By Kingsley Omonobi
While pleading with the ex-soldiers, Kwaji had noted that there was no need for them to embark on anyÂ protest since the federal government was not only aware of their agitation, but had asked the pensions board to compute the requirements needed to address the issue.
He noted however that in the present circumstances, there was need to give government time because such issues which entail the allocation of money, had to go through some processes which include, budgetary processes and approval from the national assembly before money is provided to pay the arrears.
â€œWe have received reports that our military pensioners are organizing peaceful demonstrations all over the country in agitation forÂ pension reviewÂ of 12. 5 of 2003 and 15% of 2007.
Even though it is a constitutional provision, we want them to know that it hasÂ to undergo a process because government is not unaware of itâ€, he said.
Emphasizing that the issue of pension review was a problem affecting all federal workers and not only military personnel, Kwaji had said government was on top of the problem noting, â€œthat is why the federal government last year asked us to do some computation of the strength and what it will take to implement payment whenever the money is approvedâ€.
â€œSo we want to plead with the ex-soldiers, to exercise restraint as the exercise affects all federal workers.
The peaceful protest started in Ibadan and wasÂ planned to go on in all other states but since government is doing something about it through democratic processes, and we have been given the go ahead to prepare the financial implications, our appeal should be heededâ€.
Vanguard recalls that the pension benefits of the protesting soldiers, and other federal civil servants, wereÂ last reviewed in year 2000 while theÂ salary of federal workers have been reviewed upwards on two occasions, 2003 and 2007.
It is against the background of this appeal that the visit of the House of Representatives Committee on Pensions to the Military Pensions Board headquaters in Abuja during the weekend was eagerly monitored by military pensioners all over the country.
The military pensioners had expected the committee which was directed to â€˜ examine all issues relating to pensions within the public services in Nigeria (except pensions of Judicial officers) and make recommendations on appropriate measures to ensure timely payment of pensions and gratuity and other terminal benefits to retired public servants”, to announce when they would start collecting their arrears on increment and nothing less.
Pensioners vow to continue protest
A spokesman for theÂ pensioners asked, â€œIs it not sheer wickedness that a constitutional matter that out to have been implemented since 2003 was left unattended to, and another increment was done in 2007, yet we are ignored as if we donâ€™t live in the same country or operate in the same society?
Making his point further he said, â€œThe school our children go to, do they pay different fees for serving or retired soldiers; the markets that our wives go to, do they collect less money for wives of ex-soldiers or the hospitals that we take our sick ones attend, are there special rates for military pensioners families; that is why I say they are wickedâ€.
â€œBy the time we embark on this protest, there will be no going back unless they pay us our arrears because we have been patient enough.
Imagine from 2003 to 2007 to 2009. Many of us have died . Meaning the money has been forfeited to government and they want more of us to die so that they would embezzleÂ our money but we wont let it happenâ€.
Some concerned citizensÂ are however of the opinion that government should do everything in its power to resolve the issue of the 12. 5% and 15% arrears increment as these set of pensioners who are violent whenever they want to make their grievances known, could easily fall prey to the antics of hoodlums who would cash in on their plight to wreck havoc if they carry out their threat.
A military officer said,Â â€œRemember these people are not used to long grammar or protocol.
They were trained and brought up in a manner that their entitlements are given to them as andÂ when due. Many of them donâ€™t have other sources of livelihood.
It is what they get they live onâ€, a retired senior officer volunteered to Vanguard on the issue.