By Demola Akinyemi
There seems to be no end in sight to the controversial N1.68billion unpaid benefits allegedly owed pensioners in Kwara state by the government.
The debt said to have been accumulated by the Dr Abubakar Saraki-led administration later became a subject of judicial battle between the government and the pensioners.
In fact, the matter has been adjudicated on by several courts including the Supreme Court, with the retirees insisting they are yet to get justice.
From available information, the pensioners under the aegis of the Nigeria Union of Pensioners, NUP, has threatened to return to the court in the New Year.
The state government on the other hand maintains that it owes the pensioners nothing.
When the legal tussle started, the state government won at the high Court but the NUP appealed the judgment and won at the Appellate court.
The government challenged the judgment and it was taken to Supreme Court where the NUP lost.
It was gathered that the pensioners were among others advised to go back to the state where it initially lost the case. But instead of going to the state High Court as advised, the NUP headed to Industrial court where it also lost.
From all indications, NUP in the New Year is returning to the Appellate court hoping to get the justice it is looking for.
State Secretary of NUP, Ayobamidele Ajibola, told Vanguard that the pensioners were surprised that the courts avoided the relevant portion of 1999 constitution as amended where it expressly stated that no one should touch pensioners’ money.
According to him, “NUP lost that case at the Supreme Court, and even Industrial Court, but in January 2022 we are preparing to approach the Appeal court where we initially won.
Truly the present administration does not owe us. We are paid as and at when due by the present government.
The data inherited made us the worst paid pensioners in the country as we have members who are paid N3000 monthly. That is why we are not relenting in fighting this case.
“In the last two months or so, we have made several efforts through series of letters to Governor Abdulrazaq Abdulrahman for a round table discussion on this matter. As I’m speaking with you they did not yield any positive results”
Recall that in 2020 hundreds of the aggrieved pensioners under the aegis of “Concerned pensioners of Kwara State” stormed the streets of Ilorin to protest the unpaid outstanding pension benefits of N1.68billion since 2008 during the administration of Senator Bukola Saraki.
The aggrieved pensioners who marched from their state secretariat, at Commissioners way, GRA Ilorin, with placards such as “We have lost over 300 pensioners in Kwara State since 2008”, “We are the real Arugbos (old people), pay us our dues Bukola Saraki”, “Treat pensioners with dignity”, among others, through the busy Challenge area of Ilorin to government House along Ahmadu Bello way, where they urged Governor Abdulrazaq Abdulrahman to help retrieve their money from Dr Bukola Saraki.
According to the spokesman of the aggrieved pensioners, Abayomi Ajibola, “We appeal to our highly esteemed Governor Abdulrazaq Abdulrahman, to bail out the real and original “Arugbos” in this our pitiable predicament by retrieving the ‘’Owo Arugbo” (old people’s money) in the hands of Senator Bukola Saraki which he has held on to since 2008 and pay us so that we can go to our graves in peace knowing that this set of ‘’Arugbos” has laboured so hard to develop Kwara State created in 1967 when the likes of Bukola Saraki and Abdulfatah Ahmed were still infants but had now plundered our dear state.
“If Bukola Saraki can claim to have built ”Ile Arugbo” for people who have contributed nothing to the development of the state, why would he withhold ‘’Owo Arugbos” meant for people who have used the better parts of their lives to develop the state.
“Kwara State government under the leadership of Dr Bukola Saraki agreed in 2008 to pay our outstanding pension arrears and gratuities (Owo Arugbo). The deserving recipients are made up of 9030 accredited pensioners.’’
“The government announced that it would require N3.3billion to defray the entire sum and approached some banks for a loan of N3.3billion which was indeed approved and collected.
“The government however turned its back at us by paying only N1.68 billion representing 50 per cent of the total sum and claimed that the remaining 50 per cent would be used to develop infrastructure in the state.”
Kwara govt speaks
Speaking, Special Assistant to Governor Abdulrahman on Labour Matters Abdulmimini Onagun, told Vanguard that the current administration owes the pensioners nothing and that as far as the government is concerned, the NUP took the state government to court and lost.
He said “As far as I know the matter went to court and the state government then, not ours won that case against the pensioners.
“For us, this administration has been up and doing in its efforts to live up to its expectations as far as the payment of pensioners dues is concerned. I can tell you that we do not owe the pensioners in Kwara State.”