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Counting the gains and cost of 643 Pension Pay Points in Imo State

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Payment of pension at Community Government Council (CGC) offices is six months old from April 2013 to September 2013.  Its rejection was spontaneous the moment His Excellency Owelle Rochas Okorocha (OON) announced it at the Heroes Square where thousands of pensioners gathered to hear from his good news about payments of gratuity, pension arrears, pension reviews and pension, harmonization.  When they heard a totally strange policy that as from April 2013 they should go to their villages to receive their pension their reactions ranged from visible shock to incredulity.  Since then their ears have been itching to hear the gains of moving them from sub-treasuries to CGC offices.  Imo State Government does not starve the people of the results of its pace setting achievements.  Its silence over this raises a question as to whether it has stepped into a mess.

 

In their open letter to His Excellency dated March 18, 2013 and published by Weekend Announcer of Friday, March 20, 2013 and Citystar of March 25, 2013, Resourceful Ageing Organization stressed that Imo State pensioners place greater value on their personal privacy, safety and image than on pension.  Maybe following these publications and other appeals from respectable quarters, His Excellency graciously approved resumption of payment of pension to top class retirees and non-indigenes in Owerri Sub-treasury.  This is a mark of humility which is one of the greatest human virtues that is rare in politicians.  Those of them who have it earn the love, admiration and esteem of discerning members in the society.  Don’t judge.  After all, Francis Bacon said that laws are like cobwebs where small flies are caught and the great break through.

 

It is unarguable that His Excellency’s Special Adviser on Pension Reform did not seek the advice of responsible people in government.  It is obvious he did not consult the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice.  He did not consult the Head of Service and Accountant General who are jointly in-charge of pension matters and others who have special knowledge in this field.  If he did they would have saved all pensioners the tears and stress of going to their villages to collect their pension by lecturing him on the following:

 

The Constitution has not been amended or repealed.  Therefore, neither the Constitution or any law empowers the government to choose pay points for pensioners.  Government can create pay points but the choice of where to be paid is strictly at the discretion of the pensioners.  To deny them this right is an erosion of their citizenship.

 

All pensioners share the same reverential nickname of Senior Citizen and have equal rights and privileges under the Constitution which His Excellency swore to protect.

 

Imposition of pay points on pensioners automatically involves indirect taxation on pension.  This is unconstitutional and cannot be said to be a kind act when the pensioners can ill afford the transport and other costs that are entailed in traveling to their primordial homes to collect their pension.  In obedience to the Constitution Rivers State Government exempts all pensioners from payment of social services contributing levies because it amounts to tax on pension which Imo State Government violates (see page 47 of Thisday August 15, 2011).

 

Imposition of pension pay points creates additional problems for divorced women who do not by birth belong to the same states or communities with their divorced husbands.  The communities of their estranged spouses are invariably their enemy territories.

 

Eighty percent of World Bank and Government low cost housing estates in Owerri, Orlu and Okigwe are owned and occupied by Imo State pensioners who were in the service when they were built and allocated.  Many of them do not have such homes in their native communities and have no resources to do so now.  Even retired teachers who served in the rural areas have been moved by their children to obscure parts of the cities in response to the menace of kidnappers.  These factors explain why pension payrolls of Owerri alone account for three quarters of Imo State pension payrolls.

 

New pension pay points create artificial transport demand from the cities to the rural areas every end of the month.  This increases chances of accidental loss of lives, hurts the state economy and creates stress to fragile pensioners.

 

The purpose of this policy is not stated.  As a result the blank space is being filled with speculations and conjectures.  Some say it is to fish out ghost pensioners, if they exist, but this search has been on since 2006 and no ghosts have been caught.  Others say it is to bring pay points nearer to the pensioners.  But not a single pensioner has ever, ever complained of going long distance to collect his/her pension.  Their concerns are unpaid gratuity, pension arrears and livable pension.  Government does not respond to these.  Some say it is to keep the CGC offices busy but this is exploitation contrary to Section 17(3)(f) of the Constitution.  Still others speculate that this is to create confusion so that those in government can help themselves from pension fund.  They wonder why the civil servants who know that it is unlawful to obey unlawful instruction and refused transfer to CGC are now zealously forcing pensioners to CGC if not for personal gain?

