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Sunday, 19 June 2016

Revisiting The Plight Of Imo State Pensioners (EDITORIAL)


Last week, frail looking, aging and tired pensioners in Imo State took to the streets of Owerri to protest non payment of their pension arrears. They blocked the popular Okigwe road round-about, the major road leading to Government House, Owerri and the Imo State Police Command.

There were reports that the pensioners were not molested by security agents but they chased away the State Commissioner of Internal Resources and Pension Matters who came to appeal to them. They were said to have insisted on seeing the Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha who never showed up during the protest.

The grouse of the pensioners is a tale any sane person will quiver and express shock. They told journalists that they are dying of hunger and poverty because of the inability of the State government to pay their pension arrears.  According to them, their colleagues in the Imo Broadcasting Corporation, IBC, are owed pension arrears which will run into the 37th month by July 2016.

According to the Chairman of Imo State chapter of Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP), Mr. Ezeji, pensioners in Imo State have been subjected to endless verification exercises by the State government which has not translated to payment of their pensions. They are more annoyed over the failure of the State governor, Rochas Okorocha, to grant them audience to enable them explain their plight to him.

The State government on its part has identified the poor state of the national economy which has led to a drop in federal allocation to the State as reasons why it has not been able to pay the pensioners in recent times. It also advanced other reasons responsible for its non- payment action, which this newspaper, consider as story for the birds or tales at moonlight.

INNONEWS.COM fault the postulation of the State government on the basis that payment of pension to aging, weak and frail men and women who put in their toil and broil in the service of the State should be top priority of the Rescue Mission government. Payment of pensions to pensioners is not negotiable in any part of the world.

We anchor our submission based on available financial records of the State which showed that Imo State  received over N70 billion naira from the federation account from May 2015 to May 2016, the highest among other South East States.  Abia State got N58.2 billion naria, Enugu State received N59.6 billion naria, Ebonyi also received N49.4 billion naria while Anambra State got N63.7 billion naria. These States within this period these monies were allocated to them had no issues with their pensioners.

Imo State also received over N50 billion  naira from the Central of Nigeria (CBN) bailout funds in July 2015 which was for the purposes of payment of workers’ salaries and pension. Lately, Imolites were told that the Internal Generated Revenue of the State has improved based on the proactive measures taken by the State government.

Imo State is also an oil producing State and it is a fact that it benefits from the 13% derivation that accrue to oil producing States.  This Newspaper had expected that with the 30% cut in the salaries of public servants and removal of virtually all their allowances, this expectedly will free some funds to  pay pensioners their arrears in the State.  

It is therefore strange why a pensioner in Imo State should be owed as much as 36 months! It is even more disheartening to hear that the anti graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had to arrest some state government officials over diversion of the bail- out funds.

We are not oblivious of the fact that the State government also needs money to carry out developmental projects and other services. It is disturbing when such projects are not creating jobs and impacting on the economy.  This is why the shock that has hit the national economy as a result of the drop in price of crude oil at the international market quickly and significantly stagnated the Imo economy. This has led ceaseless complain of hardship and hunger among the people of Imo State than in other State of the federation.

Some of the projects of the Okorocha administration are big halls and buildings which cannot stimulate growth in a decaying economy in Imo State.   This newspaper strongly advises that only projects that add value to the economy should be considered for now until the national economy improves.  The State government should also place emphasis on fulfilling the campaign promises of the Governor who promised Jobs! Jobs! Job! Industry! Industry!! Industry!!! during his second term re- election campaign.

The State government should also through its actions show that the economy is bad by reducing some of its extravagant shows and events as we have seen lately in the State that gulped billions of tax payers money.  Pensioners in Imo State should not be begging for their rights and entitlements. Seeing our old men and women collapsing and protesting on the streets of Owerri because they are demanding for their rights portrays this government as insincere and insensitive to their plight.  
It is not enough for the State government to keep on dwelling on its past records of promptly paying pensioners and workers salaries.  Those feats were achieved  in the past. Pensioners, workers need not suffer presently because they were promptly paid in the past. The fact that pensioners and workers in the State were never owed by the Okorocha administration in the past when the national economy was booming is an old tale that holds no water.    

It is the duty of Government must fulfill at all times to devise measures to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the people.  
This was why they were voted into public office. We rest our case.  

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