From Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
The recent Delegates Conference of the National Union of Pensioners (NUP) National Officers Southeast and South-South Zone hosted by Anambra chapter in Awka, afforded the senior citizens in the state great opportunity to share their joy and pain.
But the pensioners whose motto is: ‘Rest is sweet after labour’ might not be resting in sweetness after all, going by the litany of complaints which they laid at the doorsteps of Governor Willie Obiano. They expressed hope that he would address their challenges soon.
But the meeting was not all about lamentations. There were also many good reasons to smile for the pensioners.
Chairman of pensioners in the state, Comrade Anthony Ugozor listed various pleasant things that Governor Obiano had done for them. Among them, he said, is the payment of monthly pensions on the 25th of every month, a practice that earned the governor the Most Pensioners Friendly Governor in Nigeria Award in 2017.
Other gestures included payment of gratuities to state and local government pensioners up to 2017 and donation of 25kg free rice to both pensioners and workers during Christmas celebrations.
Ugozor also thanked Obiano for successfully establishing the Pensions Transitional Arrangements Directorate (PTAD) office in Anambra State in 2019. This, he said, had helped Anambra State pensioners with federal pensions sort out their benefits challenges in Anambra instead of travelling to Enugu or Abuja for such purposes.
Listing the pains of pensioners too, Ugozor lamented the non-compliance with Section 173(3) and 210 (3) of the 1999 Constitution which states that pensions should be reviewed every five years or whenever workers wages are reviewed.
He noted that based on the provision, Anambra pensions ought to have been reviewed in 2010, 2015 and this year 2020 in line with the stipulations of the constitution.
Talking about harmonisation of pension, the chairman noted that such was very necessary because pensioners who retired about 15 years ago or more on a certain grade level and step receive about 50 per cent less than their counterparts who retired 15 years later.
He also disclosed that most pensioners in the state receive about N2, 000 or less as their monthly pension, hence the need for the harmonisation.
Ugozor regretted that 11 months pension arrears are being owed some primary school pensioners between 2002 and 2003 amounting to N490, 184,626.58. He said even though the money was approved for payment in March 2014, the money had yet to be paid even as the beneficiaries have been dying.
The chairman also said the state council of the union has acquired a parcel of land within the Awka Central Business District for the building of her permanent secretariat complex.
Governor Obiano was represented at the event by the Head of Service, Harry Uduh. He commended the great friendship existing between the pensioners of the South-East and South-South describing such as a welcome development.
He recalled that Governor Obiano cleared 25 years pension arrears of National Light Newspaper retirees and 15 years for the state owned Anambra Broadcasting Service.
He promised that government would continue to do more to ensure the welfare of pensioners. He however cautioned that there was paucity of funds, even as he urged them to keep hope alive.
The Zonal Chairman of National Union of Pensioners in the South-East, Damian Udeani said the joint zonal meeting had rekindled long term affinity between the two geographical zones. He thanked the South-South delegates for accepting the invitation to attend the meeting. He said the reunion would bring about a renewed co-operation among them.
While expressing regret that NUP still grapples with various challenges, he said: “Some state governments are reluctant to pay pensioners their legitimate retirement benefits which they allowed to accumulate to horrifying levels. We pray and hope that Almighty God would touch their hearts for them to do the needful,” he concluded.
Chief Godwin Ikechukwu Abumisi, a stakeholder eyeing the position of national president of the pensioners, used the occasion to build bridges of support for the election scheduled for early next year.