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Abia State pensioners yesterday took to the streets of Umuahia, the capital city to protest the non-payment of pensions and gratuities running into 38 months.
The languid senior citizens marched under the aegis of Concerned Abia Pensioners, in what they said was the beginning of a two-day protest across the state.
Evoking pity and hopelessness as they lamented the unpaid 38 months pension arrears, 20 years of non-payment of gratuities and non-harmonization of pensions from 1998 to 2010, the pensioners disrupted vehicular movements on their route to government house.
With placards and solidarity songs that were barely audible the angry pensioners took their protest to government house where they were addressed by the state Commissioner for Finance, Dr Aham Uko. Some of the placards read: “Let Governor Ikpeazu cut his security vote and pay pensioners”, Abia Pensioners: 38 months of unpaid pensions”.
Coordinator of the group of pensioners, Chief Emeka Okezie, reeled out the pathetic condition of the senior citizens, saying, “we have been dehumanized and subjected to unimaginable suffering as our death toll ranges between 10 to 15 pensioners every month”.
According to him, in rare occasions when their pensions were paid it only amounted to a quarter of their salaries hence it made no meaning to their needs.
“We have no money to buy drugs, especially our diabetic and hypertensive pensioners”. We have children to look after, especially those in the universities. We are retired and don’t have any work to do,” he said.
Okezie said that the pensioners have suffered so much and have resigned to their fate, adding “We are only looking up to God and don’t know where we are heading to”.
“We are asking the state government to help us before we all die”, he said.
In his response, the finance commissioner, Dr Uko expressed his concern and that of the state government over their plight of Abia pensioners and attributed it to the prevailing “economic downturn” that Nigeria and the rest of the world are grappling with.
He stated that a major challenge facing the state government in the pension payment was the discovery of 4, 422 irregular names and non-pensioners in their payroll, thereby causing the state government to pay the sum of N6 billion to the ghost pensioners.
“We have been removing the names to enable us pay the real pensioners. We have to make sure we extricate them from the genuine pensioners and we cannot pay the non-pensioners”, Uko said.
“I don’t sleep each time I remember your plight. It gives me discomfort”, he said, adding the state government was already working with their leadership of the pensioners to resolve any issues arising from the verification of genuine pensioners.
The finance commissioner appealed to the pensioners to exercise patience as government has commenced payments of pensions, assuring that the bank interchange network which caused the delay would be sorted out in two days.