By Chioma Onuegbu
ALL is not well with pensioners in Akwa Ibom State as they have warned that the suffering, the frustration and perceived abandonment by the state government may force them into street protest across the state.
Among others, the senior citizens expressed misgivings about the way the state government has relegated the issue of payment of their gratuities.
Speaking through the state branch of Nigeria Union of Pensioners, NUP, they noted that the state pensioners are angry over the issue of unpaid gratuities.
State Secretary of NUP, Obong Cosmas Essien said: “The Union is planning to mobilise its members to embark on a protest over government’s failure to implement their requests such as the establishment of the Pension Commission or Board. The pensioners are grouped into four. We have civil service pensioners, we have Local Government, LG, Pensioners, Retired Primary School Teachers Pensioners and Parastatals Pensioners. These four groups have problems of different dimensions.
“If you take civil service pensioners, pension arrears were a perennial problem before the implementation of straight transfer which started in June 2016. In the past when somebody retired and got the last salary payment, he or she would get no pension, no gratuity. It could be a year or two years before they will implement pension payment.
“The gap before implementation of pension created pension arrears. So, we have arrears for civil pensioners for 2013, 2014, 2015, and January to May 2016. From June 2016 upward, somebody that retires gets the pension, but gratuity is not paid. From 2017 till date, we have complained over their unpaid gratuity. The next group is the Local Government pensioners. Before now, we struggled through the former Executive Secretary, ES, and the government paid up to 2012.”
The NUP State Secretary explained that the then ES adopted a strategy where two to three retirees were selected monthly and paid their gratuities, aimed at reducing the number of retirees owed gratuities.
According to him, payment of gratuities was stopped after the ES was removed from office, noting: “Accumulation of local government gratuities started from 2012 till now. For the primary school teachers, it is the same story because the local government is supposed to handle primary school and local government. But when government collects money, it doesn’t release money for the local governments to liquidate their indebtedness.
“When a governor mounts the pulpit because he has paid the civil service pensioners, he will say he does not owe anybody. He forgets that he owes primary school teachers and other pensioners.
“So the struggle continued till 2020, when we gave him (governor) ultimatum that all pensioners will demonstrate naked.
“Following that threat, he set up a committee to verify how much the government owed the retired primary school teachers. So, the committee started work from January to March last year (2021). The governor promised to pay N200 million monthly to liquidate the indebtedness of about N23 billion gratuity for those still alive and next of kins of retired primary school teachers.”
Essien who is also the NUP Zonal Secretary South-South, noted that the union was able to know about the N23 billion unpaid gratuities through the verification exercise, noting that the total amount so far paid from last year when government commenced payment of N200 million monthly till January 2022, is N850 million.
Wondering why Akwa Ibom Government could not pity the pensioners by clearing the backlog of primary school teachers’ gratuities at once like some states did recently, he said: “Borno State where there is Boko Haram insurgency had sympathy for its retirees and coughed out N11 billion to clear the backlog of gratuities of pensioners, even Delta State spent about N5 billion. Why should our government be paying N200 million monthly? If the governor had followed our advice and request, he would not have fallen into this problem. We recommended to him to establish Akwa Ibom State Pension Commission, or a Board but he refused.
“This Board or Commission if it was established, would have helped him to understand what is going on in this Union. We have written several times but it seems they don’t buy into it. He avoids us; he doesn’t want to see us. We applied to see him, but he refused. We have joined politics to make him realise that we are part of his service, he refused to see us after collecting our votes. Few weeks from now, we will mobilise our members to protest. It will come to that.”
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