…As Union says 50 members died since December 2016
By Emmanuel Unah
“Between the last revalidation exercise in December, 2016 and now we have lost not less than 50 pensioners who were verified. In this so -called revalidation directed by the government, would those dead senior citizens not be treated as ghosts?”
These were the words of Cross River State retired civil servants, who trooped into the streets of Calabar to, not only protest their five years unpaid benefits, but reject the state government plan verification exercise just less than a year after similar exercise was done by the government with the pensioners’ entitlements remained unpaid.
This came as some deceased families blamed non-payment of their breadwinners’ benefits by the government for their untimely death.
In fact, the pensioners see no rational behind the government directive through radio and television announcement that they present themselves for a “revalidation exercise” after another screening exercise done in December 2016.
The retired civil servants on the aegis of Nigeria Union of Pensioners, NUP, led by their Acting Chairman, Emmanuel Adie, claimed the planned revalidation exercise was a ploy by government to buy time not to pay them their entitlements and also allow more of them die from hardship.
According to him, “We completely see no valid rationale for the proposed revalidation exercise as directed by the Cross River State government. Our stand on this long drawn issue of payment of gratuity to pensioners is predicated upon the untold hardship encountered by pensioners as they have had to present themselves so frequently needlessly in the past.”
They pensioners lamented that the state government had received the Paris Club Refund twice and bailout fund which the federal government directed should be used to pay salaries of workers and pensioners’ entitlements, but that had not been complied with by the state government causing many retired workers to die out of hardship and frustration while waiting for their entitlements.
The NUP chairman declared: “Between the last revalidation exercise in December, 2016 and now we have lost not less than fifty pensioners who were verified. In this so called revalidation called for by the government, would those departed senior citizens not be treated as ghosts? It takes next of kin over ten years to access their relative’s benefits so payment should be based on last year’s screening list
“If we are not paid before the end of the year, in 2018 there will be no bailout fund and Paris Club refund and electioneering will be in top gear therefore nobody will listen or take our plight into consideration.
He accused the state government of applying delay tactics so that more pensioners would die to avoid paying their entitlements, saying “former Governor Donald Duke paid workers automatically the moment they retired civil servants, Senator Imoke increased the gratuity by 90% and paid uptill 2012 but since the inception of this government all we have been subjected to is screening without any payment”.
Corroborating, the NUP chairman, Edim Oyingha, the Vice Chairman, NLC, Cross River State council, told Vanguard that NLC is behind the rejection of the revalidation exercise by the pensioners because during the May strike by the workers, payment of gratuity was one of the key items agreed between NLC and government.
According to him: “We held a meeting with the Accountant General, the Head of Service and the Commissioner for Finance and they promised to pay them, all of a sudden we started hearing that there is fraud and the pensioners should undergo another screening exercise. We said no, if there is fraud, the government should look within its ranks and not punish the pensioners who have done what the government asked for times without number.
“When we met with the Accountant General after we heard the announcement for another screening exercise, we told him okay, our people would come but assure us that once a person is screened, he will be handed his check, he said no the checks could be stolen or bounce which is quite laughable and indicates the insincerity of the government in the whole exercise”.
Deceased families speak
Nkoyo Etim, a daughter of one of the deceased retired civil servants, Mr. Dominic Okon Etim, told Vanguard in their rented apartment on Hawkins Road that their father passed away in June after waiting endlessly for his gratuity after he retired in 2013 and went through several screening exercises.
“Each time he was screened, we had hope that the money that the money was coming but at the end nothing came and his health kept deteriorating and eventually he died in June this year and was buried in August”. She said with tears rolling down her cheeks
According to her, their father died of high blood pressure as the needs of the family became too much for the monthly pension which was a fraction of what he was earning as a senior librarian before his retirement, saying “I am in the University, so also my younger brother, while my other siblings are in secondary schools. All the money our father got as pension could not even buy us food till the end of the month, not to talk of his drugs. This made my father very unhappy before he eventually died”.
In Obudu, Justina Ashiple, wife of another late retired civil servant, said her husband collapsed and died in March as he was about entering his car when he went to the Bank at Ogoja to confirm if he had been paid his gratuity.
“He was owing some people and he promised them that after the screening exercise in December last year, he was hopeful that the money would be paid before the Easter celebration. So, he kept going to Ogoja every now and then to check with his banker if the money had been paid but nothing came until he died while on one of those trips”
Mr Chris Ita, the Chief Press Secretary to Senator Ben Ayade, the governor of the state said plans are afoot to pay the retirees their gratuity soon.
“Yes, there are plans at very advanced stage for payment. 2012 was concluded recently and 2013 and 2014 will soon be paid. We inherited gratuities from two previous administrations, so the exposure is huge” Ita said