Recently the democratically elected government of Imo State declared that with effect from April 2013 retired civil servants will be paid pension only at the Community Government Council offices of their home communities where the traditional rulers are to identify them as genuine pensioners. The general meaning of this directive is that government gazettes of appointments, promotions and retirements of these pensioners as well as the series of biometric capturing exercises held since 2006 are unreliable records until they are confirmed by traditional rulers who have no records to verify the claims of the pensioners. No wonder that in its editorial comments of May 2, 2006 “The Guardian” said that in advanced societies the respect accorded to senior citizens is legendary but in Nigeria pensioners are treated like dirt under our feet. In Imo State, government advisers take it for granted that nobody can be right except the people in government. When they do not treat pensioners as dirt they generously treat them as government livestock to be locked in pens as suits is convenience.
Nothing can be more important for a government than to know the peculiarities of its citizens. Without such knowledge the government stands uncertain about where it has come from or where it is going. With such knowledge it draws a strength far greater than its mandate.
Imo State government should know that to the Igbo man government or company money is nobody’s money. He therefore sees a big thief of government and company money as a hero who deserves higher public office and despises honest servant of government or company or company as a worthless citizen who climbed an iroko tree and came down without plenty of wood. The only thief he knows is the one who steals from a person. This mindset cannot be reversed overnight. Therefore any traditional ruler who dares to expose a ‘ghost’ pensioner is sure to be castigated by his community as enemy of progress of his subjects. It is against this background that Imo State government should see the futility of subjecting pensioners to the ordeal of going to their roots to receive their pension.
All said ‘ghost pensioner’ is an inter ministerial code which when decoded reads: Imaginative Sub-treasurers and their staff can help themselves from pension fund by creating fake names in their payrolls. They can also enter into deals with heirs of dead pensioners to keep the dead alive in payrolls for as long as it takes to recoup debts owed to them by the government. There should be no qualms about this because government is violating Section 210(2) of Nigerian Constitution by withholding lawful entitlements of pensioners. (There was no ghost pensioner in the past when retirees received their gratuity before proceeding on retirement leave).
Imo State government ought to know also that Igbo man sees himself as citizen of the world and the most detribalized Nigerian. He is present in every country of the world and relying on Section 41(1) of Nigerian Constitution he lives in every nook and cranny of Nigeria. The appearance of his ancestral village and local government area in his official documents are useful only as Nigerian identity. Opobo was the address that mattered to King Jaja of Opobo and not his ancestral home Amaigbo in Nwangele Local Government Area. He chose to live his life in Opobo through diligence he became their king. He died in Opobo and was buried in Opobo. Today we have Eze Igbo institution outside Igboland. This explains the fabulous hospitality of Igboman to persons from other ethnic groups in Igboland. Ikoli Harcourt Whyte is a handy example. He was so highly impressed by the generously of Uzoakoli people that he refused to go back to Abonema, his native home in Rivers State. At death he was buried in Uzoakoli, Abia State.
Imo State government has the right to its thought over any issue but that right does not include assumption that pensioners are not old enough or are dafts to think for themselves. At retirement pensioners chose where to collect their pension, based on their convenience. They alone are competent to change such pension pay points. This freedom of choice is esteemed as the first of dividends of democracy because it is the quality that guarantees all other dividends. Pensioners are therefore shocked that this first of all dividends is taken away from them even when they expect to be commended for the many ways they help to deepen government policies in the polity. The shock has induced a painful feeling of alienation.
Another inalienable right of Imo State pensioners is the choice of place of residence on retirement. Section 41(1) of Nigerian Constitution guarantees this. As Owerri is the melting pot of Imo State, many public servants on retirement chose to live the rest of their life in Owerri. Many of these pensioners earn less than N5,000 pension a month. Some pensioners receive N500 a month. If these people must go to their filial homes to receive their pension, does the government provide for their transport fares? If it does not it is in effect saying that if they cannot sponsor themselves their pension will be withheld contrary to Section 210(2) of the Nigerian constitution.
The twin crimes of armed robbery and kidnapping have created a wave of migration of older persons to Owerri where their children who live outside Imo State keep them in areas that have no street names and house numbers. The pensioners among these people will be wiser to abandon their pension if they must go home to collect it so as not to expose themselves to the danger their children pay heavy house rents to avoid. These crimes are not going away tomorrow. Even death penalty does not possess enough power of deterrence to prevent the commission of a crime once it has appeared for the first time.
At page 15 of “The Leader”, Sunday 3, 2013, the State Commissioner for Community Government and Chieftaincy Affairs was quoted as saying that the introduction of payment of pensions at the Community Government Council offices is to alleviate the sufferings of aged and sick pensioners who usually travel to distant venues to receive their monthly pensions. It is good to know that the government feels for aged and sick pensioners but this explanation is from one skilled in circumvention of justice. What the aged and sick pensioners need is not political sympathy but unadulterated justice. The corollary of minimum wage is minimum pension. In Imo State a human being receives as little as N500 pension a month when the minimum wage is N20,000 a month. Pensioners are sick and aging fast because they have no money to buy food and medicine. Their government does not review their pension every five years as provided for in 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Their government does not harmonize their pension alongside salary increases for serving workers. A sick or aged pensioner who travels from Oguta to Owerri to receive livable pension of N20,000 will be healthier and younger than one paid N500 pension in a CGC office in Oguta.
Imo State government has every right to create new pension pay points anywhere but let the new pay points be optional as usual for the following reasons:
One, not all pensioners reside in the CGC area of their ancestors and there is no law or tradition that requires public servants to retire permanently to their native communities. Rather Section 41(1) of Nigerian Constitution provided that every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof.
Two, government does not provide in the directive refund of transport fares for pensioners who must go to receive their pension at pay points they did not choose.
Three, pension is tax free but the cost of going to collect pension at imposed pay point amounts to indirect taxation on pension.
Four, to many pensioners their pension is a personal secret and they fear that at CGC level this secret will be leaked to their enemies through photocopies of cheques if his earning is much they are exposed to robbers. If it is small they are exposed to mockery. This right of privacy is guaranteed and protected by Section 37 of Nigerian Constitution.
Five, even where the government pays transport fares to pensioners to go home to receive their pension a lot of CGC offices are not accessible during wet season.
Six, many pensioners live outside their ancestral homes to avoid being sucked into vicious intra communal conflicts.
Seven, pensioners on starvation pension prefer to live in urban areas where they engage in menial jobs and petty trading to sustain themselves.
Eight, if a pensioner loses his or her life in the course of collecting pension at imposed pay points their death turns their children into bitter enemies of the state.
Nine, the pay points chosen by pensioners serve as their recreation centres on pay days when they socialize with their colleagues, ask questions about friends they do not see and know who is ill or dead. The imposition of new and compulsory pay points amounts to official dissolution of these recreation centres, contrary to Section 40 of Nigerian Constitution.
Let the Imo State government address the real issues of harmonization of pensions, payment of minimum livable pension and payment of federal pension to retired primary school teachers of Imo State and stop bothering over cosmetic things like payment of pension at community government offices. Retired civil servants never worked to Community Government Councils and so should not be compelled to collect their pension in a place other than where they had chosen at retirement. Nothing should be done to violate the fundamental human right of pensioners. Anything less is gross injustice. Imo State pensioners deserve to live their final years in honour and dignity.
_______________________________C. E. UKAEGBU Senior Citizen (08060850474)
The Data of Forgiveness
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.
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.
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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