pension

April 20, 2022

Pensioners tell tales of woe over 37, 40 months unpaid arrears in Abia

pension

By Steve Oko

The condition of pensioners in Abia State is very pathetic, as the senior citizens lament 37 months of unpaid pension arrears, amidst increasing untimely deaths of colleagues over frustrating living conditions due to lack of money to meet their basic needs.

Their pain is worsened not necessarily because of the backlog of unpaid benefits, but perceived unwillingness by the government to clear the backlog any time soon.

According to them, some of their colleagues have passed due to starvation, lack of funds to care for their medical and other basic needs, expressing disgust that they died without accessing their benefits including gratuities.

 They are even afraid that they may not be paid during their lifetime, except there is divine intervention, lamenting that the last time Abia Government paid gratuities to pensioners was 25 years ago, according to the state chapter of the Nigeria Union of Pensioners, NUP.

Narrating their ordeal, one of the senior citizens who said he retired in 2006 with the Ministry of Public Utilities, lamented that he and others like him were currently being owed 40 months arrears.

The 76-year-old said that the immediate-past administration owed him seven months while the balance of 33 months is owed by the current government.

The man who spoke on condition of anonymity said but for God’s grace and assistance from his children, he would have died long ago.

His words: “In 2018 and 2019, nothing at all was paid to us but when Aham Uko was appointed Commissioner in 2020, the man really showed us mercy. He paid us regularly all through 2020 but in 2021, I don’t know what the government did and they started paying us half pension again. Those in charge of the affairs of the state are wicked for closing their minds against the plights of pensioners, some of whom are old enough to give birth to them, yet draw millions every month from the state coffers.”

Another retiree and leader of the Abia Pensioners Pressure group, Chief Daniel Augustine, contended that Abia pensioners are already living in hell here on earth.

He claimed the government had no regard for pensioners otherwise it would not have been treating them like wild animals, noting that even domestic animals are catered for, saying: “We are dying here in Abia. As I’m talking to you now, there is no money in my pocket. I’m 78 years old and imagine how I survive without my pension.”

Chief Augustine, who said he retired from the Veterinary Department of the Ministry of Agriculture in 2000, decried the pitiable condition of pensioners in the state.

The septuagenarian alleged that he and his group were being persecuted by government for refusing to be quiet, saying: “I was detained at the Umuahia Central Police Station together with my Secretary just for putting pressure on government to pay us our pension.”

Asked why he decided to form a pressure group when NUP is the nationally recognised body for retirees, Chief Augustine accused the leadership of the state chapter of NUP of docility over the plight of pensioners in the state.

“They (NUP) don’t call us for meetings. We don’t know what they are doing. They go to government and hobnob with government officials. That is why we decided to form a pressure group to demand our rights. Do you expect us to keep waiting for NUP until we all die?

However, speaking, the leadership of NUP in the state threatened a showdown with the State Government as part of efforts to force the government to pay their benefits.

The union said it could no longer accept the government’s excuses for not paying state pensioners their benefits, abandoning the senior citizens to live as destitute.

NUP in a communiqué issued after its monthly congress in Umuahia, the pensioners claimed that the state owes them cumulative 37 months of unpaid benefits from 2014.

The communiqué signed by NUP’s Acting Chairman, Chief J. O Ekpendu; and Assistant Secretary, Elder Uma Kalu, among others said: “The State Council in session holistically reviewed the very huge debt profile of the Abia State Government to the Pensioners of Abia State and noted it as:(a) 2014 – 5 month (August to December); (b) 2015 – 4 months (January to April); (c) 2018 – 12 months (January to December); (d) 2019 – 11 months (January to November): (e) 2021 – 5 months (August to December); total  – 37 months.

“It is relevant to note that in the six to seven months (January – June/July) pensions paid in 2021, pensioners got 50 per cent or less of their take-home package. The Council is not comfortable that this pension slashing was a unilateral decision of the government which did not specify how long it will last or what will be done about the slashed percentage. These questions are begging for answers and the Council in session demands satisfactory clarification.

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”The Council seriously frowns at the present mode adopted by the Ministry of Finance in remitting check-off dues from the Local Government Pensioners since the Ministry took over the payment of Local Government pensions. This new arrangement shortchanges the Union and should be stopped.

”The Council in session considers as very embarrassing and unacceptable the situation where some pensioners who were verified and captured in the system are being skipped whenever pensions are paid. Moreover, when affected pensioners report the omissions, the error is simply rectified without payment of the resulting arrears. This development seriously affects the amount of check-off dues earned by the Union. The Council demands that this trend should not continue.

”The Council in session reviewed the recent take-over of Local Government pensions’ payment by the State Ministry of Finance and regrets that it has done more harm than good with its many hitches and inconsistencies. The Council is not satisfied and therefore demands that Local Government pensions’ payment should be returned to the newly reconstituted Local Government Pensions Board soonest.

”The Council in session observes with serious concern that the Abia State Government has completely forgotten the issue of gratuity. The Council recalls that payment of gratuity was last made in 2002. This is very unfortunate and should be condemned by all well-meaning citizens of God’s Own State. The Council calls the attention of the Government to this serious lack of concern and insensitively and hereby demands that deliberate efforts should be made to restore the payment of gratuity to deserving pensioners in the state.

”The Council notes with much regret that the State Government has been very silent concerning the implementation of the Consequential Adjustments arising from the Federal Government Approval of Minimum Wage/Minimum Pension of April 2019. Pensioners of Abia State deserve to be accorded this sense of belonging. This Council in session demands that Government should set up the relevant Committee for purpose of the implementation.

”The above review of the Pension and Gratuity Payment Position in Abia State makes it clear that the sector is in a grave crisis situation. The State Council of the Union of Pensioners, sitting here unanimously calls on the Abia State Government to immediately pronounce and declare a State of emergency in the Pensions and Gratuity Sector of the economy in order to effectively redeem the ugly image”.

Efforts to speak with the Commissioner for Information, Dr Eze Chikamnayo, were unsuccessful as he was yet to answer his calls or respond to a text message sent to him at the time of this report.

Similarly, the Chief Press Secretary, CPS, to the Governor, Mr Onyebuchi Ememanka, at the time of this report did not answer his calls.

However, a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity claimed Governor Okezie Ikpeazu was making spirited efforts to clear the pension arrears.

Vanguard News Nigeria