 

Claims of existence of CGC offices were not certified before making them pension pay points and rendering Accountant-General’s field staff redundant.

 

Imo State pensioners did not work for CGCs.  Forcing them and sending them there to collect their pension is as humiliating as a slave master selling his slaves to another master without their consent.  Pensioners are Senior Citizens not cartels.  Inter state deportation is wrong but less odious than forcing pensioners to go back to their deserted rural areas.

 

Imo State Government has improved security but the creation of hundreds of pension pay points is like expanding the areas of temptation for robbery gangs to harass the secretaries who carry the cheques.  It is easier to police the existing 22 Sub-treasuries than 643 CGC pay points.

 

Retirement is a long period of leisure which in Nigeria quickly turns into boredom and loneliness.  Going to Sub-Treasuries one day in a month to collect pension relieves Imo State pensioners a bit of this boredom and loneliness.  It affords them opportunity to socialize with their colleagues and relive old jokes and collect information about death or sickness of their colleagues.  Therefore payment of their pension at their CGC offices quarantines them further to the detriment of their health.

 

Imo State pensioners know that continuity is not a way of governance in Imo State and this is to the disadvantage of the citizenry.  They are witnesses of abandoned projects and programmes by successors only because they did not start them.  This explains the absence of the usual epidemic of ‘thank you’ advert messages which would have followed His Excellency’s directive on payment of pension at CGC offices, just as they were silent when His Excellency declared July 18 as Imo Pensioners Day on July 18, 2011.  They anticipated it would be abandoned and it appears it has been abandoned.

 

All said, the sudden increase in pension pay points from 22 to 643 in this electronic age is not a healthy growth.  It is an illness called obesity.  The Accountant-General of the federation pays millions of federal pensioners through 24 banks only and it happens in a split second without exposure.  What Imo State pensioners have been asking and still ask for are (1) Review of pension every five years or earlier when there is salary increase; (2) Payment of pension arrears to primary school teachers and retired staff of government of agencies; (3) Payment of full gratuity before expiration of retirement leave; (4) Payment of arrears of gratuity; (5) Minimum livable pension that brings those on N500 a month up to the minimum wage level of N20,000 a month.  They have never asked for payment of pension in their village squares with their traditional rulers, spouses and grandchildren as witnesses  to skip their demands and give them embarrassing favour is what our Lord Jesus Christ had in mind 2000 years ago when he asked “If a son shall ask a father for bread will he give him a stone? Or if he ask for fish, will he give him a serpent?” (Luke 11:11).

 

Any day the rank and file pensioners are redeemed from Bacon’s cobweb they owe big debt of gratitude to the Association of retired Permanent Secretaries and Association of Retired Judges who have in their flight created an exit hole in the cobweb.

 

__________________________
C.E. Ukaegbu,
a Senior Citizen wrote from Owerri (08060850474)

 

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The Data of Forgiveness

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The Universal Character of Salvation

The most important ingredient in today’s media economy is data. The amount of data available determines how much and how long we can work or play on the internet. Currently, many of the service providers offer unlimited data plans but we know that those “unlimited” plans are not always unlimited. Sometimes, your download speed can get slowed down when you cross a certain point. Today, however, Jesus gives us the divine model of an unlimited plan. It is the unlimited bundle of compassion and forgiveness which never gets slowed downed shut down for maintenance. The theme for this week is that we must learn to forgive without limits no matter the injury committed against us.

