By Chinonso Alozie
Owerri—Pensioners in Imo State, yesterday, protested the continued refusal by Governor Rochas Okorocha to pay them their pensions which ranged between 22 and 77 months in arrears.
Scores of pensioners, led by their state chairman, Chief Gideon Ezeji, blocked Okigwe road as well as the entrance to Government House, Owerri.
They urged President Muhammadu Buhari to call Okorocha to order, saying: ”He behaves disrespectfully and treats senior citizens in the state with deplorably.”
According to Ezeji,”Okorocha derives joy in seeing elders in this state coming out from time to time to the streets to ask for their pension. What did Okorocha do with the bailout fund that President Buhari gave to him? We are protesting for the third time.”
The latest development, which they described as ”wicked of Okorocha’s government is the plan to pay 40 percent of the accumulated arrears and gratuities and forfeit of 60 percent. We say no to this latest government plan to deny us the payment of 60 percent of arrears up to December.
”As at December 2016, the state is owing Imo pensioners between 22 months and 77 months arrears. Our gratuities have remained unpaid since 1998 till date.
“Also, the government has refused to harmonize our pensions since 2000 to date. All the efforts by the union overseeing the welfare of pensioners have not yielded any fruit.”
Those protesting are not pensioners —Imo govt
But reactiing to the allegation, the Imo State government said the issue of pensions in the state had been resolved, saying the people who protested at the Government House, Owerri, yesterday, were not pensioners.
A statement by the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Rochas Okorocha, Sam Onwuemeodo read: “No pensioner in the state was part of that protest. Those involved in the exercise were between the ages of 40-45. And we challenge those involved to prove us wrong by publishing their names, their autonomous communities, local government areas, years of retirement, where they retired from and their identification numbers.
“The truth of the matter as it concerns the issue of pensions in the state is that more than 99 percent of the pensioners in the state have been paid arrears of their pensions upto December 2016. The remaining one percent are pensioners who were omitted in the first payment exercise and they are at the moment receiving their cheques.
“The government had long before now complained that the monthly pension bill of N1.4 billion had become too cumbersome for the state government to bear with 27 local governments, whereas another state with 44 local governments pay far less than that amount as pension.
“Hence, the arrangement that pensioners from grade level one to six should get one hundred percent of whatever was the arrears of their respective pensions, while those on grade level seven to 17 would have 40 percent of their total arrears paid. The idea was to solve the lingering issue of pension arrears in the state once and for all.
“It is, therefore, surprising to see few people claiming to be pensioners at the Government House on a protest over an exercise that has been successfully completed.”