Amby Uneze in Owerri
Hundreds of hunger-stricken pensioners in Imo State yesterday took to the streets of Owerri, the state capital, to protest against their unpaid pensions and gratuities owed them by the state government for over four months.
This is even as the senior citizens were equally mourning the deaths of 42 of their members, who they said had died of hunger and lack of medication in the past four months as a result of non-payment of their pensions.
The pensioners, who carried plates begging food from motorists, sang songs of lamentation over their predicament while also carrying placards with inscriptions such as ‘BVN saga, a ploy to steal our money’; ‘Retirees demand their pensions’; ‘What offence did pensioners commit?’ among others to explain their agitations.
Their protest shut down the state capital, particularly the Government House axis, for hours while security operatives were on ground to forestall breakdown of law and order.
Speaking to journalists on behalf of the protesters, the Chairman, Pension Intervention Committee of the Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP), Iyke Ohaneje, expressed grievances over the arrears owed them.
He claimed that pensioners in the state were owed a backlog of pension arrears over a period of four months from February till date.
Ohaneje, however, claimed that the pensioners were not demonstrating nor trying to disrupt government activities, but were on the streets to beg for alms to feed themselves since the government had refused to pay them.
According to him, “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 to feed our families.
“The reason is because the state Governor, Hope Uzodimma, has refused to pay us in 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. These are the ones we have their records. But, there are those in various rural areas whose deaths have not been reported as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. So, we are begging you to help us with money to buy food.
“We’re telling the state government to release our pensions. It is not their money. It is our money saved from our salaries over time which we asked the government to keep for us so that when we retire, it will be paid to us as pensions.”
Also speaking, Dr. Ibeagi Obiora, who retired as a veterinary doctor in the state Ministry of Agriculture, said it was not like this during the short tenure of 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, however, the Secretary to the State Government, Cosmas Iwu, who responded on behalf of the governor, commended the pensioners for their composure, assuring them that their pensions would be received before the week runs out.
The SSG said the delay in the payment was not deliberate but was due to the inconsistency contained in the pension list.