By Emmanuel Elebeke
Frustration, anguish and lamentation could be seen on their faces when retired military men gathered to draw public attention to their plight over non-payment of three years pension arrears. They had served the nation with youthful and productive lives fighting for the survival and unity of Nigeria.
Under the aegis of the retired Army, Navy and Air Force Officers, RANO, Association of Nigeria, thet rose from a recent emergency meeting of the associaton’s national executive committee, held in Abuja and demanded for the immediate payment of their accumulated three years pension arrears by federal government.
The retirees in a communiqué issued at the end of the meeting, stated that they were disappointed with the way the federal government handled their welfare, particularly at a time they ought to be well treated and appreciated for all they had done and were still doing to keep the nation together.
According to them: “We are dismayed with the way this present federal government is toying with the welfare of retired military personnel now in their old age. There is no gain saying the fact that these retired and devoted military personnel have been contributing to the training of their serving colleagues in tackling the contemporary security challenges in the country.
“Apart from these national commitment, it is obligatory for retired military personnel to be prepared for re-engagement whatever the need arises. This we cannot refuse. So, we are combat soldiers in waiting, therefore very productive to the nation contrary to the wrong assertion being peddled by some uninformed officials in and out of government that retired military personnel are unproductive,”
Speaking more on their plight, the President of RANAO, Retired Maj.-Gen Rabiu Aliu, said that the plight of pensioners in Nigeria was generally condemnable whether military or not, noting that the retirees agitations were not just for military pensioners but for the entire of pensioners in Nigeria who have not been paid their benefits.
He said “it is agonizing to see retired military officers being brought with wheel barrows to complain about non-payment of their pension and to show that they exist. I believe everybody should have his dues and rights. It is not only the military.
There are civilians too who are being owed as well, and they are not faring well. Whenever we have this revalidation, when you see soldiers being brought in wheel barrows to come and say that they are still existing, it is sad. This country has a responsibility and they have to take this responsibility seriously, old people cannot come to the street and start demonstrating because some of them are even dying.
“Let us take it as a responsibility to ensure that when we get older, we do not go through the sufferings that we are going through,” he advised.
The Secretary of RANAO, retired Brig.-Gen Patrick Onaghise, who also briefed newsmen at the end of the programme in Abuja, regretted that the association had lost some of its members as a result of the situation.
“In 2010, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, approved the upward review of salaries of federal officers, which automatically applied to pensioners.
“On the 26 of June 2010, the President, while flagging off the payment of outstanding arrears of military pension, directed the Minister of Defence to ensure that military pensioners be included simultaneously with any future review. “ We are aware that all federal public servants including serving military personnel have been receiving this new remuneration with effect from July 1, 2010.
“Ever since, this directive by the president, the retired military personnel have not been paid in spite of several representations to the presidency, the National Assembly and several well-meaning Nigerians. Many of our colleagues who would have aged gracefully have suffered stroke, blindness, paralysis; many have even died of illness which probably would have been treated if they had sufficient money for prompt and adequate medical care,” he said. The RANAO scribe noted that its members were always dissuaded from taking their protests to the streets, adding however that their patience was running out.
He said it was not wise to owe retired officers as they could fall prey to the whims and caprices of nefarious elements in the society. Onaghise appealed to the Federal Government to treat the issue with the seriousness and urgency it deserved. According to him, RANAO had made lot of efforts and pleas to secure the payment without success.
Drawing comparism with their counterparts in other countries, the group said, “in many countries, retired military personnel are regarded as heroes and are so treated because of their sacrifice and service to their nations.
Pension and gratuity
Issues of free medical and health services, rebate in transportation, in food items and hotel accommodations are common place. Their pension and gratuity are paid as at when due and are reviewed in line with their constitutional provisions. They do not have to beg or agitate for them.”
Section 173 of the constitution as amended states that, “any benefit to which a person is entitled in accordance with or under such law as is referred to in subsection 1 of this section shall not be withheld or altered to disadvantage except to such extent as is permissible under any law including the code of conduct. Section 173 subsection three also stipulates that Pensions shall be reviewed every five years or together with any federal civil service salary reviews whichever is earlier.
However, the federal government appears not to have complied with this constitutional requirement. Though, the group acknowledged the approval by the President for upward review of their pension in 2010, and subsequent directive to the minister off defence to ensure that military pensions be included simultaneously with any future reviews.