By Samuel Oyadongha & Emem Idio
Recently, Bayelsa State pensioners made good their threats to embark on street on protest to press home their demand for the payment of gratuity and other benefits.
The aggrieved senior citizens completely for several hours, crippled activities on Melford Okilo-Mbiama road, Onopa-Ovom linking the Creek Haven, Government House and other public institutions and environs, leaving motorists and commuters including civil servants, stranded.
The obviously sad pensioners in their seventies and eighties, later laid siege to the Creek Haven, the seat of Bayelsa State state government not minding the intimidating security presence at the fortress, singing solidarity songs. They displayed placards with inscriptions depicting their plight.
Some of the placards read, “We are dying one by one, up to 50 deaths are recorded this year”, “Some of us were sick, but no money to pay our bills”, “Government has tied down our millions”, “Governor Dickson, where did you keep our N250million monthly payment for retirees?”, “Dickson, why denying your parents of their benefits” and “Dickson pay us our gratuity. No gratuity, no election, no second tenure for you.”
Payment of gratuities
“Pensioners are dying every day, please pay us our gratuities”, “Dickson be good to pensioners if you want to live long”, “Dickson we are tired of your neglect”, “Dickson no second term”.
The protesters also alleged selective payment of gratuities to persons with connection in government, lamenting that many of them were now destitute because they could not pay their house rents while several others had died of frustration.
Our grouse: State Chairman, Nigeria Union of Pensioners, NUP, Chief Emmanuel Namatebe, who spoke on behalf of the pensioners, explained that they were forced to embark on the protest because the governor had not lived up to his promise to them.
According to him, the governor reneged on his promise to release about N300million every month to the pensioners, dismissing the governor’s complaint of reduction of state allocation, saying “reduction of allocation has nothing to do with pensioners. Cut your coat according to your cloth. We appeal to the government to release money on a monthly basis as it was done by previous governments for payment of pensioners. Nothing was reflected on the allowances of pensioners. Our money is being tied down by the government. Many of us have been dying of high blood pressure, diabetes and other diseases.”
Collaborating, Chief Stephen Pori, an octogenarian and a retired civil servant who came for the protest from Ekeremor Local Government Area, said as people who served the state for 35years, they did not deserve such neglect and disrespect from the state government.
“I retired about 20 years ago, although I have received my gratuity, but most of our members who retired some ten, seven, five years ago are yet to receive their gratuities. Besides, the N18,000 minimum wage arrears, the 33 per cent salary increment for pensioners has not been approved and paid. As fathers and grand fathers, we will advise our children and grand children not to vote for this government again,” he said.
Similarly, Mr. Ebilade Godbless, said he retired in 2010, but was yet to receive his gratuity and entitlements.
According to him, “I have three children in the university. Two have been forced to drop out because right now I cannot meet up my responsibilities as a father. After serving this state, all I get after 35 years of service, is this shabby treatment from the government. This government has no human face if they can subject us to this kind of inhuman treatment. This is man’s inhumanity to man.”
State Secretary of NUP, Edmond Thomas said: “Governor Dickson promised in one of his briefing that N250Million would be released as compulsory savings to offset payment of gratuities and pension arrears with effect from April, 2012, but this has not been done. Governor Seriake Dickson also promised that any civil servant going on retirement from service in 2012 from the inception of his administration would go home with his own retirement benefits. The governor has defaulted in this regard.
“All other entitlements such as minimum wage arrears and fifteen percent are yet to be pay as well as bluntly refusing to grant us audience since he became the governor of the state. We therefore have no other alternative than to go on a peaceful demonstration to register our grievances.”
In the same vein, Dighabo Sanne, said since 2009 when he retired, he had not been paid anything, saying “I retired since 2009, up till now I haven’t been paid. This has made my wife and children to desert me. They have all left me even though I have millions of naira being tied down by government.”
Mrs. Dora Inamamu and Osain Edmund, who also retired since 2009, complained of the same fate, stressing that they had been surviving on charity.
They claimed their lives had no more meaning, wondering why the government had been so insensitive to their plight.
Responding, Head of Service, Mr. Frazer Okworu, who sympathized with them, noted that it was not within his jurisdiction to release money for payment, but assured that they would be paid as soon as money was made available.
Okworu, promised to deliver the pensioners message to the governor and said, “there is nothing to fault in all you have said. However, the low allocation to the state has affected the payment. It is not within my powers. If it were within my powers you know I would have paid.
If government does not release money how do I pay? It is a message I will relay to his Excellency when he comes back.” Okworu also dismissed as untrue claims that only retired Permanent Secretaries were usually selected for payment.