From George Onyejiuwa, Owerri
OWERRI, the capital of Imo State, was virtually shut down yesterday by angry Imo pensioners who protested two years of pension arrears by the state government.
The senior citizens, clad in black attire, numbering over 200, defied the early morning rain and trooped out to the streets in a protest march over alleged refusal of the state to pay them pension arrears of two years.
The pensioners barricaded the entrance to the Imo State Government House at Okigwe Roundabout and caused traffic gridlock as motorists were turned back while commuters trekked to various destinations.
Dr. Vitalis Orikaeze Ajumbe, commissioner for Pensions and Internal Resources, who arrived the scene to address them was attacked by the angry senior citizens.
State chairman of Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP), Chief Gideon Ezeji, who spoke with newsmen, accused the governor of trying to send pensioners in the state to their early graves over his refusal to pay them pension since 2014.
According to him, “Governor Rochas Okorocha only paid pensioners from 2011 up till 2014.” He said ever since then, nobody has been paid and described as “untrue, the claim of the governor that all arrears of pensions in the state have been cleared.
“The claim by governor Okorocha, during his fifth anniversary celebration that he paid us 12 years of pension arrears is far from the truth.
“He did not pay us because when he assumed office, the pension arrears was two months.
“We see the present neglect of Imo State pensioners by governor Okorocha as a calculated policy to send us to untimely grave.
“We came to this conclusion because after the government/labour agreement of February 10, 2016, which allocated 70 per cent of state revenue for salaries and pensions, he is still bent on punishing us.
“Right now, we have lost many of our members.
“It is on record that, apart from some selected payment made to some pensioners in October 2015, Imo state government is owning pensioners as at May 2016: civil servants (16 months), local government pensioners (17 months), retired teachers (26 months) and Imo Broadcasting Service pensioners, 36 months.”
Regardless, Ajumbe said the state government will pay pensioners in the next six weeks.
Ajumbe said the delay in the payment was because of an ongoing verification of pensioners in the state and that when that is concluded, all pensioners would be paid.
“The figure rose from N300 million in 2011 to over N1 billion this year and, that is why we are doing the verification to have the data base of real pensioners in the state.
“So, pensioners will be paid in a couple of weeks from now,” he assured.