By Miracle Enuji
Following long term neglect of the Governor Ifeanyi Okowa led Government to the plight of local government and primary school retirees who exited the state workforce between 2012 till date, another protest by the retirees greeted the Delta State Capital to further express their displeasure at the silence of government.
The affected retirees who in their numbers undertook the peaceful protest on Tuesday, September 8, 2020 in Asaba, decried the attitude of the present state government towards senior citizens who dedicated 35 years of their career in serving the state without any benefit years after retirement.
Coming under the aegis of Delta State Local Government/ primary School Contributory Retirees, the weak, aged and indigent Deltans who gathered from across the state, dressed in blacks which they said signified mourning their abandonment by state government, chanted songs of sorrows as they endured the blazing Sun.
They also carried several placards with inscriptions such as “Stop The Death Of Retirees Pay Us” “Okowa You Can’t Keep Us In Hunger After Our 35 Yrs Of Service” “Pension Contributory Scheme Is Evil” “Okowa Enough Is Enough, Pay Us Our Money, It Is Our Right” and others which they brazenly displayed at the gates of State House of Assembly and the Government House.
The retirees appealed that they should be rescued from the untold hardship, pains and tears which they are passing through while waiting endlessly to collect their pension as most of them have no other means of livelihood apart from the salaries that were stopped following their retirements, thereby making the situation unbearable as some are on medications, living in rented apartments, while many are struggling to pay Children school fee and facing other demands.
In their protest letters to the Chairman, Delta State Bureau of Local Government Pensions, the Honourable Speaker, Delta State House of Assembly and the State Governor, the retirees slammed the state government for the backlog of unpaid Accrued Rights amounting to Forty-Eight Billion, Three Hundred and Sixty-Nine Million, Three Hundred and Thirty-One Thousand, Six Hundred and Twenty-Four Naira (N48,369,331,624.00) as at December 2019 of which N8,137,909,068 was for local government retirees and N40,231,422,556.00 for primary school retirees.
They noted that perennials problems associated with the old pension scheme (Defined Benefits) necessitated the establishment of the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) which main objectives were to help employees save in order to cater for their livelihood during old age, ensure that pensioners are not subjected to untold sufferings after retirement from service and ensure that every person who worked in either public or private sector receive retirement benefits as at when due.
Some of the letters read in part; “it is very disheartening to mention here that when this government came on board, they stopped the payment of gratuity/ pension to local government/ primary school retirees. What is our offence for working in local government/ teaching in primary school?
“Between May 2015 – January 2017, a period of 21 months, nobody was paid his/her gratuity/ pensions in local government/ primary school in Delta State. This situation led to the protest which was embarked on 3rd October, 2017. During the protest, the Head of Service met with the executive members of our association and assured us that His Excellency, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa has promised to remember the retirees when the PARIS FUND is remitted to the state. Between 2017-2018, the PARIS FUND that came to the state, none was paid to Local Government Bureau, for our gratuity/ pension benefits.
“Currently the numbers of local government/primary school retirees yet to be paid their gratuities and pension are 5,697. Of these, local government has 1,348 and primary school has 4,349. The question now is how long will it take before these retirees will enjoy their pensions with the current release of monthly N300,000,000.00 share payments of the arrears of N48,369,331,624.00? Also there is an unremitted deduction from staff contribution that accrued the zero allocation eras amounting to N5.9billion yet to be paid.
“With a monthly release of N300 million which according to the Bureau is shared thus; (a) Local government N114 million monthly, making a total of N1,368,000,000 per year that means it will take about 6 years to offset the N8,137,909,068.00 backlog. (b) Primary school retirees N184 million monthly, amounting to N2,208,000,000.00 a year and will take over 18 years to offset the N40,231,422,556.00 backlog.
“The above statistics shows that government wants her local government/primary school retirees to be without any means of livelihood for over 6-18 years after retirement of 35 years of active service or 60 years of age. What is the average life span of Nigerians? – 54 years. For the state government to expect her retired senior citizens who left office after 35 years of service or at age 60 to WAIT FOR ANOTHER 6-18 YEARS before they can be paid their pension entitlements should not be allowed and condoned by men of good will.
In their joint prayers, they passionately appealed to Governor Okowa to pay all local government/ primary school retirees our gratuity/ pension from 2014 – 2019, increase the monthly allocation from N300 million to N2 billion until the backlog is off-set and the need to compel the State leadership of ALGON and the Accountant General to pay the sum of N5.9 billion unremitted deduction that accrued during the zero allocation era to local government bureau as it may go a long way in liquidating the existing indebtedness of over N48 billion owed by the State Government.
They promised to return to the streets on monthly basis if their requests are not meant by the state government in due time.