In Matthew’s Gospel, today’s teaching on unlimited forgiveness comes after Jesus had told his disciples the parable of the wandering sheep, so it is plausible that some would have wondered among themselves how many times a good shepherd should go after the same sheep if it keeps wandering away. In those days, people believed that forgiveness was limited to three times only – a fourth transgression was not to be forgiven. So, by asking Jesus how many times he should forgive his brother, Peter was probably aiming to increase the limit to seven times. And Jesus makes it clear that we are to forgive others, “not seven times but seventy-seven times” (Matt. 18:22).That means we must dispense an unlimited data bundle of mercy.

In Jesus Christ, we have the forgiveness of a debt we could never pay. Sin is an offence against God and a direct rebellion against his authority and creation. The debt of 10,000 talents mentioned in today’s parable symbolizes the magnitude of the offence that sin causes in God’s eyes, but he is always willing to forgive without limits. However, we can easily cut ourselves off from God’s river of mercy when we refuse to forgive others. We end up restraining God’s mercy and putting ourselves under strict justice. To unfold his mercy without compromising his justice, God leaves each person free to choose between the two. If we insist on strict justice when we are offended, we bring God’s strict justice upon ourselves. But if we offer an unlimited bundle of mercy to others, we draw God’s unlimited data of forgiveness upon ourselves.

The secret to forming a forgiving heart lies in recognizing the evil of our sin and the immensity of God’s goodness in forgiving us. Until we see the ugliness of our ingratitude and selfishness, we will never appreciate the generosity of God’s forgiveness. Let us examine ourselves now to see how much forgiveness we are giving. Is there someone we still cannot forgive even after they have expressed sorrow for their actions? Have we judged someone too harshly because of something they said or did that we did not particularly like? How many times have we failed to help somebody because we are still dwelling on an injury that we suffered many years ago? How many times have we treated someone differently based on preconceived notions or stereotypes? These are some of the factors that shackle us like chains and that disrupt the unlimited data of divine grace in our lives. When we close ourselves off to people or dismiss them based on our preconceptions, mistaken judgments, and prejudices, not only do we make them suffer, we suffer as well.

But it does not have to be that way. Jesus came to free us from and the burden of sin and unhappiness. Forgiveness is like mercury, which runs away when it is held tightly in the hand but is preserved by keeping the palm open. When we lose forgiveness, we lose the ability to give and to receive love because love is the foundation of forgiveness. And since God is the foundation of love, whoever refuses to forgive automatically rejects the love of God. This is the essence of today’s parable and it is highlighted by the contrast between what was owed by each man. The wicked slave owed his master some 10000 talents. In gold terms, that is 350 tons and at today’s price, he owed his master USD21.8 billion. This was way more than King Solomon made in a year which was 666 talents of gold or USD1.45 billion in today’s value (cf. I Kings 10:14). So, this unforgiving servant owed his master what no individual could never payback. In contrast, his fellow servant owed him the equivalent of one talent of gold or USD2.1 million; so a man who was forgiven $21.8b could not let go of $2.1m, and his wickedness landed him in the hands of torturers.

Dear friends, forgiveness is an act of compassion which is expressed in the free choice to pardon one another’s shortcomings every day, and to also pardon ourselves for own mistakes Forgiveness transcends the fear of being wounded again; it is a deliberate act in imitation of the redemptive work of Jesus, the advocacy of the Holy Spirit, and the loving kindness of the Father. The whole point of today’s parable is that our Father in heaven will do the same to anyone who refuses to forgive others. Whoever refuses to forgive is doomed to a life of bitterness, and as the ugly trend continues, the person ends up building invisible walls of resentment around themselves, thereby blocking off not just one’s relationships with other people but with God as well. Forgiveness is not just an emotional expression or a sense of righteousness; it means being merciful not only when there is an explanation or apology, or a promise of amendment from the offender, but even when the offence is deliberate, and the offender is adamant. Forgiveness is a precious gift of grace, which does not depend on the worthiness of the receiver. Forgiveness is what we called to do, and the Lord’s grace is sufficient for us in that regard. Amen.

