted his report to the governor on whose desk the buck stops. “But the governor, for inexplicable reasons prefers to engage the services of a consultant who knows nothing about pension matters”. He also noted that the Accountant General’s hands are also tied in this regard because he does not have the power to approve payment of pensions without the governor’s approval.

Another source regretted, that, Bishop Obinna who is known for being honest, and speaking truth to those in power without caring about whose ox is gored, was deceived into believing that pensioners have been paid as claimed by the Governor, hence he commended and eulogized him, is said to be worried about unfolding developments.”Thank God the Bishop now knows the truth.I learnt Bishop Obinna regrets over his comment on pension.I hope he will as usual advise the governor to pay us now that he knows the true position”, he started.

Continuing, he said, “we are here to know what happens. I can tell you authoritatively that, majority of Imo pensioners are yet to be paid, contrary to the false claims, rumours and speculations. The only way out and solution to the nagging problem is to return the responsibility of handling and payment of pensions to the Office of the Accountant General. If this is not done, things will continue to get worse”.

It would be recalled that the Chairman, Association of Retired Permanent Secretaries, in Imo State, Comrade Fabian Agba, had in a recent interview with Nigeria Watchdog publication called on the state government to return the processing, payment and everything about pension related issues to the Office of the Accountant General where there are seasoned professionals and career civil servants who are trained and equipped to handle the assignment with ease to the benefit and admiration of all concerned.