Emmanuel Ugwu in Umuahia
The Speaker of Abia State House of Assembly, Hon Chikwendu Kalu, wednesday shed tears over the state pensioners after he was overcome with emotion over the plight of the senior citizens.
The pensioners, who had been holding series of protests over the past two weeks, took their grievances to the House of Assembly where they narrated their sufferings to the Speaker in a bid to seek his intervention.
In one of such protests staged on November 15, 2017, the angry pensioners blocked government house gate seeking audience with Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, who was outside the state then but his principal secretary, Chief Emma Nwabuko, pacified the pensioners and promised that government was looking into their matter
However, after waiting for two weeks, the senior citizens were back on the streets. They had converged on the Sub-treasury on Bende Road before trekking a distance of about three kilometers to the House of Assembly dressed in black attires, symbolising state of mourning.
Just as they did at government house, the haggard-looking pensioners barricaded the entrance gate of the assembly complex, preventing movement in and out of the legislative complex before the Speaker in company of other principal officers of the assembly came to meet them.
â€œPlease tell the governor to pay us at least for six months because there is money in the state. Anybody saying there is no money in Abia State now should come let us tell him that we know how money comes into the state and its movements,â€ spokesman of the pensioners, Chief Emmanuel Okparanta pleaded with the lawmakers.
He lamented that government had abandoned pensioners â€œto be dying like chickenâ€ by denying them their pensions, which according to him, has hit 49 months cumulative arrears spanning from 2013 to 2017.
The spokesman noted with sadness that the pensioners have only been paid once since this year, adding that retirees were last paid gratuity 18 years ago. This development, he said, has made it appear as if retirement has become a curse.
He alleged that the state governor was treating the welfare of senior citizens with levity since he pays workers bit abandons pensioners to their fate.
â€œWe met the governor at Okpara auditorium and he promised to bridge the gap between us and workers but since then he has done nothingâ€, he pointed out.
To worsen the case of the pensioners, Okparanta stated that the failure of successive Abia governments and the present one to implement harmonized pensions from 1998 to 2010, has condemned many pensioners to continue as low as N500 as pension hence so many pensioners could no longer cope with life.
In response, the Speaker lauded the pensioners for comporting themselves peacefully and sympathised with them for the untold hardships they have been passing through due to the non-payment of their pensions.
â€œIt is ridiculous to pay somebody N500 as pension,â€ he said, adding, â€œAnybody who is disregarding old age, what he is saying is that he wouldnâ€™t be oldâ€.
The Speaker assured the protesting senior citizens that the assembly would initiate actions â€œto right the wrongsâ€, adding that the grievances of the senior citizens which were written down and a copy given to him, would be treated as a matter of urgent public importance.