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Imo Deputy Governor’s giant strides towards revitalizing agriculture

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Imo Deputy Governor's giant strides towards revitalizing agriculture
By Joy Opara

The increasing cost of Agricultural products in Imo State in recent times has continued to be a major source of concern to the citizens of the state.

A critical appraisal of the development of Agriculture in this state reveals that successive governments had neglected this major sector of the economy, over three decades now, and this has adversely affected the revenue of government.

In line with the vision of the “shared prosperity” government of the Hope Uzodinma administration, the revolution of agriculture is among its cardinal programmes for which a high powered committee (on agricultural master plan for Imo State) has been set up.
For the purpose of resuscitating all moribund agricultural industries and facilities in the state, it is not surprising that this committee is headed by a world class Professor of Agriculture and Deputy Governor of Imo State, Prof. Placid Njoku.

The need to diversify the economy cannot be over-emphasized. It is a well known fact that there is no better and more sustainable means of diversifying the economy than through agriculture. It would be recalled that after the inauguration of his committee, the deputy governor went into action, first by visiting all moribund agricultural facilities in the state, which included Adapalm in Ohaji/ Egbema LGA, Avutu Poultry farm in Avutu, Obowo LGA, Songhai farms, Okigwe road, Owerri, ADP farms in Nekede, Owerri West. Others are Acharaubo farms in Emekuku, Owerri North, Imo Rubber Plantation in Obiti, Ohaji/ Egbema, amongst others.
Prof. Njoku in one of his speeches during the tour described agriculture as the economic base of most countries of the world. Considering the dwindling oil revenue, he said it should be a source of worry to people of good conscience that the vision of our founding fathers to generate revenue, food security, economic advancement, industrialization, employment and eradication of poverty was destroyed by successive governments.
The Deputy Governor, who not only is acknowledged as one of the greatest professors of Animal Science, a renowned Agriculturist and former Vice Chancellor of a leading University of Agriculture, the Federal University of Agriculture, Umudike, made it clear that the present government led by Governor Hope Uzodinma is desirous to return agriculture to its former glory.

The Ikeduru-born technocrat and farmer per-excellence said that the 3R Mantra of this administration namely: Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Recovery is a base for making the dream of Imo State as the food basket of the nation come true.

Noting that government is a continuum, the deputy governor promised that his committee will build upon what is already on ground by rehabilitating the ones that could be rehabilitated and bringing in new facilities where necessary to ensure that the passion of the governor towards agricultural revival is achieved.

Meanwhile, in most of the establishments visited by the committee, it was discovered that indigenes of the communities had badly encroached into the lands and converted them to personal use. Investigations by the committee revealed that agents of some past governments in the state connived with the communities to make it possible, for their personal aggrandizement.

The deputy governor, whose humility has become legendary pledged his total support to the Governor, Senator Hope Uzodinma whom he described as God sent to right all that were done wrong by the previous administrations in the state. He called on all to give this administration the needed support to rewrite the history of Imo State in gold, especially the agricultural sector.

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Child Abuse: A case of betrayal of reciprocal trust

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Child Abuse: A case of betrayal of reciprocal trust
By Christian Uzoukwu

Some years ago, while as a kid, I fell out with my father due to an occasion of sheer disobedience and on that very day, I was given no food and was ultimately battered by hunger. Child abuse includes both acts of commission and omission on the part of parents, guardians as well as care-givers.

These acts have led to a lot of actual and threatened harm meted out on countless number of children. In 2014, the WHO made an estimate of 41,000 children (under the age of 15) that are victims of homicide and other related offences. This estimate, as expounded by this world body is grossly below the real figures due to the views of the society in relation to corporal punishment experienced by children. Girls are always most vulnerable to different forms of child abuse during unrests and in war-thorn territories.

Cases of child abuse can be established in some deadly human vices such as child trafficking, child labour, forced adoption as seen in the one-child policy prevalent in China. In the Asian country, women, by law are only allowed to have one child. Local governments would sometimes allow the woman to give birth and then they would take the baby away stating the mother violated the one child policy. Child traffickers, often paid by the government, would sell the children to orphanages that would arrange international adoptions worth tens of thousands of dollars, turning a profit for the government.

