BY VINCENT UJUMADU
AWKA—PENSIONERS in Anambra State have been groaning under unpaid pension arrears owed them for years by the Federal Government, with many of them complaining that they have become tired of being tossed about by federal civil servants in charge of pensions in Abuja. Though they have been getting their state pension regularly, they alleged that those responsible for the federal pension frustrated them so much so that they had resigned to fate. In Anambra State, it had become a common feature for the pensioners in the state to be meeting regularly to discuss their plight.
During such meetings, those who had become so old or were blind, were dragged along by their healthy relations or children and they were often asked to contribute money to send a delegation to Abuja to appeal to those in charge to look into their problem.
In the past one year, the pensioners had sent three different delegations to Abuja to meet the ‘right people’ on their behalf and on each occasion, after parting with money borrowed from their relations, they were promised that their arrears would soon be paid.
As usual, it turned out to be the old story of empty promise. However, the most worrisome was what the pensioners had described as a scam going on in Abuja. One of the pensioners, a retired nurse, told South East Voice that she would have fallen for the trick if she had money to pay.
She said: “I was in my house one day when my telephone rang and the voice at the other end said he was the person in charge of federal pensions for retired workers in my state. He also proudly told me that he was with my pension particulars and would assit me to collect my arrears if I play ball.
“I was surprised when he quoted everything about my pension particulars, including the identity card number, my file number and the amount due to me. He told me that I needed to pay him N20,000, which must be paid into a particular bank account, while all my entitlements would be paid into my account soonest. “Considering the large amount I am being owed, I shouted that God had answered my prayers. What saved me was that I mentioned it to my colleague who warned me to beware of people who claim to be in charge of pensions in Abuja because he too had been duped in the past.”
Another pensioner, a retired engineer, Chris Okafor, had to travel to Abuja where he spent several days visiting the pension office on daily basis. His pathetic story was such that he borrowed money from relations to make the trip and promised to pay on return after collecting his pension arrears. Indeed, he actually came close to collecting his arrears, but one of the pension staff said the committee handling the settlement of pension arrears had decided that a deduction of 50 per cent be made from every pensioner’s entitlement, even though the affected pensioner would sign that he collected 100 per cent.
Disturbed by the proposal, Okafor created a scene at the pension office and security operatives were directed to force him out. He returned to Anambra without collecting the arrears. While narrating his ordeal to South East Voice in Awka, the retired engineer said he was still unable to pay back the money he borrowed to travel to Abuja because his pension arrears were yet to be paid.