*Bemoan non-payment of entitlements 11 years after
*They’ll be paid soon –School
By Lawrence Enyoghasu
Since the death of two friends, Messrs Collins Uba-Ibenero and Sunday Akpan, who worked at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Lagos Liaison office, their widows, Roseline and Christiana have fallen on hard time.
They hardly have two square meals a day. Their clothes are one wash away from being rags. To survive, they have to engage in farming and petty trading.
The bane of their suffering is the non-payment of their late husbands’ gratuity since 2005 and 2007 they gave up the ghost. For 11 years, Roseline has chased the gratuity of her late husband in vain while Christaina joined the same race nine years ago when Akpan died. Currently, Roseline and Christiana are sulking in their respective homes. They are tired of demanding for their late husbands’ rights. They have lost hope in the system their husbands served for over 33 years.
Life and death of the two friends
While Mr. Ibenero was the store officer of the Liaison office, Mr Akpan was his assistant and they worked in a friendly environment. Saturday Sun gathered that they were close friends, God-fearing people who lead each other in the paths of light. Before they would start their day, they would call everybody together to pray. They were the perfect colleagues. And everybody loved them. According to a source nobody who knew the two men would allow their wives to suffer.
When they were alive, they faced many challenges not from their work place but in their private lives. Ibenero was not known to be sick. But the first and only time he became sick he died from it.
Narrating what transpired when Mr. Ibenero was sick, his widow said that though her husband never drank alcohol or smoked, yet he died of lungs cancer. A sickness she claimed might have been prevented if the school had given them the opportunity to go to a better hospital for treatment.
Her words: “While he was sick we spent all the money we had saved on him. When he was sick, first we took him to University of Lagos Medical Centre which was the hospital our employer approved for us. After some series of test, they said that he had fluid in his lungs. We then asked one Doctor Chukwu, who was attending to him, he said that he was going to be taking antibiotics. He took the medicine till a point he felt there was no improvement so we left the hospital I took him to Ajayi hospital in Ikorodu.
“On seeing him, he shouted that the fluid should have been removed. He then started to remove it; in the process he sucked out blood and was shocked. He called me aside and told me that there was nothing more to do for him that we should just go home and wait till the day he would die. I told my husband and he disagreed. We then proceeded to University Teaching Hospital, Ibadan. Like Ajayi said, they could not use all the things they said we should buy, they changed his treatment to physical therapy and not long after they discharged him. My husband went home and died on our bed.”
Mr. Ibenero might have borne the cross of lung cancer, Mr Akpan shouldered another which might also be the cause of his death. His first wife died, which lead him to marry another wife. The second wife in a space of eight years had four children. The children and their mother died, then he married another wife Mrs. Christiana Akpan. According to the surviving daughter of Mr Akpan’s first marriage, Christiana Chukwu (Nee Akpan), the constant loss of children made Mr Akpan to develop high blood pressure.
“He had high blood pressure and slept and didn’t wake up. I was in my house when my step mother called me that she had been trying to wake my father to eat. I rushed down there and took him to the hospital where he was confirmed dead”, she stated.
The widows groan
After their demise, one would think things would be better for their widows, and that they would enjoy endless grace from the school and help from their late husbands’ colleagues. All were just wishful thought; the widows’ wallow in penury and wear the garment of poverty.
Mrs. Ibenero could not stop crying while she spoke to Saturday Sun, the dark skinned woman could not stop the stream of tears flowing down her face. Her pain is mostly from the disappointment from the school. She said her husband would give anything to serve the school but would never imagine it could maltreat his family. Narrating what she has passed through since her husband’s demise,
She said, “two years to his retirement, he died of cancer of the lungs. Though he did not drink or smoked, lung cancer still killed him. When he died I told them and as a result they assisted me, which was their norm and tradition: money for coffin, transportation depending on the level and the salary of the person.”
According to her, “It was the former Vice- Chancellor and former Minster for Power, Prof Chinedu Ositadinma Nebo who helped me personally; he paid part of the hospital bill we incurred. When he died he did not owe the school or was involved in any kind of prohibited business.”
She said she had made several trips to the school to process her late husband’s entitlements but all to no avail. “Afterwards, I went to Nsukka, I was instructed to check all the departments if he owed any, fortunately, he did not, so I headed to clearance. They told us that there were going to be external auditors from Abuja to verify the details, these people came and left without any complaint, again I was told that I would need to go to Enugu State for another verification. It was there that we were given a paper to sign. On the paper was the total money they were going to pay as gratuity. After signing, I was told to drop my bank account number and I did”, she stated.
Mrs. Ibenero left full of hope. She got home and started praying to God. Nothing happened, there was no money. “After some years, I went back to the school to know why they had not paid the gratuity; they told me that his name was part of the names that were omitted. They said that the mistake was from Abuja and that I should come again for verification. The last verification took place in 2012 and I was told that everything will be in order and he was going to be paid but till date, the money has not been paid. It is about N4.8 million in all”, she added.
Mrs Ibenero needs not spell it in bold letters to someone with sight that she is suffering. “I have been living on the stipends they pay me and plant mostly all my foods. Life has been hard for me,” she stated.
While Mrs Ibenero was sustaining herself with farming, Mrs Christiana Akpan hawks food for survival. She didn’t want to discuss about her late husband’s gratuity. Instead, she directed this reporter to her step daughter, Mrs Christiana Chukwu (Nee Akpan.)
“I have been trying to cope. My husband died when our eldest child was 12. In order to survive, I started to sell sweet and biscuit before hawking food. I would not like to talk about my late husband. His memory is still fresh. I would rather direct you to my step daughter who has been helping on the matter,” Mrs Akpan stated.
On getting to Mrs Christiana Chukwu, her narration was not different from Mrs Ibenero’s account. “ They conducted series of interview and requested for many documents. After some years, they called again that they want to do verification again. They asked for my account number and told us to expect the money. During his service year, there was a restructuring of their salary. The first money they paid was titled burial rites, after that we have not had of anything.
“There was a time somebody from Nsukka called me and asked me to forward the information I have to him. I called one Mr Ihuoma who had been helping us, I sent the photocopy of the documents to him, then he submitted it to the department the person called from. This was in March 2012, they said that by June that year, they were going to pay the money. All the help we have been having has always been from Mr. Ihuoma but nothing from the school till date”, she stated.
When contacted, the office of the Vice chancellor, confirmed that the deceased were truly former staff of the school and were both entitled to gratuity, adding that the beneficiaries’ names have long been sent to Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD) for payment of their gratuities.
“The National Pension Commission (Pencom) was responsible for payment of gratuity until Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD) took over that obligation, as prescribed by the Pension Act.
“Roseline Ibenero and Christiana Akpan names are on the list sent to Pencom in the past and now PTAD. They are expected to proceed to PTAD for confirmation of payment and other details,” the school stated.