By Victor Ahiuma-Young & Ifunaya Okafor
FOR quite a while, there has been altercation between the management of Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) andÂ its Pensioners overÂ a backlog of unpaid arrearsÂ benefits spanning over eight years. Some pensioners are also in courtÂ with the management over benefits that date back to 1991.
Last week, the Pensioners were gathered for their annual head count/verification exercise. Pension and You, was at the Bode Thomas, Surulere, Lagos venue of the exercise and spoke with the President of the NPA Pensionersâ€™ Welfare Association, Comrade Oweibene Atie over the plight of members.
Comrade President, today we can see that your members are undergoing aÂ head count. Generally, how would you describe the state of affairs of your members, or how are the NPA pensioners coping with the difficulties arising from the non payment of their dues?
It is something that is very pathetic. Many pensioners have died hoping to get this money that did not come. Even last month many,Â died. As an association of elders, we feel very reluctant to carry placards to go about protesting on the streets and be shouting.Â Â We do not want to do that.Â We gave that pledge to the Managing Director of NPA, that look, we are not interestedÂ in going toÂ the public to demonstrate.
It does not bring peace. You may win but in yourÂ inner mind,Â something is created. Therefore, if there is any thing affecting pensioners, that you findÂ difficult to implement, summon us and tell us your difficulty. We will be able to help.Â I jokingly told him that the association has more managing directors than he. Many Managing Directors have retired from NPA, only one has died. The first indigenous general manager of NPA.
All the rest are alive. So I have more managing directors than the current. So, if I want to know something, I can contact some of them, they will tell me. So, if you have any thing you are supposed to do but there is a problem, call us to tell us. We cannot lose our head because of that. We must look for a solution and without waiting for the management, we on our own, we the executives of the association decided that we know that the amount is huge.
Let us suggest to the management that they should not be frightened by the huge sum of money, that we would accept 24 installments, 24 equal installments. It will make the load very light. The managing director did not give us any reply till he invited us for a meeting.
AtÂ that meeting, he announced that, the 30% would be paid in January and that of December he paid the 30% , leaving the arrears and after that time, the arrears have run into eight years. It is that payment that we have been demanding. On the 30 th of December when we met, he said, heÂ received our letter suggesting 24 installments and told us that it is not realistic.
He said you people (Pensioners) should make concession, we should make concession so that, I want to pay it once or twice and that is all. So we were very happy.
We said, alright, this man is going to pay us. We told him that for us to be able to agree to what he is saying, we need to go back and consult the pensioners. We have eight branches spread all over Nigeria. We traveled round and all the eight, only Warri branch rejected. People say the majority carries the vote.
But as thing has turned out, today they, the Warri branch, can be said to have defeated the majority.Â Majority carries the vote but at last minority carried the vote (laughs). So, I told the management that we have gone round and the people agreed 25% concession.
So, you actually agreed to forego 25 percent?
Yes. We want to forgo that one so that he will pay the rest at once. Since that time, even for him to make himself available for formal discussion has become a problem. We kept writing him letters with soft mind, we do not believe in quarreling.
Until when all other areas failed to make him pay or listen to us, before we went to the senate. So what we are fighting now, now that NPA has got a board of directors with Chief Tony Anenih, as the chairman, we are trying to see and cry to him, so that he could intervene because Anenih is influential in the ruling party- PDP .
So that is the area we are going. We are putting a letter to him, thanking him for his appointment and try the possibility of seeing him one on one.Â If it means we going to look for him where ever he is living, whether in Edo state, in Abuja, we will try because as pensioners, no office is too big for us to enter. The pensioners, our members now are waiting patiently for us, to hear from usÂ duringÂ our next general meeting.
You said a lot of your members have died. Do have the actual number?
No, the number differs from one state to another. But we are collating them. When all have been collated we shall make it public. The problem is that , as you are collating , more are dying (laughs). So that list is never authentic. It is a continuous thing.
What is the associationâ€™s role in the verification exercise that is taking place?
Our role is, any state they go to, the branch there will join to control the pensioners and identify some that maybe doubtful to those who are screening them. And some that cannot come because of sickness. Some have stroke, some are blind, different reasons. The branch officers will accompany them to the verification venue and visit those that are in the hospitals and ensure that there are verified even if it is in the hospital.
AreÂ officials of NPAÂ participating in the screening exercise s?
They are from NPA originally. But today, from this year, they started bringing in the bank- Skye bank, to computerize the whole system so that even if you are not around, you can just pluck the card and they have got the information about you. That is all.
So, no official of NPA among them now?
The NPA must be there. Otherwise, the whole exercise will be suspect, that people are registering ghost pensioners (laughs).
Pension and You(LABOUR) efforts to reach the managing director of NPA for his side of the storyÂ were unsuccessful .