By Princewill Ekwujuru
When Vanguard Metro, VM first met him, his condition was visibly pathetic. He was living in a house with perforated roof, with nylon hanging loosely under the ceiling, which serves as a protection against leakage from rain and intrusion of creeping creatures.
Pa Akinrimisi Ibitayo James, in his late 60s, served the Lagos Ministry of Education, meritoriously for many years. His last station was Alara Junior Grammar School, where he served as an Assistant Director of Education on grade level 15 step 9 and was on that grade for three years before his retirement.
But today, he is living from hand to mouth, reason being that the state government he served, blatantly refused to pay his gratuity, two years since his disengagement. Presently, he is not being paid his monthly pension which could have allayed some of his sufferings.
The saddening revelation of that visit to Pa Akinrimisi’s home may justify the action of those who served government and enriched themselves, because of the fear of the unknown, and who falsify their age to stay longer in service.
Hear Pa Akinrimisi: “Since March 18, 2010 when I retired until this day I have not been paid a kobo in spite of the fact that I have submitted every available records to effect my gratuity and pension”.
Continuing, he said: “I do not know what is actually happening and I begin to say this is punishment. It is like the state government is punishing me and others unduly”.
Listening to him further, it soon emerged that there are several others in the same shoe as Pa Akinrimisi. On the number of pensioners owed, he said that they are well above 4,000 so affected.
“Whether it is wilful or whatever, but I want to believe that if they (Lagos State Government) want us to continue to exist as a human beings, they should pay us something; even our monthly pension is withheld, my gratuity withheld; so I’m left with nothing, so I do not known how we can continue.
“My monthly pension should be paid, without any delay at all. If the backlog of my gratuity is not forthcoming, but they should at least give me my monthly pay. But ever since nothing. It appears that they are waiting for me to collapse. I cannot go out because I am afraid that if I do I can easily fall down. I have thought over it so many times it may have induced a kind of hypertension in me.
“And all over the place we hear of road construction, we agree that humans need road, but human being must continue to exist, before we use the road. So we can’t spend all the money on roads without catering for the health of the people. Even if I want to go to Tempo which is the Education headquarters I have to borrow money, ” he noted.
Pa Akinrimisi who said that he has not been invited to the Education headquarter since his retirement goes there voluntarily. “I have not been invited, I only go there to check on what is happening with my file and they keep saying I should hold on.
So, for how long?” he rhetorically. “I have waited for about 18 months now, after retirement like all those affected, all over Lagos State. Even there are some who have retired before me and they have not collected anything,” he informed sadly.
The retiree who said that the pensioners have not been able to bring themselves under one umbrella to fight the cause, said they have not made any presentation to the Governor “as far as this matter is concerned. But I am aware that the Governor is in the know of it, because they keep saying they are waiting for bulk cheque, but when is this bulk cheque coming?”
Speaking further he had: “Will I be paid after my death? I worked for 35 years, I have the record which confirmed that my benefits have been computed and has been put at 35 years, but ever since, nothing. I can’t eat that paper, I have children I cater for. I keep borrowing, from here and there to keep body and soul together.
“I am dying gradually as there is no means of livelihood without any pay after working for 35 years. Is this the price for working for that long? Is this the best way to treat me after retirement.?”
Continuing, he said: “If governance is not people- oriented, then it will collapse. They are not going to rule roads, we are not going to rule flood, we are going to rule people. But if people are the ones you expose to this kind of suffering, then there is no governance.
“I am afraid to go out. I don’t even have the means; if I want to go to a short distance, I have to brought money, if I must go. So I don’t think this is the kind of life I prayed for. I do not welcome this type of approach to issues at all”.
On the imperative of bringing all the affected pensioners together, he said: “It is not possible to bring all my colleagues together. Shortly after we retired we were asked to go to our headquarters, District Five Agboju, where they organised sent-forth and we were very many. I do not have the list of our names. I’m sure those of us who are of the old system and those who are of the new system”.
Refering to the old and new system, he has this to say: “There are two systems of payments, the old and the new. I belong to the last batch of the old which terminated in March and the new started in April 2010; they have been settled, but in our own case it’s been deadlocked. Those of us, that of 31st March 2010, fall under the old scheme. The old scheme is a schedule where retirees are paid monthly until they die.
“The new scheme is the contributory pension scheme. We do not belong to that arrangement. Those in the headquarters erroneously deducted one salary from my salary and I was told we are not supposed to be contributors and even the one month I contributed has not been refunded; it’s still hanging, everything is hanging. I want them to temper justice with mercy, because, justice delayed is justice denied. Unless they are saying I should labour in vain, at this age”.