In five months, the Emeka Ihedioha administration has revamped and digitized the Imo State pension system to be among the best available anywhere.
Many pensioners and senior citizens did not believe it when they got the payment alerts on their phones! Many who got the alert at 12 midnight went back to sleep, convinced it was a dream.
When they checked their phones in the morning and found that truly, they had been paid two months of pension, many broke into songs of thanksgiving while those who are strong enough danced about the house telling anyone around what had happened.
Thursday, October 17, has indeed marked a new beginning, a turning point in the annals of Imo State government. It was the day 24,431 pensioners in Imo State got paid through an e-payment system through their individual accounts and phones.
Many still do not believe what has happened is real. Until we receive a second, third and fourth alerts, we won’t believe this is happening to us in Imo State.
Their disbelief is quite understandable. They have been taken through hell and back. In the last eight years alone they have run through the gamut of numerous verification exercises and biometric capture. But with each exercise, their cases got worse, payment shrunk and vanished entirely for over four years.
When, therefore, Governor Ihedioha came to office and promised to clean the mess and revamp the Imo pension system, pensioners were skeptical; they had walked that road before, they murmured. Just pay us something, they kept chorusing.
But there was no record, no database and nobody could say exactly how many or how much. Governor Ihedioha set up a pension reform committee led by Mr Pascal Madu. Reputable pensions consultants, Croesus Integrated Services were also engaged to interface with the committee.
Over a period of two months, more than 400 computer hardware and software were deployed, including laptops, printers, biometric scanners, webcams, etc. About 48,000 files of all retirees of Imo origin since 1976 were retrieved from dungeons where they languished. Across 27 local government areas of Imo State, biometric verification centres were set up.
More than 800 Imo youths drawn from all the LGAs were trained and deployed for the process.
Under a most conducive atmosphere, verification and biometric data capture were carried out. Pensioners were seated, food was served, medics were on hand. Home and hospital verification were done for those who were too infirm to come out for verification.
Many pensioners averred that they never had a verification exercise like this before.
It is after this rigorous process that payment of pensioners in Imo State started on October 17, 2019. Pensioners were beside themselves with joy. “We were paid just three times in eight years and here we are getting two months at a go in just five months. And it is from our phones without stress. This is unbelievable,” a pensioner said.
According to Pascal Madu, chairman of the pension review committee, “after this verification, about N3.5 billion is being saved per annum. This is huge for a state like Imo with huge infrastructure deficit.”
Following from this, a proper pension administration system is underway to manage this foolproof digitized data that has been mined. Several other add-ons like contributory pensions scheme may also be introduced to Imo State.
It is, indeed, a new dawn for Imo pensioners.