Their true-life travails are as terrifying and dehumanizing as they are incredible in the 21st Century Nigeria.Worse still, under a so called democratic dispensation. Yet, they all point to one critical issue-man’s gross inhumanity to man, all in the use of plundering political power to oppress the weak and the voiceless. If not, how do we begin to explain the sad and saddening scenario that 22 states owe pensioners for between two months and 12 years! That of Imo state stands at 71 months. It is mind-boggling that some of the states who are owing pensions cannot pay their current workers salaries for upward of nine months! So, what have the governors concerned been doing with the federal allocations?
Precisely, the states where old, frail, hungry and haggard-looking pensioners pine away in the ignoble pit of poverty, or are still wallowing in the mire of mindless misery include Abia, Benue, Ekiti, Edo, Niger, Yobe, Beyelsa, Akwa-Ibom, Delta, Kaduna and Osun. Others are Kebbi, Kwara, Nassarawa, Adamawa, Ondo, Plateau, Kogi and Enugu. Notably, the list cuts across states run by different political parties, including the much-maligned Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) and the ruling All Progressives Congress(APC).As a concerned Nigerian recently asked “what’s the difference between them?”
The pain runs deep, considering the fact that most of the pensioners belong to the class of patriotic Nigerians who served their country with uncommon passion, dedication, commitment, zeal, enthusiasm and honesty of purpose. But how has the state paid them back? In rusty coins they never gave to their country. Many are terminally ill. Others have fainted queuing for hours on end, under the scorching sun and the whipping rains. In fact, according to Alhaji Isiaka Akanbi, the Chairman of the Kwara State Local Government Pensioners Association (KSLGPA) over 1,600 pensioners have been sent groveling to their graves between April 2015 and now. Some 3,000 of the members, still lucky to be alive have no means to access affordable health care delivery.
But that is not all to it. In Edo state, run by a former Labour leader, Comrade Oshiomhole of the APC the retired workers at the local government level are not smiling. They recently stormed Benin City clad in black with various placards, part of which read: “ Edo State retirees of 2013,2014, 2015 and 2016 are hungry and abandoned. Comrade Governor, please pay us our monthly pension” They claim that they are being owed between 7-42 months! And several of them have been evicted from their apartments due to their inability to pay rent. Also, in Bayelsa state led by the ‘action governor’ Seriake Dickson of the PDP three retirees slumped in a recent verification exercise. They are being owed pension of about eight months. Unfortunately, these horrifying tales have been on for years.
For instance, on Friday June 14, 2002 the Daily Times published my opinion essay entitled: Pay our Pensioners, please! in my column. I was the Editorial Page Editor then. The aim was to draw the needed attention of the powers that be to the untold agony of our pensioners. It focused on their unjustifiable suffering including how 500 of them stormed the Governor’s Office at Alagbaka, Akure, Ondo State protesting the deduction of 142 per cent of their terminal benefits but were dispersed by armed policemen with tear gas!
The fate of one Fadekemi Desalu was even worse. She had served Lagos State meritoriously for 40 years but on May Day, 2002 Superscreen Tv station aired her ordeal before a shocked public; how she was attacked by hoodlums parading themselves as members of NURTW. ‘She was kicked on the head, legs and back by able-bodied men old enough to be her children. Amidst tears of anguish and with her legs in P.O.P. in a hospital she demanded to know if she was wrong to have demanded for right. According to Ayodele Akele, the Union Leader, the assault on her was premeditated’. What a country, one is compelled to ask.
Again, in 2004 yours truly wrote another opinion essay with the title: Pay our military pensions, for God’s sake! This is an excerpt from the piece. ‘The celebration of the 2014 Armed Forces Remembrance Day may have come and gone but not so the mind-boggling tales of woes of pensioners, some who have not been paid their terminal benefits for upward of three years! It was a national embarrassment that while President Goodluck Jonathan, the Senate President, David Mark and the Speaker House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwaal were laying wreathes at the Cenotaph to honour the fallen heroes, their living counterparts were staging a protest nearby to drive home their days of hunger.’
If indeed, our political helmsmen are ready to battle the monster of corruption then, pensioners must be paid as at when due. Their tales of woe send the wrong message to those still in service. They are tempted to ask that if their predecessors, who refused to steal from the public till could be so cruelly treated, with their high hopes dashed by those entrusted with their welfare, why should they commit their intellectual and physical energy to a thankless government job!
It would be recalled that though the Federal Government set up a committee on Pensions Reforms there is still no reprieve for the embattled retirees. Yet, the Pensions Reform Act 2004 states succinctly that pension is the right of an employee or self employed individual to derive some benefit upon retirement from active employment, if certain conditions such as minimum years of service or minimum age have been attained.
One’s passionate appeal here is that the current administration in its avowed bid to fight corruption, respect and uphold the sanctity of human life should investigate what is happening to our much-respected senior citizens now in penury. The widows and orphans left behind by some are suffering untold pains. Ordinarily, the retirement period should be one of blissful rest and relaxation after years of meritorious service to God and country, not that of avoidable suffering. The current trend of their criminal neglect should be reversed. Only then would other Nigerians be proud and ready to serve their fatherland.
Baje, a public affairs analyst and author writes from Lagos.