. Obaseki sues for patience
Adibe Emenyonu in Benin City
The roads into Benin City centre popularly called Ring Road were taken over by heavy traffic yesterday as pensioners took over the entire area, protesting the non-payment of their gratuities since they retired from active service.
But in a swift reaction, Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki has reiterated his administration’s commitment to solving pension issues in the state and called for patience among pensioners as the government resolves lingering challenges.
Dressed in all black attire, the senior citizens said the current administration did not continue the payment of their gratuities from 2012, where the last administration of Adams Oshiomhole stopped, noting that the Oshiomhole government started the payment of gratuities from 1998 till 2012, as at the time he left office in 2016.
Speaking on behalf of the protesters, Amadin Okoro said “We are aggrieved; a lot of us are dying. A lot of us are not well, many of them are supposed to go for operations, no money. Besides gratuity of local government retirees are owed arrears and their gratuities since 2008. But for the state, it has not paid since 2012 till date.
“Our appeal to the governor is that he should pay us so that we can enjoy the fruits of our labour, which we suffered for 35 years. In fairness we receive our pensions monthly but the crux of the matter is our gratuity.”
Another protester, Esther Ehigie said she retired in 2012, and that they were screened and invited for a meeting in 2017, where the authority for payment which is called yellow paper was collected from them but their money was not paid.
Reacting to the development, the Commissioner for Communication and Orientation, Chris Nehikhare said the Obaseki’s administration has been paying the gratuities of all those who have retired since he became governor and that provision has already been made to clear the backlog.
He said: “We have gone very far to tackle the backlog, we made promises to the pensioners that they we will pay their arrears which we have done, we made promise that they will get their pensions as at when due, that we have done, the third leg of that is to clear the gratuity arrears, which is a huge sum of money, we have a plan in place which is coming to fruition, in the 2023 budget, we made provision to clear some of these gratuities and those pensioners have been put in batches so that they can be paid and very soon this will be effected.
“We implore our pensioners to exercise more patience and restraint while the issues are being sorted out.”
Also in a statement, the Special Adviser to the Governor on Media Projects, Crusoe Osagie, noted that the government has shown good faith by solving two out of the three major issues affecting pensioners in the state.
According to him, “It is instructive to note that when the Governor Obaseki-led administration came into office in 2016, the pension related challenges in the state were three-pronged.
“They include unpaid pension arrears running into over N4bn; failure to harmonise pension payment and the issue of outstanding gratuities owed pensioners.
“These issues dated back to 2010 and the government at that time failed to address the challenges, leading to accumulation of a backlog of pension arrears and gratuities. It is necessary to emphasise that these problems predate the current administration.
“Of these three major challenges that pensioners in Edo State faced, the Obaseki-led government took the bold step to successfully address two and is hard at work in solving the last of them, which is clearing outstanding gratuities.”
He continued: “The government has cleared the backlog of arrears and ensured the implementation of the Contributory Pension Scheme to check a repeat of the ugly trend and has also harmonised pension payment – which had lingered for over 20 years – ensuring that pensions are better paid in line with current realities in Edo State.
“We urge pensioners in the Edo State to be patient and show good faith as the government’s commitment to their welfare has never been in doubt.
“It should bring some hope and succor that in the last six years, the government has solved two of the issues and is at the verge of sorting the challenges with clearing gratuities.
“It is for this reason that we call for calm and urge them to be assured of the government’s resolve to solve all outstanding issues.”