By Chidi Nkwopara
THESE are not the best of times for Imo people. Apart from the preponderance of dilapidated road networks in the state, the people are equally grappling with a number of other serious issues, including poor sales in the market, non-payment of salaries, pension and gratuities to senior citizens.
South East Voice toured the Amakohia and Akwakuma axis in Owerri North local council area, as well as Mbari Street, Okigwe Road, Orlu Road, MCC/Uratta Road, and Egbu Road in Owerri municipality, where the state government’s “urban renewal” policy adversely affects several people’s businesses.
Some of the respondents, who spoke to South East Voice, were of the view that “despite the supposed good intentions of the state government, it failed to take cognizance of the ugly effects of the massive damage on people’s business outfits”.
About two petrol stations along Okigwe Road have been shut down and all or some of their staff have been sent packing. The story was the same along Egbu Road. The parking spaces at the transport terminals of some major transport companies have since reduced.
The ever bubbling Trance Garden along Egbu Road has also been put out of business. The proprietor of the outfit, Mr. John Onuoha, lamented that “business has flopped completely, as nobody can swim across the huge lake in front of the premises”.
An apparently confused Onuoha said that he was resigned to his current fate, adding that the destruction of his business premises reduced patronage and ultimately the number of staff. Recounting what traders are currently passing through in Owerri markets, a trader, who simply identified himself as Mike, said that they are barely managing to survive the hard times.
“Things are really very rough with us. We no longer find it easy to restock. Prices of our wares continue to dance to the tune of the United States Dollar. Honestly, we are barely managing to survive the hard times”, Mike said. A vegetable trader, Mama Eliza, said that sales can only improve if people have expendable income.
“If workers and pensioners are not paid, like is the case now, they will not have the capability to make purchases”, Mama Eliza said.
Confirming the sorry plight of pensioners in the state, during a press conference in Owerri, the Chairman, Association of Retired Permanent Secretaries of Imo State, Chief Hyacinth Onyekwere, cried out that “hunger and disease is depleting” their number.
“Between November 2011 and now, 12 retired permanent secretaries have died as a result of non-payment of their stipends that enable them feed and buy their medications”.
He expressed shock at “the way the state government is intentionally dehumanizing retired civil servants, by refusing to pay them their pension and gratuities”. Chief Onyekwere recalled with grief that only a paltry fraction of a month’s pensioners entitlement was recently paid, out of between 16 and 70 months owed different categories of pensioners.
In his contribution to the issue, the State Chairman of Nigeria Union of Pensioners, NUP, Chief Gideon Ezeji, lamented that over 30 percent of pensioners were omitted during the last payment exercise.
As at October 2016, the state government is still owing civil service pensioners 20 months worth of pension, retired permanent secretaries 20 months, retired primary school teachers 30 months and retired local government pensioners 21 months.
A retired staff of Imo Broadcasting Corporation, IBC, Mr. Chidi Madu, said that some of his colleagues, who could not contain the stress midwifed by years of unpaid pension and gratuities, have all died in penury. The question on the lips of most Imo people is: “Shall we ever come out of our present predicament?”