RETIRED public servants in Abia State on Wednesday protested against unpaid pension arrears by the state government for the past 38 months (3 years and 2 months).
The retirees have also not received their gratuity for the past 20 years, reports the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).
The pensioners, operating under the aegis of Concerned Abia Pensioners, marched round the major streets of Umuahia, the state capital and later to the Government House, Umuahia.
They accused Governor Okezie Ikpeazu’s administration of being insensitive to their health and welfare amidst the current economic hardship in the country. The pensioners urged the administration to take serious steps to clear the pension arrears and the outstanding gratuity.
NAN reported that the retirees carried placards with different inscriptions, such as “Abia pensioners: Monthly payment for 38 months now” and “Non-payment of gratuity since 2002”.
Other inscriptions were: “Let governor cut his security vote and pay pensioners”, “Why is Abia government so wicked” and “Stop payment of half pensions”. Many of the protesting retirees looked sickly.
They expressed disappointment over government’s delay in domesticating the Federal Government’s harmonised pensions in Abia.
The Coordinator of the group, Emeka Okezie, while speaking at the Government House, appealed to the government to be sensitive to the condition of pensioners in the state.
“We have been dehumanised and subjected to unimaginable sufferings. The death toll of our members ranges from 10 to 15 persons every month. This is due to the unavailability of funds to meet their personal and health needs,” Okezie said.
The governor, in his response, said the state government was making efforts to ensure regular and consistent payment of pensions. Mr Ikpeazu, represented by the Secretary to the State Government, Chris Ezem, said that the pension remained the right of every retiree. He said that the government was focused on improving the welfare of the pensioners.
The Commissioner for Finance, Aham Uko, said a recent forensic exercise conducted by the government on the pensioners’ payroll exposed 4,422 irregular names.
“The discovery showed that gratuities attached to the irregular names on the payroll amounted to over N6 billion,” Mr Uko said, adding that the exercise did not only save the government from wasting its resources, but would also enable it to pay the genuine pensioners.
He called for collaboration between the leadership of the pensioners and government to ensure that the irregular names were expunged from the payroll before the gratuity and pensions would be paid. He promised that the payment of pensions in the state would henceforth be regular.
Some pensioners, according to him, have started receiving their pensions and, by Friday, more would be paid. (NAN)