South East Pensioners Bemoan Neglect

South East Pensioner image via The Sun

Pensioners in the South East have bemoaned their plight, especially with the backlog of pension arrears owed them.

Daily Sun gathered that lamentations over poor welfare have become the lot of pensioners any time the Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP) in the region meet.

From non-payment of monthly entitlements to unpaid gratuities, pensioners in Abia, Ebonyi, Enugu, and Imo states share the same fate. Daily Sun learnt that members of the pensioners’ union have been crying to governors of the South East states to make their welfare top priority.

Their cry had been hinged on the death of members because of deprivations of their pensions to buy drugs and foods.

Investigations by Daily Sun revealed that retirees in Ebonyi, Abia, Enugu and Anambra states have one sour tale or another to tell in respect of unpaid gratuity. For instance, it was learnt that some persons who retired about 15 years ago were yet to receive their gratuities in the zone, while some states were paying by instalments.

Zonal Chairman of NUP, Mr. Chukwuma Udensi said pensioners in Abia suffer most as many of them could not keep count of the last time they received their pension.

He also alleged that pensioners in Enugu state earn less than N2,000 monthly, regretting that even the paltry sum was not paid regularly.

Udensi said the trend had left members in agonizing conditions, with some dying out of frustration and poverty.

Chairman of NUP in Ebonyi, Nwofe Okemini alleged that one per cent of pension was illegally deducted from their members by the government and paid to another group of retirees. He said the deduction had been going on for many years and that the recipients were members of a body christened Asociation of Retired Permanent Secretaries.

Vice Chairman of the union in Ebonyi, Ibiam Nkechinyere, has, however, called on the state to include retirees from 2014 in the screening of pensioners for payment of gratuities. She said that selecting only retirees from 2015 to 2019 was not in the best interest of all.

In Anambra, Anthony Ugozor said local government pensioners consisting of retired primary school teachers, local government officers, and officers of the Anambra State Universal Basic Education Board (ASUBEB), have not been paid since 2017. He disclosed that they were being owed arrears of local government pensioners for 11 months for those of them that retired from 2002 to 2003, adding that letters written to Governor willie Obiano on the issue had not yielded any result.

“It was 22 months, but Governor Peter Obi paid 16 out of that 22 months leaving 11 months. But he approved it for payment, but it has not been paid up till now,” he said.

Similarly, the Zonal Secretary of NUP, Livinus Ashiegbu, at a meeting in Abakaliki, raised concerns over the death of members because of deprivations of their pensions to buy drugs and foods.

“The condition of pensioners in the South East is deteriorating; it is unheard of and it is inhuman. Pensioners are not treated as Nigerians. I wonder if they are citizens. And the nation forgets that these are the people that have built up the state.

“The time they need this little money from their saved salary, they are denied of it for years. The question of gratuity is the most pathetic. For example, since 1998 in Imo no pensioner has received his gratuity if it is above N500,000,” he said.

Like in Enugu, Ugozor lamented that some of the pensioners receive below N2,000 as monthly pension and he called for harmonisation of the pensions.

“Some receive N2,000 while some receive less than N2,000 every month as pension. That is why we are calling for review. Recently, there was minimum wage review to N30,000. We are saying that pension should be reviewed side by side with minimum wage so that pensioners will feel a bit better.

“When the minimum wage of N18,000 was implemented about 10 years ago, there was no review of pension because the constitution of Nigeria talked of the review of pension every five years or whenever the salary of the civil service workers is increased. This is in section 210 subsection 3 of the 1999 constitution (as amended). It is not implemented and the pensioners don’t have the capacity, or the will, to go on strike because they are not serving again.

“For you to understand it, pensioners that retired on one grade level in 1990 or 1980 receive very little, but pensioners who retired on the same grade level in 2017 or 2018 receive 10 times more than those that retired earlier. So, we are calling for parity. And that parity will be achieved by harmonization of pensions,” he stated.

In Enugu, aside the non-payment of gratuity, the leaderships of labour has decried the condition of local government pensioners, saying they were struggling to cope with pension arrears and gratuity backlog dating from 2005.

Chairman of Trade Union Congress (TUC), Mr Ben Asogwa and his Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP) counterpart, Chief Damian Udeani, said that though the state pensioners were paid regularly, the retirees were also burdened with a gratuity backlog from 2009.

Said Asogwa: “2008, 2007 and 2006 have a huge chunk of pensioners that were not paid their gratuity. And the present government came up with an arrangement to be releasing N100million every month so as to take care of their gratuity. Government wants to pay two months until the arrears are cleared;that’s the arrangement now. But the gratuity situation is pathetic. This is both at local and state government level. At local government it was paid last in 2005, at state government level, it was last paid in 2010.”

Asogwa said: “In April this year, Enugu government stopped the release of the N100 million per month, but the governor said recently that he will reinstate it. So, we are looking forward to that and hoping he will do accordingly.”

On the frequent verification exercises for pensioners, Asogwa said it was a good development in assisting to plug fraud in the system. But in Ebonyi, some pensioners called for the standardisation of the verification exercise, claiming that many of them had died in the process.

Chairman of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in Ebonyi, Leonard Nkah said the last verification of pensioners in the state was in August 2019, adding that the state had paid up to October.

He said labour leaders were in talks with the government to ensure that the November pension was paid.

One states that has given pensioners cause to smile is Imo.

Governor Emeka Ihedioha in the past six months has streamlined the pension system after the biometric verification which uncovered 8, 549 ghost pensioners. The exercise had reduced the monthly pension wage bill of the state to N1.2 billion as against the N 1.4 billion. So far, the administration has paid August, September, October and November pensions via e-payment process.

Chairman of NUP in Imo, P.U. Ugochukwu and Chairman of Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Napoleon Aniche have applauded Governor Ihedioha for paying pensioners.

In Abia, pensioners are owed several months of arrears.

But the state government said it is paying N800million monthly as pension, the figure is made up of N500million for civil servants and N300m for local government workers. Commissioner for Information, John Okiyi Kalu said the state had the highest wage bill in the South East arguing that was why it spent so much on pensions payment.

The commissioner described the number of months of arrears of pension being bandied about as untrue, but declined to state the exact figure owed pensioners. He said despite the challenges, which included the paucity of funds in the payment of pensions, the state would make sure that pensioners celebrate Christmas with their pension paid.