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Akwa Ibom: Pensioners Threaten Mass Demonstration

... Vow To Block Governor’s Lodge

In Akwa Ibom, members of the Nigerian Union of Pensioners have threatened to embark on a mass demonstration across the streets of Uyo and wrap it up with the blockage of the Government House gate to press home their demand.

The pensioners lamented that every effort to get government attention to ease their worsening plight has failed, thus their decision to take to the streets to let the world know their predicament.

Addressing journalists on behalf of their members in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State capital, on Wednesday, the state chairman of the Nigerian Union of Pensioners Akwa Ibom State Council, Obong Ekpenyong Ekpo and the state secretary, Obong Cosmos Essien, explained that the worsening condition of members of the union should be a source of concern to the government and public-spirited Nigerians.

According to the state secretary, “The sad plight of our members is that those who retired in the 1980s with salaries of N1,000, N1,500, or N2,000 are still collecting such funds as pensions to date in Akwa Ibom State.

“Whenever you retire, what is worked out for you remains static, until the 1999 Constitution, in Section 173 (3) (2) (10), explicitly says that pensions will be reviewed every five years along with whatever increase is given to workers. The government has bluntly refused to implement the review.

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“Can you imagine that in present-day Nigeria, many of our members are still collecting N2,000 a month, some N1,000 a month, and their current situation is very pathetic; some don’t have children to care for them, a few privileged have, while those who have children late are still training them in school?”

“When the Akwa Ibom government promised us a minimum pension of N20,000 for those who returned before 1997 and N30,000 for those afterwards and asked us to inform members across the board, there was jubilation and they also promised to start payment in April 2023 to avoid the accumulation of arrears; however, till date, nothing has been paid. All pressure on the government to implement it failed woefully.

“The arrears they tried to avoid have accumulated. We have been praying, crying and reaching out to those in government to help, but there has been no sign of change. Our members are dying daily because they cannot afford drugs; over 65 percent of pensioners are hypertensive and diabetic; survival in Nigeria presently is very expensive; and our members are no longer coping. We brought our plight to the government, and they snubbed us.

However, the union expressed gratitude to Governor Umo Eno for the payment of gratuities, stressing that the governor has, within the 9 months of his stay in government, paid about N14 billion in gratuities, which cut across civil pensioners, local government pensioners, primary school pensioners and next-of-kin.

The group added, “If other administrations had made similar efforts, I think we would not have been in this kind of dilemma we find ourselves in today. We appeal to him to continue as a pastor with a heart of human kindness to salvage the situation.

“He must not toe the part of his predecessors who abandoned the aged citizens, and our prayer for the governor will be ceaseless to do more.”

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The group highlighted, “We have realised that pensioners have nobody to speak for them and let the world know their plight in Akwa Ibom. We appeal to the incumbent governor to come to our aid by establishing a pension commission or board.

They lamented, “We have had cases of past governors announce publicly that they are not owing any pension and I can tell you that 80 per cent of pensioners who are tenants have had their property thrown out by their landlords after receiving such news on the ground that they are liars

We have moved around many times as a state exco to plead with the landlords that the news is untrue. Sometimes it takes us a whole month to go around and reconcile the situation between evicted tenants and their landlords.

They averred, “These old men are crying daily; they are dying slowly because they can’t afford a decent living on a N2000 or N1000 pension monthly. The government must remember that the pensioners, who are mostly elderly citizens, must be cared for. The failure of the government to care for these people means they don’t regard their parents. The world must hear the woes that Akwa Ibom pensioners are going through.

The union maintained that they have approximately between 25,000 and 28,000 members. “This is because as many are dying daily, others retire into the system too; it is a situation of members coming in and exiting at the same time.

They insist that notwithstanding the governor’s recent efforts, over N40 billion in outstanding pension and gratuity debts remain pending.

“We, the union leaders, are also under attack from pensioners who think we are not doing enough to get the government to ameliorate their plight, and we willingly accepted their attacks because we can only say we have performed when money flows in their hands.

“We are begging you journalists to help us inform the governor, stakeholders and the general public of our pathetic conditions of living after spending our entire youthful age and strength to serve our fatherland.”

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