– Head of Service says govt is addressing their problems
Retired staff of the Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education (AIFCE) Owerri beween 2007-2009 have carried to the media their battle for survival over their unpaid end-of-service financial benefits (July 2007-Dec. 2009).
Two spokespersons of this Group Sir Alex Onyemekara, former Dean School of Sciences and Sir Alex Ukaegbu, Principal Lecturer, Department of Agriculture, who were interviewed, described their members as “The Unfortunate Group”. They lamented that those who retired before them, (1993-2007) have fully received their gratuities and were enjoying their pensions without any outstanding arrears while those who retired after them (since Dec. 2009) have been adequately covered in the PENCOM Pension Scheme.
According to the duo, 18 out of their total number of 128 retirees had already died from hardship, without enjoying the benefits of their labour. Many others are suffering from age-related ailments requiring expensive medical treatment while others are bed-ridden or blind”, they regretted.
A most recent two-page memo by this group, addressed to Governor Rochas Okorocha through the Head of Service and dated April 7, 2013, stated the amount being owed them as: Accumulated Monthly Pension Arrears of N600,000,000 (six hundred million Naira only) a Gratuity of about N500,000,000 (five hundred million Naira only). To that effect, they wondered why pension should be allowed to accumulate to the extent of growing bigger than gratuity.
The Leader gathered that before now, the group had written a total of 19 memos to the Federal Government, distributed to President Goodluck Jonathan, all Legislators of Imo origin, Minister of Education and all relevant authorities concerned with the payment of pensions and gratuities, all to no avail. “We kept pleading in our memos that the Federal Government was morally bound to take over both AIFCE assets as well as its liabilities. We had been to the Federal Arbitration Court at Enugu and to the Public Complaints Commission in Owerri, they bemoaned. These two bodies investigated, intervened and wrote back to Alvan to pay us but there was no succor; instead Alvan authorities, relying on the White Paper on the takeover of the Institution by the Federal Government replied that it was the Imo State Government that should pay us. After our trip to Abuja and finally laying our hands on a copy of the White Paper, it became obvious to us that it was actually the Imo State Government that was asked to pay us”, lamented the pensive looking senior citizens.
The group which disclosed that it appreciated the enormity of economic projects the State Government had embarked on said that their prayer is that Government releases funds as a matter of urgency for their payment and consider paying them what is owed by installments while they were still alife. They further explained that the number of years they had suffered without enjoying their entitlements had rendered the monthly pension they had started receiving insufficient and insignificant for their accumulated problems.
THE LEADER later interviewed the State Head of Service, Lady (Mrs.) Nkechi Onumajulu, mni, in order to ascertain what the State Government was doing in response to the numerous efforts the retired Alvan staff had made to draw attention to their miserable conditions. The Number One Civil Servant explained that the group in question was the one that retired during the period the Federal Government took over the institution from Imo State Government i.e. July 2007-Dec. 2009. According to her, owing to the sensitive nature of the issue involved, there was need for ample time to ensure adequate compilation of the financial records/entitlements of those concerned. The arrears of pension was due to the period of stalemate between the Federal and Imo State Government and moreover, a new State Government was just coming on board at that time and the vital papers of those retiring at that point in time were yet to get to the State Government.
She however assured that the details about who was owed what had since been resolved and her office had the previous week forwarded a memo to the Governor requesting that he authorized the release of the needed funds to pay the accumulated arrears to the senior citizens.
Asked whether the arrears of pensions and gratuities could be built into their normal regular monthly pensions, Mrs. Onumajulu replied that such a move will create more confusion and even make a mess of the whole well intended action.
On whether the controversial government directive that every pensioner must return to his community to receive his pension was not fraught with insecurity, inconvenience and indignity to the elder statesmen, Mrs. Onumajulu appealed to those concerned to give it a chance adding that it was usual for people to resist changes. She hoped it would pay off in their interest with time.
On whether it will not expose the higher income retirees to unnecessary exploitation and poorer ones to public ridicule by their town folks, the Head of Service explained that only government finance officials will pay pensioners in strict confidence as it has nothing to do with traditional rulers or members of the pensioners’ immediate constituency.
The Head of Department of Pensions Barr. (Mrs.) Lizzy Ajoku who was present at the occasion, recommended that a way to get out of the seeming intractable problem of accumulated gratuities, was for every governor, once he had assumed office, to commence without delay the clearing of every retirement benefits that come up from his first day in office. She cleared the air on the controversy between pension salary and pension arrears.
In a seperate reaction, a relation to one of the Alvan retirees, an apparently enraged Edward Ukaegbu, resident in the United States of America, regretted that retired workers are treated with disrespect in Nigeria. Mr. Ukaegbu, who compared the situation with the respected and celebrated senior citizens in US, could not hide his anger against those responsible for the sufferings of AIFCE retired Staff. He narrated how the plight of his elder brother whom he informed The Leader, sponsored his education, has grossly affected his joy and bore a big hole in his pocket. He advised government to realize that pension payment is an act of justice and not of charity.