Edo Pensioners In Tears Over Unpaid Entitlements
By CAJETAN MMUTA
For pensioners in Edo State, it is a period of unending protests. With claims of pension arrears ranging from 10 to 84 months, the pensioners are pressing their case, committed to be heard and attended to by the state and local governments. CAJETAN MMUTA reports from Benin.
When in 2016, 75-year-old Mr. Sunday Oboite, sandwiched between colleagues, slumped and died after long hours of screening for pensioners at the secretariat complex of the Oredo Local Government Area in Benin, not a few saw the danger coming.
The late Oboite and other ex-workers of the host council in the capital town had stood outside the complex he had worked for the past 35 years for hours in the scorching sun with thirst and frail health conditions accompanied by biting hunger while on queue.
But few minutes for him to be attended to at the reception spot of the area by the pension screening officials, his frame could no longer carry him nor withstand the heat again as he gave up the ghost.
He was reported to have bitterly complained about hunger after hours without being attended to by the pension officials, which prompted a Good Samaritan to buy him a canned drink (Viju milk) and sachet water to whet his appetite.
The ugly scenario had welled up anger in the retired aged men and women, who expressed shock at the sudden demise of the late staff of works department of the council.
Findings revealed that when the pensioners presented themselves for screening at the secretariat at about 8 am same day, they were informed to go to nearby Urhokpota hall, about 100 meters away but the late Sunday was said to have showed signs of fatigue due to exhaustion to move to the location with his colleagues but chose to wait at the reception pending when it would be his turn for the all important exercise which would have certified him due to collect his paltry entitlement for the years in active service.
Today, the bereaved family and relatives are struggling to make ends meet without adequate consolation and compensation from relevant authorities to wipe off tears and pains of such tragic loss of their breadwinner.
But that is not all in the tale of woes and painful slide to slow deaths the pensioners are daily subjected to by the seeming failure of both the state and local governments in their obligations to give due honour to the retired and deserving ex-workers for the years they sacrificed their lives towards the growth and development of the state.
Aside this, further findings revealed that one of the retirees from active service of the state whose name was given simply as Mr. Ogieva was owed 84 months by the state government and out of frustration, he had to leave the shores of the country with proceeds from the sale of some few of his personal properties.
On several occasions, days, weeks, months and years, they have taken to the streets and relevant government quarters including the state house of assembly where their wards represent them and the state government house where the cake that belongs to people of the entire 192 wards, 18 councils and three senatorial districts are shared to register to no avail their unbearable grievances.
Worse still, at the last count, about 37 of the retired workers have died from 2014 to date due to government’s insensitivity, poor welfare.
Speaking on their plights while fighting tears, Mr. Henry Okuonghae, a retired judicial worker, said:“Life without pension payment is indescribable. As a matter of fact, we just live by the grace of God”.
Also, Mr. Marcus O. Afekhafe (retired worker of the Ministry of Education, Iyaro, Benin) explained that, “In fact, the situation has been very excruciating. For instance, I just exited from service on May 1 2014. The following month, my wife who toiled and worked as well as bore the pains with me for the past 35 years I served, took ill and died in the process. As I speak now, I am a widower. She left the kids with me. Then, to compound my problems, I don’t even have anything to take care of the kids now. We have been living from hand to mouth. Even though I left in 2014, I didn’t get a dime till 2016. Our issue got compounded with the closure of the pension board. Before the closure in November 2015, I had all my papers processed but I cannot help myself. I was not enrolled for my monthly stipends until we started protesting. We didn’t know ourselves but because of the pains we shared, we formed the number we are having now. I was outside without payment for 24 months and on a daily basis, you won’t believe I can’t read nor write. In fact, I almost turned insane. It is no fault of mine; is it a sin to work with the state government? Our immediate past governor who spent only eight years, by the time he was leaving within a day they came up with a bill to say he should be given over N200million to build a house in any place of his choice in Nigeria; just eight years but see me for 35 years, I am still crying till now. What I am expecting is not even up to N15million, including arrears. I am the secretary of the aggrieved group. I have a register and all of them are right there. The government officers are doing this to save their ugly faces. If they don’t settle this scuffle, by the time they joined us it will not go down well with them.”
On his part, Barrister Osemwinkhai, a retired school principal and spokesperson for the pensioners said: “As a matter of fact, I retired in 2014 as number two teacher in the state. What we are really facing is horrible in Edo State. When we retired, the government closed down the pension board in 2015. And from the time I disengaged, the state government did not take steps to process our papers; files were lying down somewhere until we started protesting. When we started protesting, they now said they were going to work on it but they did not work on it and before then, they shut down the pension board. So, there was a long time that the government did not attend to the pensioners in the state. When we could not bear it any longer, we all took to the streets. It was a spontaneous reaction. It was not something we planned; all those in that category now came up and little did we know that the leadership of Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP) was on government payroll. We complained but they trivialized it and were not forthcoming. So, we formed ourselves into groups and started confronting the state governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and coincidentally the present governor (Mr. Godwin Obaseki) was the leader of the state economic team that advised Oshiomhole to close down the pension board so as to delay payment.”
He explained: “The summary of it all is that most of us were being owed a lot of arrears and the bitterness of it all is that during this same period, we were borrowing money from friends, relations and well wishers to survive. Most of us are in rented apartments. We are at the mercy of our landlords; we continue to beg, at times we give promises that the government will soon do something about it”.
Osemwinkhai said the periods of the pensions and arrears “depends on the period of exit of individuals. There were some being owed five months, there are some 84 months”.
He added that, “the situation is so bad that some of the state pensioners that were exited from their apartments are now sleeping in church compounds; some of their children are out of school, like my own child, she was in 200 level at the Benson Idahosa University as at the time this incident happened and she could not stand it any longer and I had to withdraw the child. So, we have been appealing to the state government to please do the needful to salvage the situation but all to no avail.”
On October 16 this year, the pensioners during one of their numerous protests in Benin City, challenged the state Governor, Godwin Obaseki to show proof to people of the state how he spent the over N29.56bn share of Federal Government’s Paris Club refund released in three tranches to states and from which Edo State got its own shares. The state had taken delivery of the refund in batches of N11. 38bn, N12. 18bn and N6. 09bn. More worrisome, the trooping out of these protesting elder statesmen and women for countless moment has continued to cripple shamefully, social and economic activities as their resolute poise of blocking major roads for days, especially within the Kings Square or ring road. Motorists and commuters have suffered untold hardship due to tens of hours of heavy gridlock. The retirees drawn from 18 local government areas and the state civil service have kept pointing accusing at the government for reneging in its agreements and promises during this year’s May Day celebration held at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium to pay them the various arrears of pensions and gratuities spanning from five to 42 months.
© News Telegraph