Obinna Odogwu, Abakaliki
It was an emotional moment at the conference hall of Ebonyi State Local Government Service Commission, Abakaliki, when the leadership of the Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP) in the South East converged to deliberate on issues affecting their members, especially those bordering on non-payment of their monthly pensions and gratuities.
With tears in their chins, the senior citizens narrated the misery they go through every day. They said many of them find it difficult to buy food, drugs and pay bills even as many have died due to frustration.
Except Anambra State which they applauded for paying regularly, the other four states-Abia, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo- owe pension arrears and gratuities running into so many months.
Chairman of NUP in Enugu State, Damian Udeani, lamented that pensioners in Enugu languish in penury and added that retirees of primary schools were the worst hit.
“Their gratuity was last paid in 2009. But the happy state of thing is that the governor has promised to release N100 million monthly in order to liquidate the gratuities that were not paid from 2009 till date.
“But the pathetic situation is that of the parastatals; they are not being paid their gratuities and monthly pensions. And these parastatals include the state Water Corporation, the Library Board, the Daily Star, the Enugu State Broadcasting Service (ESBS) that are being owed arrears of pensions and even the gratuities.”
According to him, before the coming of the current administration headed by ace broadcaster, Chukwuma Ogbonna at the ESBS, retirees were owed 105 months, just as the Water Corporation owe about 97 months now.
In the case of retired primary school teachers, Udeani said they were owed 27 months, adding that their gratuity had been brought up to 2005 by the administration of Ugwuanyi.
In Ebonyi, the story appeared similar. State Treasurer of the union, Sir Linus Amaga, accused the state government of dishing out falsehood through the radio about clearing their pension arrears.
“In radio announcements, they claim to have paid everything but those of us involved know that pensions are not regularly paid in Ebonyi State. In October 2016, no pensioner in Ebonyi State from the local government branch has received his pension.
“In February 2017, five local governments which are: Ebonyi, Ikwo, Ishielu, Abakaliki, and Ezza North did not receive theirs. At the end of 2017, retirees in Ohaukwu Local Government did not receive theirs. In the same vein, Izzi Local Government was partially paid; some received while others did not receive.
“And when the governor says that he has paid all the pensioners their monthly pensions, we seem to agree but that is not the reality. It seemed some foot soldiers have taken the cash out. But it is left for the governor to see, who is holding that money.
“Pensioners are dying. When the governor insisted that he would fractionalize the gratuity instead of paying as the money is available, he chose to pay by percentage. He paid 20 per cent to a few,” he lamented.
The situation in Imo was the most pathetic. Principal State Secretary of NUP in the state, Livinus Ashiegbu, lamented that many pensioners in the state have died because of starvation.
“The sad situation now is that pensioners are dying en masse because they are deprived of their pensions with which they buy drugs, feed and settle other bills. An old man needs food and when you don’t give him food, definitely he will die. I want to alert the nation that senior citizens in the South East are dying en masse because the governments except few have refused to give them what is constitutionally due to them”.
Retirees from Abia State also told chilling stories of what they go through. Their Chairman, Udensi Chukwuma described their condition as hellish.
Chukwuma, who is also Chairman of the union in the zone, wondered why governors in the region were unwilling to pay them despite receiving the Paris Club refunds from the Federal Government.