By Favour Nnabugwu
Pensioners in Abia State have blocked the main entrance gate to the Government House Umuahia today to protest 38 months of pension arrears.
The senior citizens who chanted anti-Government songs accused Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu of being unserious with the welfare of pensioners.
They carried placards bearing various inscriptions such as:” No payment of gratuities since 2002″; ” Abia pensioners are dying”; ” Why is Abia Govt.so wicked”, among others.
Addressing Government officials who received them on behalf of the Governor, the Coordinator of Concerned Abia Pensioners, Chief Emeka Okezie, decried the plight of pensioners in the state.
He accused the state Government of toying with the welfare of pensioners some of who he said had died untimely.
According to him, an average of 15 pensioners die every month in Abia due to economic hardship and lack of adequate medical care.
He identified their grievances as: 38 unpaid monthly pension; non harmonization of pensions from 1998 to 2010; and unpaid accumulated gratuity for 20 years.
” We have been dehumanised and subjected to unimaginable suffering as death toll ranges to about 10 to 15 pensioners every month”, Chief Okezie lamented.
The pensioners, however, commended the State Commissioner for Finance, Chief Aham Uko who they said made spirited efforts during his first tenure in office to pay pensioners regularly.
They regretted that after about one year of sustained regular payment, Government reverted to the old order of indebtedness for reasons unexplained.
Responding on behalf of the Governor, Commissioner for Finance, Aham Uko, thanked the senior citizens for their comportment and assured them that Government was making efforts to clear the arrear of pension.
He blamed Government’s inability to pay pensioners regularly on the global economic downturn, an excuse that did not go down well with the pensioners as they retorted.
The Finance Commissioner also blamed ghost pensioners for the delays, disclosing that Government has uncovered and removed 4422 fake pensioners from the system.
According to him, gratuities accruing to the fake pensioners amounted to N6billion.
He assured that having weeded such number of irregular pensioners, payment of pensions will be consistent.
” We are consciously making efforts to see you are paid irrespective of the situation in the country”, he said.
He said that before the end of the week pensioners in the state would get paid as the banks had been directed to pay them.