Other striking examples of child abuse are the various forms of violence against the girl-child which involves infanticide, sex-selective abortions, female genital mutilations (FGM), sexual initiation of virgins in some African cultures, breast ironing in some parts of Cameroon – involving the vicious use of hot stones and other tools to flatten the breast tissue of girls who have attained the age of puberty. As if those were not enough, female students are also subject to maltreatments in countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is not to talk of recurring kidnapp of female students in some parts of Nigeria, as we saw in the case of Dapchi and Chibok schoolgirls.

Based on simple analysis, child abuse can be defined as “all forms of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment or commercial or other exploitation, resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power”.

This definition by WHO also falls in line with the definition propounded by the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, which says that child abuse are acts of commission. This commission includes “words or overt actions that cause harm, potential harm, or threat of harm to a child”, and acts of omission (neglect), meaning “the failure to provide for a child’s basic physical, emotional, or educational needs or to protect a child from harm or potential harm.

In Nigeria, most cases of child abuse have become cumbersome due to the fact that these acts of abuses are regarded as mere punishments to unruly young ones and by so doing, should be justified and doesn’t call for any further discussion and/or scrutiny. According to various statistical studies and researches, child abuse is a vast societal cankerworm and has four profound tentacles viz:

Physical Abuse: this involves undue hitting, beating, kicking, shaking, biting, burning, strangling, insertion of pepper into the eyes and pubic regions of children, maltreatments from house-help(s) and seniors at boarding/day schools, suffocating and forcing children to live in unwholesome conditions.

Sexual Abuse also includes persuading a minor into acts of sexual intercourse, exposure of the child’s private parts, production of child-related pornographic contents and actual sexual contacts with children.

Psychological Abuse of children can be seen in cases of excessive scolding, lack of proper attention that children should be receiving from their parents and guardians, destructive criticisms and destruction of a child’s personality.

Neglect of children can also lead to children dropping out of schools, begging/stealing for food and money, lack of proper medical care for minors and realities of children looking like ragamuffins.

Consequently, the causes of child abuse can be judiciously related to sex, age, personal history, societal norms, economic challenges, lack of Rights’ Protection Agencies, parents battling with traits of alcoholism and family size. These causative agents of child abuse can bring untold effects upon the society at large and these effects can be emotional, physical and psychological as the case may be, giving rise to individuals with dissociative lifestyles.

Furthermore, the treatment of individuals who have been malformed with respect to the abuses they experienced abinitio, can be a long process because it involves behavioral therapy and other forms of neoteric therapies. Treatments of psyche-related problems are not just a one-day process due to the long-lasting effects of abuses on various conscious mental activities. It is also noteworthy to point out that, prevention is always better than cure and holding fast to this true reality, entails that agencies who have the responsibility of protecting the rights of children must continue to do the needful which requires proper oversights of parent-child relationships.

To conclude this piece therefore, we must agree that untold hardships have been a great challenge for children especially in Africa and some parts of Asia. Children with long histories of abuses turn out to become societal misfits. To this end we encourage that: Children should be given a free platform to express themselves on many topical issues and issues relating to their existence.

Children should also be allowed to freely ask questions on any issue, no matter, how weird it seems to be.

Governments should make regulations outlawing societal norms and values that might amount to child abuses.

Corporal punishments by parents, guardians and care-givers should be discouraged at all levels, thereby making parents/guardians/care-givers who seem to be incorrigible, to face the full weight of justice enshrined in the law of the land.

Education system (both conventional and unconventional) in Nigeria should be able to train up young ones into becoming critical, analytical and evaluative individuals with a view of defending the vulnerable.

And again, since children are said to be leaders of tomorrow, it is pertinent to note that to secure their future, their present existence must be cherished and protected.

Christian Chimemerem Uzoukwu
08100029867 / 09025760804
Admin Critical Thinkers’ Forum.

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