Stephen Ukandu, Umuahia
Pensioners in Abia State, Wednesday blocked the main entrance gate to the Government House, Umuahia, to protest 38 months of pension arrears.
This is coming barely two weeks after staff of the Health Management Board protested 12 months of unpaid salaries.
The senior citizens dressed in black attires trekked from Bende Road to the Government House chanting anti-Government songs.
They accused Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu of insensitivity to the plight of pensioners.
Some of them carried placards bearing various inscriptions such as: “No payment of gratuities since 2002;” “Abia pensioners are dying;” ” Why is Abia Govt so wicked?”, among others.
Addressing Government officials who received them on behalf of the Governor, the Coordinator of Concerned Abia Pensioners, Chief Emeka Okezie, decried the plight of pensioners in the state.
He said the state government was toying with the welfare of pensioners some of whom he said had died untimely as a result of hardship.
According to him, an average of 15 pensioners dies every month in Abia due to economic hardship and lack of adequate medical attention.
He identified their grievances as: 38 unpaid monthly pension; non harmonization of pensions from 1998 to 2010; and unpaid accumulated gratuity for 20 years.
“We have been dehumanised and subjected to unimaginable suffering as death toll ranges to about 10 to 15 pensioners every month,” Chief Okezie lamented.
The pensioners, however, commended the State Commissioner for Finance, Chief Aham Uko, who they said made spirited efforts during his first tenure in office to pay pensioners regularly.
When the Commissioner said that the Governor also had the pensioners in mind they almost revolted as chants of “no, no, it’s not true, let him show it,” rented the air.
They regretted that after about one year of sustained regular payment, Government reverted to the old order of indebtedness for reasons unexplained.
Responding on behalf of the Governor, Commissioner for Finance, Aham Uko, thanked the senior citizens for their comportment and assured them that Government was making efforts to clear the arrear of pension.
He blamed Government’s inability to pay pensioners regularly on the global economic downturn, an excuse that did not go down well with the pensioners.
The Finance Commissioner also blamed ghost pensioners for the delays, disclosing that Government has uncovered and removed 4422 fake pensioners from the system.
According to him, gratuities accruing to the fake pensioners amounted to N6 billion.
He assured that having weeded out such number of irregular pensioners, payment of pensions will be consistent.
“We are consciously making efforts to see you are paid irrespective of the situation in the country,” he said.
He promised that before the end of the week pensioners in the state would get paid as the banks had been directed to pay them.