Emenike’s Remedy For Impoverished Abia Pensioners

Emenike’s Remedy For Impoverished Abia Pensioners

Nnaya Okemini

In time past, fresh job seekers in Abia State li inke their counterparts in other states of the country had at least four basic reasons in mind when they apply to join the state civil service.

The reasons were primarily job security and regular payment of salaries and allowances no matter how meager. And of course the hope for payment of gratuity upon retirement and lifetime pension, thereafter.

Civil servants then looked forward with joy to their exit date from the service to join the rank of senior citizens.They never attempted to either alter or falsify their age to prolong their stay in service.

As the holy scripture rightly puts it, they would want “to enter their rest” as soon as possible after serving the state during their productive years “as yours obediently”.

It was then very common to see civil servants, who during their service years would have accomplished many feats with the ‘meager’ salary and allowances through careful planning of their finances.

As Mazi Nathaniel Ukoha, a nonagenarian, who retired over two decades ago as a plumber in themjinistry of works, recalls that the service was the place to be for anyone who wanted to live a quite and peaceful life both in active service and in retirement.

“The salary was no where comparable with what was obtained in the private sector, especially the construction companies, but it was as sure to come when expected as the sun will always rise in the east,” he said.

“It also had very strong purchasing power unlike now when the salary is high but can’t last beyond one, two weeks at most”. According to the thick glasses-wearing grand father of nine from Ukwa East local government area of the state.

Ukoha, further explained that while in service, he and his wife, who was a ward maid in a general hospital were able to train their four children up to university level.

“From our combined earnings, we were also able to eke out something to buy a property in Aba. After about three years we started developing it through what some people refer to as one year one block project.”

“With our gratuities, which didn’t take much time to arrive after our retirements, though not at the same period, the project which was on its eigth year was eventually completed and we moved into our own house. At least house rent is not part of our problems ever since.”

According to him, with part of their savings they provided a water borehole in the property which is now their major source of revenue “to keep us moving through this hard time with less stress”.

Mazi Ukoha and his wife were able to plan their lives, train their children and even retired under a roof of their own even with their meagre salaries.That was because the Abia civil service was operating as

But now things are no longer at ease in the Abia Civil Service. With successive emergence of bad leaders to preside over the affairs of Abia, the state civil service has become a place of agony while in service and regrets after retirement. It gets worse by the day.

Going by the current plight of pensioners in the state even the civil servants are not very hopeful of the expected peaceful and quiet life after retirement. Ukoha’s narration could sound like a fairy tale.

Records available indicate that since 2016, one year into the administration of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, pensioners have been protesting over nonepayment of their gratuities and irregular payment of pensions. Things have gotten so bad that pensioners are owed arrears running into over 40 months.

The leaderships of both workers and pensioners have been crying out to government to no avail. During the May 1, 2019 Workers Day Celebration, members of the Nigeria Union Pensioners(NUP), clad in black attires and holding working sticks staged a protest over nonpayment of their 28 months pension arrears as at then..

Speaking during the protest which almost grounded the May Day event, the NUP chairman, Mr Chukwuma Udensi, in an emotion-ladden voice said their protest was intended to draw the attention of the government and the public to their plight.

“We’re being owed 19 months pension now, added to the nine owed by the past administration it will amount to 28,” he lammented.

The unionist therefore, called on the Peoples Democratic Party-led administration “to as a matter of urgency settle the arrears because many of our members are dying due to economic hardships”.

Expressing sympathy and solidarity with the retirees, the chairman of the State Council of the Nigeria Labour Congress(NLC), Comrade Uchenna Obigwe described the situation as “worrisome, particularly when the pensioners are not getting their pensions regularly.”

According to him, the Congress has been consistent in its plea for government to set aside the sum of N150m for every month. Yet, nothing positive has come from government despite countless assurances and promises by Governor Ikpeazu to mitigate the sufferings of pensioners. Rather than reducing, the pension arrears have continued to accumulate while gratuities have become a no – go – area.

With no end in sight for their sufferings, the senior citizens have resorted to frequent protests in the last 12 months. This is an indication of their dire condition and that the situation is undeed getting out of hand. In each of the series of protests the pathetic looking pensioners carried placards with various inscriptions accusing the goverment of insensitivity to their plight.

