By Gabriel Enogholase
THIS is certainly not the best time for the pensioners in Edo State as payment of pension arrears and other entitlements has become a ding-dong affair.
While the pensioners on the auspices of the Nigerian Union of Pensioners, NUP, claimed their members in the state including local government pensioners are owed arrears and other entitlements ranging from four months to forty two months, the state government thinks otherwise.
Sources close to the government has said that the government is not owing local government pensioners as they deal directly with their employers through the State Local Government Commission.
Another position canvassed by the government is that those pensioners with the state government that were owed did not follow the due process of notifying government of their intention to retire six months before to enable government process their pension documents.
The issue of the non-payment of the entitlement once again took the front burner when for over a week pensioners in the state stormed the streets to protest what they described as government’s care free attitude towards their welfare after serving the state meritoriously with their youthful years.
During the protest, the pensioners who occupied the Kingsquare, popularly known as “Ring Road,” lamented that after serving the state meritoriously, it was disheartening that the Edo State Government decided to abandon them in the very important stage of their lives. It will be recalled that Governor Obaseki had during the May Day rally at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, promised to pay pensioners all their outstanding benefits in June.
State chairman of NUP, Pullen Noruwa, told Vanguard that they resorted to protests because of government failure to pay their pension and gratuities, despite the bailout funds by the Federal Government.
He lamented the nonpayment of their entitlements, saying it had caused them untold hardship, pains and called on Governor Obaseki to do the needful by paying their pension allowances to enable them address their various needs.
Noruwa listed their grievances to include the non-disbursement of the N11.38billion (1st tranche) and N12.18billion (2nd tranche) of the Paris Club refund bailouts from the Presidency for the payments of all outstanding salaries and pension entitlements to local government and state pensioners among others.
The chairman called for the immediate regularization of the payment of the monthly pensions to the local government council pensioners as against the current practice which leaves much to be desired. In the mean time, the non-payment of the entitlements of the pensioners in the state has also assumed political coloration as the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, through its Edo State chairman, Chief Dan Orbih, has challenged Governor Godwin Obaseki to explain to the people what he had done with the Paris Club refund to the state since he had failed to pay pensioners their entitlements.
Orbih, had while reacting to the plights of the pensioners who took to the streets after a seven day ultimatum to Governor Obaseki, to redeem his promise of paying them last month said: “All I can say is that holding public office is not just an end; it is a means to an end. People must be accountable for their actions. It is true that the Federal Government released part of the Paris fund to Edo State and some other states.
It is also true that till date, the governor has refused to pay pensioners, using the first tranche of that release by the Federal Government. It has since received other allocations and has not attended to the needs of our pensioners. I want to challenge Godwin Obaseki to explain to Edo people what he has used the Paris fund to do and he should commence the process of paying pensioners without further delay.”
Don’t be used to undermine govt
Reacting, the government through the Special Adviser to the governor on Media and Communication Strategy, Mr. Crusoe Osagie, claimed the genuine pensioners are satisfied with the effort Governor Godwin Obaseki has made to ensure that every pensioner in the state is paid. The government warned those it termed few bad eggs among pensioners to desist from being used as tools of propaganda in the hands of disruptive elements in the state.
He insisted that these corrupt individuals who are sponsoring the fake protests are threatened by the just and transparent system of governance being established by Governor Obaseki.
According to him: “These people are intimidated by the rising profile of Governor Obaseki on account of his astuteness in governance and the fact that he is reforming institutions within the state to plug holes in government and systematically end the mindless corruption that had characterized governance in the state before the All Progressives Congress (APC) took over as the ruling party.
“Good enough, these diversionary efforts will never be effective in deceiving the Edo people who are much more sophisticated than these puppet-masters can imagine. How possible is it that pensioners who they claim are dying of starvation and are bed ridden with various illnesses will purchase hundreds of red t-shirts and print sophisticated flex banners with huge sums of money just to drive the baseless and dishonest protest?
“It is being sponsored by anti-development elements who this government know too well but has chosen to ignore because lies and dishonesty always have short limbs and can never travel long distances but truth on the other hand is immutable and cannot be drowned by an ocean of falsehood”.
Governor Obaseki had earlier cautioned pensioners in the state over what he described as slander against his administration in spite of efforts being made to settle all their outstanding wages.