Hundreds of pensioners in Imo state on Tuesday thronged out in their numbers to protest their unpaid pensions and gratuities owed them by the state government.
The pensioners also disclosed that they had lost 42 of their members who died in the past five months as a result of the non-payment of their pensions.
The pensioners, who carried plates begging food from motorists, also sang sorrowful songs, while carrying placards with inscriptions such as: “BVN saga a ploy to steal our money”; “Retirees demand their pensions” and “What offense did pensioners commit?” amongst others, to explain their plight.
The protest shut down the state capital, particularly the Government House axis for hours while security operatives were on ground to forestall the breakdown of law and order.
Addressing journalists on behalf of the protesters, the Chairman of the pension intervention committee of the Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP), Comrade Iyke Ohaneje, expressed disappointment over the non-payment of the pension arrears.
He claimed that pensioners in the state were owed a backlog of arrears over a period of four months from February till date.
Ohaneje however, claimed that the pensioners were neither demonstrating nor trying to disrupt government activities, but were on the streets to beg for alms to feed themselves since the government has refused to pay them.
“We’re not here to demonstrate. We’re not here to disrupt government activities. But, we are here to seek help from good-spirited people of Imo state so as to feed our families.
The reason is because Governor Hope Uzodimma has refused to pay us since four months.
“We cannot afford to stay idle while our members and their families are dying of hunger. Already, 42 of our members have died since February till date. These are the one we have their records.
“But, there are those in various rural villages whose deaths have not been reported as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. So, we are begging you people to help us with money to buy food.
“We’re telling government to release our pensions. It is not their money. It is our money saved from our salaries over time which we asked government to keep for us so that when we retire, it will be paid to us as pensions,” he said.
Also speaking, Dr. Ibeagi Obiora, who retired as a veterinary doctor in the state’s ministry of agriculture, said the delay in pension payment was not the case during the short tenure of former Governor Emeka Ihedioha.
“Governor Uzodimma is claiming to be saving N2 billion monthly and increasing the state internal revenue, yet he doesn’t want to pay us our pensions.
My problem is that the state government is claiming to have cleared pension arrears and calling us ghost pensioners. Let them come out and see the over 3, 000 pensioners protesting here today, that we are not ghost pensioners,” Obiora said.
Addressing the protesters, the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Cosmas Iwu, who responded on behalf of the governor, commended the pensioners for their composure, assuring that their pensions would be paid before the week runs out.
He said the delay in the payment was not deliberate, but was due to the inconsistencies contained in the pension list.
Iwu, who assured that the problem with pensioners’ salary and gratuity has been ratified, further said the administration of Gov. Uzodinma has come to solve problems not to apportion blames.