The protesting pensioners, dressed in all black attire signifying mourning, usually march through major streets of the capital city. Waving placards depicting their anger and hurt they would sing solidarity songs with feeble voices and shout anti-government slogans, some struggling to catch their breaths.

In April last year, a group of pensioners under the banner of Concerned Pensioners trooped out into the streets crying out there were being owed 37 months pensions and gratuities. They also said that they were losing between 10 and 15 of their members every month due to lack of money to access medical care and good nutrition.

Again in May, they announced to their bewildered sympathisers that the gratuity and pension arrears had reached 20 years and 38 months respectively. Reacting to their plight, the national leadership of the NLC breathed down on the neck of the Abia government.

In a statement signed by the president and secretary general, Comrades Ayuba Waba and Emmanuel Ugboaja, respectively, the labour union called on the Ikpeazu administration “to clear the backlog of pension arrears immediately.”

While protesting in November, which appeared to be the most massive ever, the pensioners said the arrears had hit the 45 months mark and the monthly death rate unabated.

The new coordinator and spokesman of the pensioners, Chief Emeka Okezie told journalists at the the NUJ secretariat, that the condition of the senior citizens had worsened since their last protest march. The languid pensioners evoked pity from passerbys, who stopped to watch and listen to their lamentations.

“As I speak, my predecessor, Elder Dan Amugo is lying dead in a mortuary. Many others have also died since after him.
Even the living do not have money to feed or buy drugs.

“Since this year (2022), the government has been paying us one quarter of our pensions. We’re all parents with some responsibilities. As aged ones, is this the right way to be treated after serving the government dutifully?”, the distraught senior citizen lamented.

Well, not to worry. The sad condition of Abia pensioners would soon become a thing of the past. Their hope for decent life as senior citizens has been rekindled by the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress(APC), High Chief Ikechi Emenike. He has taken up the challenge of addressing the plight pensioners and wiping out their tears once and for all when he gets the mandate of Ndi Abia on March 11, 2023.

At various fora while consulting with leaders and stakeholders, during town hall meetings, rallies, Emenike has given assurance that pensioners would never be allowed to suffer under his administration. He has already set out a plan of action to not only clear the mind-boggling pension arrears but also put in place a sustainable means of regular payment of pensions and prompt payment of gratuity to retirees.

According to the develoment economist, successive administrations in Abia failed to address the issue of pensions and gratuities as a result of misplaced priorities and operating on low budgets yeer in and year out.

“There is no how an administration operating on a paltry annual budget of less than N150b as has been the case in Abia State will be able to meet its financial obligations.”

He argues that for the state to move along the expected developmental trajectory it must be run on a minimum annual budget of not less than N300b, which he said could be raised internally without borrowing.

He has persistently maintained that payment of salaries and allowances as well as pensions and gratuities are not what a reasonable administration should beat its chest and count as achievement. Emenike stated that taking care of its workers falls within the basic duties which any responsible government should perform without bragging about it.

“As a private entrepreneur with over 30 years experience I have never owed salaries because as an economist I know its ripple effects both on the worker and the enterprise,” he pointed, adding that it’s disheartening to hear that a government suporsedly elected by the people is not paying salaries, pensions and gratuities.

The Abia APC gubernatorial flag bearer has already outlined the way he would tackle the Abia pension crisis within the first week of his administration after inauguration. Part of it is to set up a new pensions board made up of people with Intergrity and impeccable character, including pensioners themselves.

He said the mandate of the board will not be limited to ensuring that pensioners are paid on or before 28 of every month, but also addressing past injustice meted to any retiree.

“The world over pensioners are handled with utmost care to honour their contributions to the development of the society and ours will not be an exception,” he said.

Emenike, who has maintained that pension issue is not rocket science, noted that the past administrations failed to honour the pensioner out of ignorance or insensitivity.

“I give you my word that if by God’s grace, I am elected into the office, they (pensioners) will be properly and adequately cared for because they earned it. It is their right.”

The welfare of Abia workers while in active service and in life after retirement is well captured in Emenike’s Rescue and Develop Abia(RADA) plan of action.

Okemini writes from Umuahia, Abia State capital.

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