As Pensioners lament death of over 150 colleagues
By Davies Iheamnachor
THE plight of pensioners in Rivers State has become one of the major stains of Governor Nyesom Wike’s regime.
Not long ago, President of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Ayuba Wabba, in a petition to the Rivers State governor, among others, said “We are also amiss at the continued failure of Rivers State to pay the terminal benefits of retirees for the past seven years despite the viability of Rivers State which is at par with Lagos State as Nigeria’s most financially solvent states.”
Lamenting the pains of retirees in the state, the Coordinator of the Pensioners in Rivers State, Lucky Ati, said many pensioners have died without receiving their benefits.
According to him, “Nobody has been paid gratuity in this state for the past seven years. You can imagine what we are going through. At our age, there are so many terminal illnesses that we encounter that need constant medication. How do you go about these medications when you don’t have money?
“So many of us have died. I have lost count of the numbers. By the time I was following up, based on the information I was getting from members, before December 2021, we have lost over 150 pensioners.”
During the May Day celebration , the State NLC alleged systematic Pension fraud in the State Pension board.
Workers in the state came to the May Day celebration in black attire, saying they were mourning the suffering and pains of both active and retired public workers of the state.
Decrying the situation, Chairperson of Rivers’ NLC, Beatrice Itubo, among others, said “Retirees have continued to die in their numbers without the Government showing any concern or empathy. It is shameful to say the least that a Government which prides itself as responsible government would allow people who devoted the better parts of their lives to work for the state to resort to fasting and prayers in public before realizing that these people need their little benefits to stay alive a little longer.
“Retirees in the state, however, have heaved a sigh of relief from the alleged poor treatment by the state government, with the promise of payment of their allowances.
“However, the Government has, as a damage-control mechanism, announced readiness to pay retirees arrears of pension. No matter how late this has come, and irrespective of how infinitesimal what is to be paid , the labour family is happy over this announcement.
“It is our hope that this promise will be committed to action within the shortest time possible. We also know that the present Government of Rivers State has the capacity to do better on this if it wants to.
Itubo urged the state government to stop alleged fraud in the pension’s board, claiming that since the inception of the Contributory Pension Scheme, CPS, the state government had not contributed a kobo.
According to her, “We would like to draw the attention of the Government of Rivers State to the systemic fraud being perpetrated by the Rivers State Pensions Board against pensioners of Rivers State.
“It is in public knowledge that right from the commencement of the Contributory Pensions Scheme in the state; Government has not contributed a dime to the fund. All deductions have been made solely from the employees’ salaries.
“To our chagrin, printouts of contributions made to the funds are now beginning to have some months’ contributions in the employee’s name, while some are in the employer’s name.
“When did the Government of Rivers State contribute these quotas that have been recorded in its name? How did the Rivers State Pensions Board come about the employer’s contribution which it is now deducting from the total sum contributed?
“This is a systemic fraud. Let the Government of Rivers State exonerates itself from this organized crime by ordering the Pensions Board to return to pensioners all money deducted in the name of employer’s contributions because the Government of Rivers State has never contributed a kobo to the fund. If the Government fails to do this, we will meet them in court.”
Rivers approves payment
Meanwhile, the state government has promised to commence the payment of benefits to retirees from this month, approving immediate release of monthly pensions for additional 1,191 retirees from the state Civil Service.
Deputy Governor of the state who represented Governor Wike at the Workers’ Day celebration , Dr Ipalibo Harry Banigo, said “Rivers State government pays salaries to all workers in the public sector promptly and provides monthly overheads to enable perform their functions and run their offices effectively.
“Government has paid All outstanding monthly pensions up till date for all who have completed their biometrics.
“The governor of Rivers State, approved the release of monthly pensions for additives 1,191 retirees from the Rivers State civil service, which payment took immediate effect from the month of April 2022 and was effected precisely on Thursday/Friday last week.”